Campus’s Black Student Union makes demands to improve campus climate

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UC Berkeley’s Black Student Union released a list of demands Wednesday, directed at Chancellor Nicholas Dirks, in an effort to effect institutional change and improve the condition of black students on campus.

The demands consist of 10 proposals to improve both the recruitment and retention of black students at UC Berkeley, such as the creation of a resource center for black student development and the hiring of two full-time, black admissions staff members. These proposals come amid various efforts to improve campus climate, including an initiative to increase the numbers of black students, faculty and senior staff, among other goals, which is currently under development by campus administrators.

The demands are tied to dialogue initiated between Dirks and the union after the hanging of effigies depicting apparent lynchings on campus in December, according to BSU member Cori McGowens.

Members of the union met with Dirks and Claude Steele, the executive vice chancellor and provost, Feb. 13, when they presented their demands. They discussed the issues again with Steele and Gibor Basri, the vice chancellor for equity and inclusion, in March.

In a letter to the union’s co-chair of political affairs, Dirks addressed both meetings, noting that the campus is hiring a full-time position to coordinate bridges — a coalition of student-run recruitment and retention centers — in addition to hiring a student-athlete development adviser who works mostly with black athletes.

“Too many students have told us about being excluded from study groups, ignored during class discussions … and feeling, in a general sense, vulnerable, isolated, and invisible,” Dirks wrote in the letter. “This is something we deplore.”

BSU members, though, expressed disappointment that Dirks did not address each individual demand and that his response came a few days after the deadline they set, according to a press release.

In crafting solutions, McGowens said, the BSU is consulting a variety of members from the UC Berkeley black community. Black students made up about 3 percent of fall freshman enrollment on campus, according to campus enrollment data.

In addition to plans related to the bridges program and black student-athletes, their specific proposals also included the hiring of two permanent full-time, black psychologists on campus and the renaming of Barrows Hall — currently named after a former UC president whom the release described as “an imperialist by way of anthropology.”

Whereas steps outlined by the chancellor’s letter include funding for Getting into Graduate School, a program designed to encourage students to apply to graduate school, the BSU demands doubling its budget.

“We found both the Feb. 13 and March 6 meetings to be positive,” the press release read. “(But) 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.”

Basri said he is seeking feedback from multiple parties to help craft the initiative, including the ASUC president and Graduate Assembly, and that it is not the right time in the process to be saying yes or no definitively to particular ideas.

“We greatly appreciate the input of the students through this venue and through other venues,” Basri said. “I really do want to partner with the whole campus community in defining the way this finally looks.”

Basri, who is stepping down this year, said he aims to draft a full proposal by mid-April to present to the chancellor for further consideration.

The BSU wanted, though, more details from the administration. They requested another response by the chancellor by Tuesday and that their proposals be implemented within the next few months.

Moving forward, McGowens said she foresees the possibility of peaceful protest to support the union’s goals.


“Our goal is to mobilize more support,” she said. “We want to make sure black students understand they’re not alone.”

Contact Ishaan Srivastava and Melissa Wen at [email protected].