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Monday, November 16, 2015

When a Racist Restaurant Opens on the Edge of Campus, What Is a University's Responsibility?

A white-owned Mexican restaurant called "Illegal Pete's" will open in December at the doorstep of the University of Arizona. A growing debate surrounds the restaurant's opening - a debate that could ultimately touch every university in the country.
In this case, the proposed restaurant is just one block from the main entrance to the university, and it is precisely where the campus pep rallies take place before the big games. Because of the restaurant's location, its opening has ramifications that go beyond legal or real estate questions. Yet, at the moment, the university is remaining neutral on this matter. But is neutrality possible when the school's primary responsibility is to ensure the safety of the university community?
This controversy involves the question: Are universities responsible for the conduct of tenants in adjoining university villages - which are the heart of university life - whether they own the property or not? In this case, this question is particularly relevant as the owner of this restaurant appears to be locating his liquor establishments near college campuses.
In this case, the opponents of the restaurant are arguing that the university's responsibility in creating a safe space for its students, staff, faculty and workers includes not simply freedom from physical harm, but also freedom from psychological harm that can occur from repeated exposure to anti-Mexican mockery and bigotry. The opponents, led by the student group MEChA (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicana/Chicano de Aztlan), have begun a petition, demanding that the owner either change the name of the restaurant or shut it down.
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