UC Davis Becomes First US Public Institution to Add Caste to its Anti-Discrimination Policy

The University of California, Davis added caste to its anti-discrimination policy after Indian students, belonging to the Dalit community, complained of facing discrimination on the university campus, the Associated Press reported. According to the new policy, which was amended in September this year, students or university staff who are discriminated against on the basis of their castes can now file complaints.

While a few private institutions in the US have recognised caste, UC Davis could reportedly be the first public institution to include caste in its anti-discrimination policy.

“The significance of adding caste… is it ensures that the communities most impacted and most vulnerable to this type of discrimination or harassment know that the university recognises the harm caused,” Danésha Nichols, director of UC Davis’ Harassment & Discrimination Assistance and Prevention Program, told the San Francisco Chronicle.

The private institutions in the US to have amended their policies include Maine’s Colby College which banned caste-based discrimination on campus in October this year. Similarly, in November 2019, Brandeis University, Massachusetts, released a statement on its official website that said, “…Brandeis University celebrates the diversity of its faculty, staff, students and alumni. It is in this spirit that the institution seeks to effectively address the concept of caste and its corresponding identity-based lived experience within our policy on nondiscrimination.”

Prem Pariyar, a 37-year-old graduate student at UC Davis, told the San Francisco Chronicle that he never expected to face casteism when he moved to the US from his home country Nepal in the year 2015.

But he did while interacting with people from South Asian communities.

“Some will ask me my last name under the pretence of getting to know me, but are really trying to find out about my caste. Others have served me meals in separate plates and utensils after they find out I’m Dalit,” Pariyar said.

As a result, he started mobilising other California State University (CSU) students around the issue, which led to the formation of the Cal State Student Association, which represents all 23 CSU campuses, to recognise caste as a protected category this year.

According to a press release issued by Equality Labs, the decision will impact over 40,000 students in the university and other community members living in the Davis-Sacramento region.

“I have experienced casteism all my life and never expected to face it at Davis. During my undergraduate career I have faced many micro-aggressions related to caste especially in South Asian and Sikh spaces. This decision makes campus a safe place again. That matters so much. I hope this protection encourages more caste-oppressed students to come forward and know that our lives are precious and we deserve a seat at the table free from violence and discrimination,” said J. Kaur, a student leader at UC Davis.

“I am thankful to UC Davis for making caste a protected class in its policy. However, I hope that folks in diversity and equity are aware that this is only the first step. So much work must be done to create a consciousness and caste competency on our campus community…” said Radhika, another student leader.

Notably, the CSU school system itself has not made any changes to its discrimination policy.

“It is an issue, it’s here and it’s time to deal with it,” Pariyar added.

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