Black students at UC Berkeley demand institutional changes

BERKELEY, Calif. – The Black Student Union and other key Black student organizations on UC Berkeley’s campus have demanded that Chancellor Nicholas Dirks implement institutional changes to address the conditions of Black students at the university.

“Black students, staff, and faculty on UC Berkeley’s campus are in a state of emergency requiring immediate attention,” said Gabrielle Shuman, co-chair of political affairs for the BSU. On Feb. 13, Black student leaders met with Chancellor Dirks and Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Claude Steele to demand changes. These demands of the Chancellor include increased space for Black students, increased staffing for recruitment and retention of Black students, mental health resources, support for Black student athletes, and recruitment of more Black graduate students and faculty.

Admissions and enrollment of Black undergraduate and graduate students at UC Berkeley is abysmal. Black students also report high levels of disrespect, stereotypes and an anti-black campus climate. “The Chancellor told the campus he is working with the Black Student Union to improve campus climate,” said Spencer Pritchard, chair of the CalSERVE coalition. “We worked with multiple campus partners to bring the Chancellor tangible proposals that are ready to be implemented.”

We found both the February 13th and the March 6th meetings to be positive, and were looking forward to the next concrete steps Chancellor Dirks would take to address our demands. However, we were frustrated when Chancellor Dirks defaulted on the March 6th, 2015 deadline we gave him to respond to the Black Student Union Demands, and did not respond until Tuesday, March 10th. We were further frustrated when the response we received did not adequately address our concerns – rather Chancellor Dirks circumvented having to directly respond to each of our demands as we had requested. He instead removed his office from the responsibility to implement solutions to the issues we face, shifting the focus to other departments, and left several critical issues we raised unaddressed entirely. We understand this action to demonstrate disrespect to the Black Student Union and our efforts to better our conditions on this campus.

BSU member Alana Banks said, “Black people have been oppressed by this university since its creation. The fact that we have to come up with demands for long-overdue support, to us, is a testament of our condition.”

Students found the meeting to be positive and look forward to the next concrete steps Chancellor Dirks will take to address their demands. Nzingha Dugas, Director of African American Student Development, also attended the meeting.

“We hope the chancellor stays true to his word and works with us. We need leadership, not rhetoric, in order to improve campus climate,” Pritchard said. “He must follow up his words with action.”

Furthermore, if studnets do not receive a written response from Chancellor Dirks addressing in detail, each of the individual demands as they were presented, by 5:00PM on Tuesday, March 17th, students will understand that the Chancellor has not prioritized the dire needs of Black students on this campus. And as such, students and allies will proceed accordingly.

Photography by: DeAndre Forks

Photography by: DeAndre Forks


WE DEMAND the creation of an African-American Student Development Resource Center, to be named the Fannie Lou Hamer Resource Center, with a designated office space as well as space for hosting events, at a central campus location. This center is to be under the purview of the African-American Student Development Office. Black student retention efforts on campus are minimal, and Black students are not being retained at UC Berkeley. While the average overall university graduation rate is over 90%, the highest being 94% of Asian students and 92% of White students, that rate is only 77% on average for Black students at Cal. Some reasons for this are lack of adequate academic, financial and organizational support, and feelings of isolation throughout the university. The resource center will serve as a space on campus for Black students to gather, host programming, and to offer support to Black student organizations, all contributing to community building, increased stability, and a greater feeling of belonging at the university.

WE DEMAND the hiring of two permanent full-time Black admissions staff members and a series of enhanced recruitment strategies, with a budget of $300,371, to recruit Black students to UC Berkeley. We maintain that this funding comes from the Chancellor’s office and not from the Division of Student Affairs.  These funds will be managed through the office of Admissions & Enrollment. This funding will be used to bolster efforts in the Office of Undergraduate Admissions and bridges Multicultural Resource Center. The recruitment of additional Black students is imperative to create a student body that is representative of the California population. A critical mass of Black students will surely help to alleviate the incredibly hostile campus climate Black students have had to endure for decades as consistently evidenced by campus climate surveys.

WE DEMAND the hiring of one permanent full-time Program Director to work with the Recruitment and Retention Centers within the bridges Multicultural Resource Center, with a budget of $113,932. We maintain this funding comes from the Chancellor’s office and not from the Division of Student Affairs.  A Program Director will provide much needed support for bridges. Currently, students sacrifice their health and wellness and academics to ensure they can complete all of their outreach and retention programs. We are demanding that the bridges Program Director be hired through the LEAD Center for a number of reasons. First, it ensures shared governance from both the University and ASUC on how the position will be managed. Second, the committee with the Executive Director of bridges represented to ensure new hires will represent the bridges student community. Lastly, the LEAD center specializes in student support in both leadership development and programming; thus the LEAD Center is the most logical unit to house student support staff in.

WE DEMAND the hiring of two permanent full-time Black psychologists at UC Berkeley. We maintain that the funding for this (which includes recruitment expenses) come from the office of the Chancellor. We as Black students need psychologists who share similar experiences in terms of racial discrimination and in dealing with the racially hostile campus climate at this university.

WE DEMAND the hiring of two permanent full-time Black Student Athlete Development Advisors to be available and provide mentorship and academic guidance for all Black student athletes. We recognize the work of the Chancellor’s task force on student athletes and are adding this demand to ensure that there are sufficient support systems to attend to the particular needs of Black student athletes.

WE DEMAND the current budget for the Getting into Graduate School (GiGS) mentorship program be doubled in order to expand and strengthen the program. We believe this program creates a pipeline for Black students and other underrepresented students to get into graduate school, an area where Black students are severely underrepresented. We believe this program can be one of the many ways by which the campus can attempt to increase the abysmally low number of Black graduate students at UC Berkeley and other universities across the country.

WE DEMAND the immediate creation of a committee to submit recommendations for the aggressive recruitment and retention of Black staff and faculty within and outside of the African-American Studies Department. This committee shall have representatives from the African-American Studies Department, the Director of the African American Student Development office, and the Black Student Union, among other key students, staff, and faculty and administration members. We expect an initial list of recommendations to be submitted to the Chancellor and the Black Student Union by April 8th, 2015.

WE DEMAND that the name of Barrows Hall be changed to Assata Shakur Hall. The building is currently named after David Prescott Barrows, former President of the University of California. Barrows was an imperialist by way of anthropology, and participated in perpetuating American colonialism, the creation of damaging stereotypes, and the subsequent destruction of cultures in the Philippines, and several regions in Africa. Given that the African American Studies, Ethnic Studies Departments, Gender and Women’s Studies Departments are housed in this building, Barrows’s name directly opposes the mission of these departments. The name Assata Shakur is fitting of the mission of these departments because she is an icon of resistance within oppressed communities, and represents Black resilience in the face of unadulterated state-sanctioned violence.

WE DEMAND full funding to sustain the American Cultures and Engaged Scholarship (ACES) program at UC Berkeley. We demand that this funding comes from the Chancellor’s office and not solely from grant funding. Additionally, we demand two additional staff members to enhance the program. The ACES program at UC Berkeley is crucial to the development of scholarly activism and engaged service learning; we demand the right to access and create credible forms of knowledge that contribute to enacting social change within our communities.

WE DEMAND the Chancellor, Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs, Vice Chancellor of Equity and Inclusion, and the Dean of Students meet with members of the Triad (Black Student Union, Black Recruitment and Retention Center, African-American Student Development) at least once every academic semester. This will create a sustainable open-door policy between the leadership of the key Black student organizations on campus and the top echelon of University administration, so as to continually work together to better the conditions of Black students on campus and maintain transparency.

WE DEMAND that all of our demands be fully implemented within the next 3-6 months and that the Chancellor give us his official response no later than 5PM on March 6th 2015.


Find a detailed Press Release Here.