Campus announces initiative to improve campus climate for black students

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Kore Chan/Senior Staff

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Campus officials introduced far-reaching plans to improve the campus climate for black students, faculty and staff in a campuswide email Thursday.

The UC Berkeley African American Initiative, announced by Chancellor Nicholas Dirks and Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Claude Steele, seeks to achieve a “critical mass” of black campus community members through launching a campaign, fundraising and outreach to reduce feelings of isolation.

The low representation of black students at UC Berkeley gave impetus to the initiative. Three percent of the campus’s undergraduate student body, 4 percent of its graduate students and 2 percent of its faculty are black, compared with 6 percent of the state population.

A campus climate survey conducted in 2013 showed that black students feel the least respected of any group on campus, that they are routinely excluded from study groups and that nonblack students largely underestimate this sentiment. The survey also found that undergraduate graduation rates among black students lag behind those of other groups on campus.

“Underrepresentation makes a big difference in how students feel and how they engage with the community,” said Na’ilah Nasir, a professor in the African American studies department and the Graduate School of Education, who will begin her term as the campus’s vice chancellor for equity and inclusion in November. “This is a public acknowledgment of the importance of these issues.”

Gibor Basri, the current vice chancellor for equity and inclusion, said the initiative has been in the works for several years. His division began discussions with Dirks and Steele in fall 2014, and he later incorporated the Black Student Union’s February demands of the chancellor into the initiative.

“It’s about time,” said UC Berkeley senior Kristiana Ekokobe. “It’s a stepping stone. It’s a good start in trying to fix the campus climate.”

A major aspect of the initiative includes plans to create a $20 million endowed scholarship fund for black undergraduates. The fund would help the campus compete with other universities that provide scholarships to black students beyond the reach of UC Berkeley, said Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Harry Le Grande in an email.

But the initiative plans on reaching beyond institutional changes to begin overhauling campus culture. According to the initiative, the campus will launch a campaign in spring to “change the widely held perception that UC Berkeley is not a welcoming place for African Americans.”

Apart from implementing diversity training for graduate student instructors and faculty, the initiative will also hire counseling professionals and a coordinator for student-run recruitment and retention centers. Additionally, the initiative will introduce an undergraduate course on intergroup dialogue and create a component of the wellness course for freshman, which will address inclusion.

“The eventual hope is that the state will be properly represented in a broader sense,” Basri said. “This is a public university that should be serving all the people of the state.”

Le Grande said that promoting greater diversity on the campus will positively affect the economic future of California. He said that many top employers have been critical of the state for not having the educated, diverse workforce it needs to compete in the global market.

The announcement of the initiative comes in time for the Cal football game Saturday against Grambling State, a historically black university. Campus spokesperson Roqua Montez said the weekend is part of Black Alumni Week, which is built around celebrating the return of black alumni and faculty to campus.

Dirks will appoint an implementation task force — composed of faculty, students and staff, and chaired by the vice chancellor for equity and inclusion — as insurance that the work gets done and does not “fall by the wayside,” Nasir said.

Contact Frances Fitzgerald and Ivana Saric at newsdesk@dailycal.org.

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  • Mark Talmont

    “Le Grande said that promoting greater diversity on the campus will positively affect the economic future of California. He said that many top employers have been critical of the state for not having the educated, diverse workforce it needs to compete in the global market.”

    You mean the crybaby billionaires who buy all the politicians they can to preserve (and expand) their B-1/L-1/L-2 visa scams? This is a ghastly scam that has been perpetuated for decades even though there is little or no evidence there is or ever was an actual shortage. Web search for the research compiled by Prof. Norm Matloff of UC Davis who was blowing the whistle on this all the way back to the dot-com bubble. (Note his conspicuous absence from media coverage on the issue; he spoke on the UC Berkeley campus after the dot-com bubble burst and no media showed up lest they have to report “he told you so”. The DC of the day managed to ignore the story too though more recently they manage to touch on the issue here:

    http://www.dailycal.org/2014/01/26/beat-international-students-need-apply/

    Interesting to note that among the panoply of federal, state, local government and academic resources supposedly devoted to the study of labor issues apparently no one bothers to track down claims of jobs open but unfilled due to the lack of qualified candidates. That’s because these publicly-funded resources are captured by political interests. Back in the 90s a UC-associated labor economist published a paper claiming that no one had been displaced from the Bay Area labor markets by the massive immigration from Mexico and elsewhere; this was achieved by defining the majority of the black males 18-40 as “not in the work force.”

    • lspanker

      ack in the 90s a UC-associated labor economist published a paper claiming that no one had been displaced from the Bay Area labor markets by the massive immigration from Mexico and elsewhere; this was achieved by defining the majority of the black males 18-40 as “not in the work force.”

      That’s the dirty little secret of all those peddling our supposed “economic recovery”. The establishment has simply written off any expectations of young black males every making any positive contribution to the American economy. Why is that again?

    • Chief Presiding Judge

      There is definitely a shortage when it comes to a diverse educated workforce. Not all communities have equal opportunity, and this is very clear.

  • lspanker

    A campus climate survey conducted in 2013 showed that black students feel the least respected of any group on campus, that they are routinely excluded from study groups and that nonblack students largely
    underestimate this sentiment.

    Any chance that the fact that many of them are “Diversity” admittees who wouldn’t have even been considered college material save for their skin color, majoring in racial/ethnic/gender studies programs and other lightweight fluff programs that most students don’t take seriously in the first place, and made it through high school based on “social promotion” instead of a demonstrable mastery of the required skills, MIGHT just have something to do with their alienation from the rest of the student populace?

    The problem with all these efforts by the PC-addled Powers That Be is that they spend a lot of efforts trying to cure the symptoms instead of the causes, therefore their results have the opposite intended effect. The so-called “under-representation” of black students @ Cal (and colleges/universities in general) has NOTHING to do with “institutional racism” or any other of the common bogeymen conjured up by the usual pundits. African-American students are admitted, and GRADUATE, in far fewer numbers based on the percentage of their population simply because proportionately less of them are college material to begin with. Black students have a lower graduation rate from HS than whites or Asians, and on average they have lower GPAs and scores on SAT and other standardized tests. Pushing for increased “representation” isn’t going to solve the problem, but only make it tensions and conflict worse, as dropout rates increase while more qualified students are turned away.

    If those who wail over the lack of “diversity” on college campuses were seriously interested in improving the academic prospects of the African-American community, maybe they should take a look at the factors that created this situation in the first place, such as the poor level of performance of the state’s public K-12 schools, the epidemic of single motherhood in the black community, and the influence of a destructive culture which romanticizes gangsterism, immediate gratification over long-term benefits, and disses education as being “white”. The bitter, alienated, and poorly performing black students on college campuses are in many cases the end product (and victims) of a dysfunctional worldview that works harder to defeat their own goals and ambitions than any racist bogeyman hiding under a rock somewhere…

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    • Chief Presiding Judge

      African Americans don’t dismiss education as being “white”; society dismisses African Americans as being “not for educational” (400 years of white supremacist laws undoubtedly contributed to this view). I attended white middleschools and highschools and was repeatedly teased by the white children for being an “oreo” and “talking white”.

      In a typical reactionary victim-blaming way you miss the entire point of things like affirmation action and spout common right wing talking points. You are ignorant, sad, and bitter. Instead of pretending that discrimination doesn’t exist (because, as a white male, you have the privilege of it never effecting you) how about you employ some critical thinking that involves thinking outside of your narrow box?

      Lastly, “PC” is complete buzzword that belongs on Fox News and not in intelligent discussion. Oh, and no, diversity does not belong in quotes.