Amid nationwide protests in support of Black Lives Matter, the UC Santa Cruz critical race and ethnic studies (CRES) department unveiled a new minor — Black studies.
The CRES department welcomed Professor Xavier Livermon to teach for the Black studies minor and the feminist studies department starting fall 2020. Livermon is the first faculty member to be hired specifically for the Black studies program.
The call for a Black studies minor is not new. UCSC students have been fighting for Black representation since the early years of the university. In 1968 students and faculty advocated to have College 7, now Oakes College, be named after Malcolm X and center the Black experience. More recently, students reclaimed Kerr Hall in 2017 and presented administration with demands regarding the Rosa Parks African American Theme House (R. PAATH), diversity training, and more.
“If you look at the long history of this campus, there have been different historical moments and sustained student activism for ethnic studies,” said Christine Hong, the program director for the CRES department. “And this goes back to the very origins of this campus at the very first college graduation.”
To demonstrate interest in the Black studies minor, the CRES department surveyed undergrads across campus this April. The department received 210 responses in five days—94 percent of responders “strongly” or “very strongly” agreed the UCSC campus would benefit from a Black studies minor and 85 percent would be “likely” or “very likely” to take Black studies classes.
The May 25 police murder of George Floyd fueled nationwide protests and calls for reform across sectors, including economic policies, law enforcement, and education. On June 1, the UCSC Black Student Union (BSU) issued a list of demands to UCSC administration, specifically calling for support of the Black studies program.
The UCSC administration officially announced the Black studies minor on June 11.
“We demand the continued development and establishment of Black Studies at UCSC as a minor, major, and area of graduate research with a surplus of ABC identifying faculty and staff that is itself experienced in being intersectional when it comes to a discipline that focuses on Blackness, Black Lives, and Black Lifeworlds,” states the BSU demands.
Working closely with the BSU, the CRES department began their search for faculty members to teach classes for the Black studies minor. BSU leadership worked alongside CRES faculty members to read through candidates’ work and determine finalists for the position.
“There were three, sometimes four, members of the BSU, who took part in the search process, and their feedback mattered greatly,” said Hong. “They took the lead in discussing the different scholarly takes of the top candidates, and they also took part in the press conversation about the finalists. Students too took part in this very historic and important hire.”
Professor Livermon will begin teaching the inaugural class, “Approaches to Black Studies,” in the fall.
Livermon hopes that from his class, students will not only gain an understanding of how Black studies came to be, but how it was integrated into college campuses and curriculums.
“I would never question whether a university should have an English department or sociology department. So I think that as we see those as valuable understandings of how we create educated citizens in this world, Black studies is on par with that,” Prof. Livermon said. “If the idea is that the university prepares you to be a citizen of this world, then, to me, a university without Black studies is inadequately preparing students to be citizens of the world.”