The Black Student Union, or BSU, has reached an agreement with Chancellor Nicholas Dirks to create a resource center for Black students on campus that will open in September.
Under the agreement, which was signed by Dirks and Black Student Union chair Elias Hinit on July 19, the Fannie Lou Hamer Resource Center will be located in rooms D3, D4 and DF of the Hearst Field Annex for the next five years. The agreement also stipulates the chancellor will designate $82,885 to renovate and furnish the building.
The agreement comes after 15 months of mobilizing by the Black Student Union and the Afrikan Black Coalition to ensure Black students’ “academic, social, cultural, and political” needs at UC Berkeley are met. In March 2015, the BSU sent a list of demands to Dirks to help improve the experiences of Black students on campus, including proposals to create a resource center for students and hire two full-time Black admissions staff members.
“Make no mistake; this center was not an easy win by any means,” said Gabrielle Shuman, chair of the Black Student Union from 2014 to 2015, in a statement. “Black students and staff have been fighting battles for a space like this for decades. We sacrificed a great deal of time, sleep, studying, and even class attendance to make sure we could catch every calculated curveball thrown at us during this process.”
In December 2014, effigies of Black figures in the image of a lynching were hung on Sather Gate and other locations on campus, which a Bay Area collective of artists later claimed responsibility for. This event prompted dialogue between the BSU and Dirks at a February meeting, where the BSU called attention to improve the campus climate for Black students.
Vice Chancellor of Equity and Inclusion and former chair of the campus African American studies department Na’ilah Nasir, who worked closely with the BSU in its efforts to create the center, said that Black students at UC Berkeley experience discrimination and exclusion on a daily basis. She added that Black students constitute less than 3 percent of the student population on campus.
“Our students are walking into classes where they are often the only Black students in the class,” Nasir said. “And so, having a space where they can come and be a community with each other is really important.”
According to Nasir, previous locations considered for the center included a room in the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union basement, which was ultimately considered an inadequate space because of its lack of privacy.
For Black students, the center will function as a place where they can host events, organize study sessions and foster relationships with other Black students and staff members.
“Black people, no matter our location, need a space of our own in order to heal, create, build and decompress,” said Cori McGowens, 2015-16 chair of the Black Student Union, in a statement. “This campus has a wide array of Black leaders who will be able to utilize this space to continue to do the work of our people.”