This Massacre Was a Hate Crime – UCSB, Isla Vista, Feminism and One Alumnus’s Thoughts

Friday night there was a stabbing and shooting in my alma mater, UC Santa Barbara. I heard the news via facebook mere minutes after a young man drove through the center of Isla Vista in a black BMW shooting.

For those unfamiliar with the community, UC Santa Barbara (UCSB) is adjacent to an area call Isla Vista which has just shy of 2 square miles of unincorporated county land with no clear governance. In this small beachside community 23 thousand students live – most are UCSB students but there are also community college students from Santa Barbara and other youth also live in the area. As an area with almost entirely student residents and extremely high real-estate prices most houses have 6-8 residents. Isla Vista is known for it’s party life as students have much more freedom there than other universities where there are more individuals living in dorms.

The Beach

But returning to Friday night – as I sat watching facebook and more facts emerged it was clear this wasn’t just random carnage – yet the media has been slow to name this attack as what I see it as: a hate crime against all women.

In a disturbing video that was on You Tube and since taken down the killer, Elliot Rodger, states his intent clearly:

“If I can’t have you girls, I will destroy you. [laughs] You denied me a happy life and in turn I will deny all of you life, it’s only fair. I hate all of you.

—All you girls who rejected me, looked down upon me, you know, treated me like scum while you gave yourselves to other men. And all of you men for living a better life than me, all of you sexually active men. I hate you. I hate all of you. I can’t wait to give you exactly what you deserve, annihilation.”

This is not a standard crime. This clearly wasn’t just about one girl – it was about every member of the community. It was meant to instill fear in all. A hate crime is a usually violent, prejudice motivated crime and this fits the bill.

As the killer’s sexism was called out, online Men’s Rights Activists rushed to say #NotAllMen are like this. However this took the focus away from the fact that even if not all men are killers, all women have experienced sexism, gendered bias and violent attacks like this are common, and the hashtag #YesAllWomen began to trend.

Statements like:

#YesAllWomen bc every single woman I know has a story about a man feeling entitled to access to her body. Every. Single. One.

#YesAllWomen bc “Text me and let me know you got home safe” is standard, necessary and normal.

#YesAllWomen “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.” – Margaret Atwood

As a national and international media jumped into the coverage, as an alumni, I instead watched Facebook. I graduated from the Film & Media Studies program and the annual Reel Loud Film Festival meant I could expect many alumni friends were visiting for the weekend. And while there was a gut wrenching shock and fear to think of bullets flying through my community combined with the fear that perhaps I knew a victim – I can’t say I was totally surprised that it could happen there.

As a student at UCSB, my first week was colored with fear. Not of change or being in a new place, but of hate crimes. The first time I picked up the campus newspaper I discovered there had been a hate crime against gay male students. It wasn’t the last time I’d learn of instances of hate on campus.

My first protest at UCSB in the aftermath of hate crimes in 2008 against gay students

As a student organizer I spent a lot of time engaging with uncomfortable dialogs. Whether it was to address homophobia, racism, sexism, sexual assaults, environmental issues or more – UC Santa Barbara provided a space where students voices had many outlets. While many did not engage as much in politics preferring to enjoy the beaches, the party life, focus on academia or other pursuits… those worlds often meshed in odd ways.

Local law enforcement at the “Deltopia” street party in Isla Vista
Students embracing the local party life
Election Day showcases the engagement many students have even though the community is unincorporated
Student organizers working to address racism on campus

While the community was generally friendly and almost any individual was a beer away from being a casual friend, it also wasn’t uncommon that I’d hear slurs like “faggot” directed at gays or “slut” directed at women. When I walked home I’d often call friends to “talk me home” if I didn’t have a friend to walk with.

During the Take Back the Night Protest in which women marched to reclaim the night as safe – several male students yelled rape threats. The very act proved our actions we needed and as much as we craved safety it was by no means present already.

Take Back the Night Protest
Janelle Monae performing prior to the Take Back the Night Protest

In an article for the campus newspaper my senior year I wrote the following:

“The tragedy of the situation is that in I.V., we’ve accepted the norms that allow our streets to be unsafe and our fellow students to be targeted. Even during our celebrations within their designated safe space, we are never fully safe. Often times the problems of Isla Vista are brushed off as some excuse the hate speech as drunken antics and taunts not meant to offend or be taken seriously. However, the reality is the same slurs that are used by drunken folks in aggressive outbursts are occasionally heard in classrooms and on campus, and the oppression from ignoring the severity of the problem contributes to the lack of safe spaces for the queer community attending our school.

Whether spoken in ignorance or malice, hate speech hits a nerve. It makes for unsafe spaces, and verbal harassment leads to the same degradation that enables other types of harassment and assault. In Isla Vista, I often observe the contrasting dichotomy of the sun-soaked ideal paradise and the very real problems that constantly plague the queer community and other minorities. As tempting as it is to ignore reality and enjoy the beachside bubble, we have to address these problems.”

Although this was written specifically to address the hate crime against LGBT students – those words feel far too fitting an applicable for women today in Isla Vista. As an alumni I have so many fond memories, strong friendships, experiences that helped me learn and grow. The streets the shooter drove down I’ve walked, biked, and stumbled down many times. I’ve gone to parties at places where I’ve now seen twitter photos of body bags resting. It’s shocking to see the violence but the root cause isn’t shocking. There was always violence against women. There was objectification. There were very real problems regarding rape. The sense of entitlement to others bodies didn’t start in Santa Barbara and is by no means limited to there.

But as the national debate goes on and CNN loops the killer’s video my heart is heavy as I think of the place that was my home.

Last time I visited UCSB was to celebrate the graduation of some of the individuals I was lucky to mentor and share time with. In the Student Resource Building while I was there someone wrote on the wall of the women’s restroom a cry for help. And the community responded with words of encouragement, resources they could go to, reminders that the original writer was not alone. When I think of UCSB I think back to that space often, and two years after graduating the wall was even more crowded with messages of support. The community has never been perfect, but there is support for those in need and a community willing to work to improve itself. Let’s hope that helps the families of the slain and injured in healing.

The notes on the wall of the girls bathroom in the Student Resource Building
Further Reading:
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