The Berkeley Student Cooperative led a series of focus groups last week as part of an ongoing effort to create a Person of Color theme house planned for the fall 2016 semester.
The charter has been undergoing revisions by the BSC’s Demographic Inclusion Task Force, or DITF, since the BSC voted in May to introduce the Person of Color theme house as part of UC Berkeley’s co-op system, an independent nonprofit that currently manages 17 local houses and three apartments, including theme houses for LGBT and black students.
The most recent draft of the charter includes the goals of making a safer space for low-income underrepresented-minority students and building cultural awareness through workshops and discussions. The charter also includes opportunities for cross-cultural sharing through food, music and dance.
According to Joanna Garcia, a senior at UC Berkeley and a member of the DITF, the decision to design a co-op specifically for underrepresented minorities was motivated by a shared sentiment among some community members — expressed in a focus group earlier this year exploring new housing projects — that some had grown uncomfortable with the lack of diversity in the houses.
“The (co-op) culture doesn’t suit people of color,” said campus sophomore Peter Estrada, who is in his first semester at Casa Zimbabwe. “I have trouble relating to people in that place.”
DITF members have said another barrier to entry for underrepresented minorities and other prospective tenants is the point system that houses use for giving space preference to those who have previously lived in co-ops. Some in the community have said this system limits opportunities for new people to join.
“The BSC is currently inaccessible to a variety of communities,” said Spencer Simpson, a UC Berkeley senior who is on the board of the BSC. “PoC (house) will alleviate that issue.”
Members of the task force have expressed hope that the Person of Color house will become a place for students to enter the co-op community or transfer from other houses more flexibly. Simpson noted that students in co-ops tend to move from house to house each semester and that the introduction of underrepresented minorities into the co-op system could help make the BSC a more socially conscious and progressive space.
“Once you’re part of BSC, it’s easier to move around than if you are trying to get into BSC,” said Nkosi Enciso Givhan, a senior who is on the DITF and led a focus group discussion Saturday. Enciso Givhan lived in the African American theme house last year before moving into Casa Zimbabwe.
According to Kelechi Emeziem, a member of the DITF, the BSC has allocated funding for the project and is working on finding property for the Person of Color house.
“The challenge that remains, much like with a literal house, is making a solid foundation that will last decades,” Enciso Givhan said.