Recognizing racism, but making progress

Samantha Rosenbaum/File

Earlier this week, Daily Cal writer Josh Escobar bravely addressed the issues of racism being faced by our Cal community. The Berkeley Student Cooperative wants to formally apologize for the inappropriate racial comments and atmosphere he experienced in our cooperative community.

Escobar is correct that racism still exists in Berkeley. As a student-housing organization driven to provide cooperative, quality and affordable living, the BSC does not accept examples of telling people to grow a “thicker skin” as the solution to solving issues relating to racism. The BSC is committed to continuing our active solutions to create a safe space for all individuals on campus. Currently, our community is having active discussions about race through workshops and trainings for our social managers, who have taken a stronger role in routinely checking in with all members of our community to engage in dialogue around these issues. In light of recent events, the leadership of the BSC is reviewing our policies and having an active dialog with our community members about how to make our homes a more welcoming and safe environment. The BSC and the BSC’s board of directors have always engaged in active dialogs about race, and we will make a greater effort and continue to make outreach, education and dialogue the core focus in tackling these issues.

Two years ago, the BSC conducted a census to better understand the racial and socioeconomic makeup of our community. While the survey demonstrated that we do indeed serve a diverse population, we still see the need to create a more accessible and inclusive space that reaches out to more low-income students, students of need and students of color. Additionally, the survey measured climate in our communities. Through the climate assessment, the BSC had a better understanding that issues of culture and perception are critical in creating a more inclusive and welcoming space.

Issues revolving around racism are common, but they certainly are hard to address effectively. The BSC is committed to creating spaces for cooperation to help positively respond to community issues. We want to protect and promote free expression and ensure our members to feel safe enough to freely express themselves. At the same time, we want to ensure people feel safe enough to be able to respond to dialogue that offends them and makes them uncomfortable.

Please remember that when people are upset about racism, the anger is not necessarily focused on the individual but rather on the history and personal struggle the situation evokes. Hence, when dealing with issues regarding discrimination and oppression, we are committed to making sure we do not have a victim-blaming mentality. Additionally, it is important to be cognizant of not pitting communities against one another and not letting different struggles and oppression be used as a tool to delegitimize other people’s sufferings. While drawing parallels from experiences are important, making false comparisons between struggles is not. We also understand that universal prescriptions are not always the best solutions in dealing with unique struggles.

The personal dialogue Escobar is willing to have is a dialogue we encourage through insistence on safe spaces and consent, facilitation of open-mindedness and cultivated empowerment for members to share their struggles and experiences. Each semester, many house managers, presidents, social managers and BSC board members hold race and consent workshops and discussions in our living spaces. Still, we acknowledge the need for more ways to effectively address the problems Escobar brings up.

As a member of the cooperative, I have witnessed cases of racial insensitivity and discrimination, and the struggle is real. What has really challenged me, however, is how much I have been exposed to and educated by many different individuals who were willing, brave and patient enough to share with me their personal struggles, call me out on my personal privileges and educate me on my personal ignorance. I challenge all members of the co-op and our greater Cal Community to question our own individual privileges and be brave enough to understand and own up to our individual mistakes and unfamiliarity with issues that may not affect us particularly but deeply offend others.

While the co-ops are committed to having great parties that are epic, fun and safe, we are also committed to building racial understanding through discussion, to active member inclusion and (as always) to striving to serve students needing low-cost, affordable housing who otherwise would not be able to afford a university education. We stand with the Berkeley community in creating more inclusive, safe and empowering spaces.

James Chang is the Berkeley Student Cooperative’s vice-president of external affairs.