When the university failed to meet the Black Student Union’s (BSU) demands last year, there was no business as usual. Now, six months after the BSU — formerly the Afrikan/Black Student Association — reclaimed Kerr Hall, they are finally beginning to see some progress.
The Rosa Parks African American Theme House (R.PAATH) has been painted in Pan-African colors, the R.PAATH lounge has been freed of beds and converted back to a social space and as of this fall over 5,000 incoming frosh and transfer students underwent an in-person diversity orientation. Yet, many feel there is more to be done.
Demand for Diversity Training
During the Kerr Hall reclamation in spring 2017, BSU organizers demanded UC Santa Cruz complete its online diversity, equity and inclusion module by June 2017. If not completed, the BSU said the university must implement a temporary “in-person diversity competency training” for all incoming students for the 2017-18 school year, until the online module was completed.
Administrators had four months to organize the fall diversity competency orientation, “Destination Diversity,” which proved challenging for UCSC’s planning committee.
“We had to work really quickly. That wasn’t ideal. […] And certainly there was ownership of [the fact that] we should have paid more attention,” said Teresa Maria Linda Scholz, campus diversity officer for staff and students.
She also said administrators could’ve listened to students earlier to avoid this sort of time crunch.
Ultimately, the training, developed in collaboration with the BSU, included interactive discussions with students about power dynamics and trends of white men holding positions of power. It also defined terminology for discussion –– microaggression and prejudice — among others. Five performers from awQward, pronounced “awkward,” a trans and queer people of color talent agency, facilitated the orientation sessions through spoken word, song, dance and poetry.
“Students [are] excited to know that these things were being talked about this early on in their experience,” said J Mase III, a performer, speaker and founder of awQward. “We [also] got a lot of questions from people who overall seemed like they were still in a place of being fresh with some of these concepts.”
While Scholz saw the orientation as well-received and well-attended, BSU President Basheera Ali-El thought differently.
“I don’t think it was advertised well. A lot of people didn’t know about it. […] There was some kind of implementation issue and some kind of requirement issue going on that not only freshmen but Black freshmen didn’t attend,” Ali-El said.
The UCSC colleges website listed the “Destination Diversity” orientation as “required,” stating that attendance would be taken at the event. According to Carolyn Golz, the college administrative officer for Stevenson and Cowell, this was a hollow threat for those who did not attend, as there were no repercussions for not attending.
During the reclamation, the BSU demanded R.PAATH be painted and its lounge restored to serve its original purpose as a safe space and to provide visibility for the Afrikan, Black and Caribbean (ABC) community.
R.PAATH was originally painted plain white with black trim like all seven other Stevenson dorm buildings. Now, however, the building is wrapped in bands of red, black and green — the colors of the Pan-African flag — as the BSU demanded.
“Not only is it beautiful and is it well-painted, but it just shows the representation,” said BSU President Basheera Ali-El. “Every time a Black student who lives there comes home, they see their pride. They see their history. They see their people. They see their ancestors. I think that has a lasting effect, just being able to see that every day.”
Representation and visibility was a large driver of the BSU’s demands. The ABC community makes up just 2 percent of UCSC’s student population, and for a group that small, not being seen can lead to lack of belonging.
Ali-El added her community is benefiting directly from the changes to R.PAATH.
R.PAATH’s communal space was converted into a four-person dorm room last year. But in response to the BSU’s demands, the university released the lounge in fall 2017 to serve its original purpose.
“The lounge brought back a much-needed communal space for the Black community. It is being utilized, whether for social or academic congregation,” Ali-El said.
Although there’s been progress on the BSU’s demands, many remain unanswered. Students are waiting on the four-year housing guarantee for ABC-identifying students to live in R.PAATH, UCSC’s purchase of an off-campus house to serve historically disadvantaged students and allocation of $100,000 to Student Organization Advising and Resources (SOAR) to hire an adviser with experience handling issues specific to the ABC community.
The BSU’s pursuit of a housing guarantee in R.PAATH, as the original demands outlined, will not be met. UC policy and federal law restricts the extension of housing guarantees based on racial identification.
However, organizers are still pursuing funding for a SOAR adviser experienced in handling ABC student issues. UCSC resource and support centers consistently lack ABC representation. Neither Counseling and Psychological Services or SOAR, Student Media and Cultural Arts and Diversity (SOMeCA) employ staff specialized in ABC student issues. The African American Resource and Cultural Center has just two full-time staff members serving Black students at UCSC.
Ali-El said despite UCOP having allocated UCSC $3 million to spend on housing efforts, administrators claim a lack of resources and funding.
She added that for decades, the administration has left the ABC community in need of amenities and resources — resources that UCSC readily provides to all other students. The housing crisis and campus climate, she said, have also further marginalized the Black community.
Repeated frustration because of underrepresentation has led the BSU to turn to its own organizing power to make sure its needs are met.
“Our community is really focusing on our own so we don’t have to keep demanding from an institution that doesn’t want to give,” Ali-El said. “So we’re not too pressed about whether or not they’re going to give it. If they help us, great, if not we’re going to get it done regardless.”