Black student activists at UC Berkeley, looking back on the school year that just ended, are saying they have accomplished many things, but have much more work to do.
Earlier this semester, the Black Student Union (Cal BSU) released a list of demands calling upon Chancellor Nicolas Dirks to implement “structural changes” to alter what they called a racist, hostile campus.
Cal BSU’s demands included a Black Resource Center, increased recruitment, hiring of Black staff, and funding for various diversity programs.
Dirks wrote in an April letter to the BSU that he is committed to identifying a location for a Black Resource Center. He asked Gibor Basri, outgoing vice chancellor for Equity and Inclusion, to form a workgroup to develop a plan to locate and finance the space.
A final workgroup report will be due in November. Students demanded the site be called the Fannie Lou Hamer Resource Center and be under the current African American Student Development office, a space currently prone to overcrowding.
Responding to students demands to hire two full-time Black admissions staff members and develop strategies and allocate resources towards recruit more Black students, Dirks asked two vice-chancellors to form a taskforce of students, faculty and staff to develop a program and financing strategy to increase Black recruitment and admissions of Black undergraduates.
This taskforce’s report will be due in November 2015. The BSU originally demanded a list of recommendations by April 8.
The chancellor said the November date was necessary because of summer break and many students leaving. Dirks promised to fund a fulltime coordinator and liaison for the “bridges” recruitment and retention centers.
Students also demanded the hiring of two full-time Black psychologists. The chancellor committed to working with University Health Services to fill future vacancies with culturally competent psychologists or therapists.
The chancellor acknowledged students most controversial demand, to rename Barrows Hall after former political prisoner Assata Shakur–currently living in exile in Cuba. Dirks said he does not have the “unilateral ability” to rename the building and forwarded them the “UC Naming Policy” and information about the process to rename a building.
“I am and will continue to be committed to creating an environment at UC Berkeley where African American students, faculty, and staff can feel welcomed, respected, and supported,” Dirks wrote.
Incoming BSU chair Cori McGowens told the Post via email that campus administration’s response “cannot be really taken seriously.”
“Chancellor Dirks has stated on numerous occasions his eagerness to work with Black students but has done little more than hold meetings and briefings, (at) some of which he wasn’t even present,” McGowens said.
She the administration’s plan for Black students is vague, lacks timelines and could have already been implemented instead of being a response to the Cal BSU’s demands.
The demands came after a semester full of protests and negotiations. In December, Black students blockaded a campus café in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.
After nooses were found hanged on Sather Gate and elsewhere on campus, campus administration pledged to work with Black students to improve the campus climate. Students released their demands and met with campus administration in February.
On April 18, students blocked Sather Gate during “Cal Day,” a major recruitment day when prospective students and their families visit campus. Cal BSU called the protest “#BlackatCal Day” to highlight their demands and to celebrate Black life, on campus and off.
In an attempt to sabotage the group’s goals, the Cal BSU email and its @CalBSU Twitter profile were hacked twice. The source of the attacks has not been confirmed.
Still, the Cal BSU is hopeful for “substantive action” next school year.
“The Black students at Cal are determined, creative and powerful, and I’m excited to work as a community again this upcoming year and really utilize our platform as Black students at a top institution,” McGowens said.