Black UC Berkeley graduate students unite to combat underrepresentation at chancellor’s reception

Yukun Zhang/Staff

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At the chancellor’s second annual Black graduate student reception Tuesday, many Black UC Berkeley graduate students had the opportunity to be surrounded by a Black community for the first time since joining the campus.

The annual event was inaugurated in spring 2017, when a group of Black graduate students raised concerns about underrepresentation on campus, according to Graduate Assembly President Kena Hazelwood-Carter. Then-chancellor Nicholas Dirks responded by committing to an annual reception.

Black students make up a little more than 3 percent of campus graduate students, which is about half of the percentage of Black California residents and a quarter of the percentage of Black Americans. Many Black graduate students are the only Black students in their respective program, according to Chancellor Carol Christ.

“I know there are far too few of you,” Christ said to students as she welcomed them at the event. “I have some ideas about increasing that number.”

The event was formerly held during the spring semester, but Christ moved the event to the fall semester in light of requests from students. This year’s reception was attended by about 100 students and faculty.

“If we’re looking to build community, it doesn’t really make sense to have people on campus for more than half the year without talking,” Hazelwood-Carter said of the decision to move the event.

Although the reception was primarily an opportunity to meet and mingle with other community members, a handful of Black students and faculty spoke during the event. Takiyah Jackson, interim director of UC Berkeley African American Student Development, expressed her commitment to designing more programs that serve graduate students. Hazelwood-Carter emphasized the value of being able to connect with other Black graduate students on campus — a rare opportunity, she said, as one of fewer than 400.

“Thank you for just affirming that we’re here,” Hazelwood-Carter said with tears in her eyes. “You are advancing everyone, and that is a lot to carry.”

Yukun Zhang/Staff

Yukun Zhang/Staff

The Graduate Assembly and the Black Graduate Student Association worked with the chancellor’s office to organize the reception at the University House. According to Hazelwood-Carter, the Graduate Assembly exists in part to prevent campus from overlooking the needs of graduate students. Black graduate students, Hazelwood-Carter said, make up a population that is “marginalized within a population that is marginalized.”

Madison Jackson, a first year Black graduate student pursuing a master’s degree in translational medicine, said she was expecting the campus to be slightly more welcoming and tolerant.

“It may just be the state of the world right now,” Jackson said. “I’m here to meet people … and I’m here to listen.”

Students spent time connecting with deans, staff and other students well past the event’s scheduled 6 p.m. end time.

“This event has a lot of potential,” said Black Graduate Student Association President Derrika Hunt during the event. “To connect us, to ground us and to give us some hope.”

Contact Olivia Nouriani at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @olivianouriani.