Black Oversight Committee demands action after alleged anti-Blackness at UCSA Students of Color Conference

Alexandra Gessesse/Courtesy

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A group of Black students has established the University of California Student Association Black Oversight Committee and has issued a set of demands to the UCSA after witnessing alleged anti-Blackness at the UC-wide Students of Color Conference, or SOCC.

The Black Oversight Committee was formed on the spot through a two- to three-hour SOCC Black Caucus meeting, and demands were presented verbally to the UCSA board, according to Dominick Williams, co-chair of the Black Oversight Committee.

The Black Caucus was created at the conference after Black student participants said they observed anti-Blackness in different gender-specific caucuses. This led them to form a Black Caucus space on their own terms, according to Alexandra Gessesse, a senator in the Associated Students of UC Santa Barbara and co-chair of the Black Oversight Committee.

Gessesse said the Black Caucus met because of “the fact that we weren’t given the space to debrief as a community.”

UCSA president Judith Gutierrez and media fellow Carlitos Willis could not be reached for comment as of press time.

According to Gessesse, while there were gendered caucus spaces, there was no designated Black Caucus. On the second day of the conference, there were alleged refusals to address issues raised by Black student participants at the SOCC-designated gender-specific caucuses.

“The Student of Color Conference caucus spaces perpetuated anti-Black sentiment via seemingly color blind discourse within the spaces,” the statement said. “Questions posed in the women of color space lacked an understanding or analysis of the intersection of the Black woman’s positionality. In the men of color space, Black men were essentially silenced or ignored when discussing the complexities of masculinities in our communities.”

Williams said the statement created by the Black Oversight Committee was adapted from the verbal demands made to the UCSA board. A press release from the Black Oversight Committee detailed the causes and incidents of alleged anti-Blackness at the SOCC and criticized the conference’s failure to improve protocol on anti-Blackness from the 2016 SOCC.

The 2016 SOCC was officially organized around the topic of anti-Blackness. According to the Black Oversight Committee’s press release, “coordinators failed to address the presence of anti-Blackness on college campuses, causing no further actions to be taken in tackling the issue.”

“This statement shows the hard and continuous efforts that Black students take to get themselves basic services or even just the decent respect to be heard,” Gessesse said.

Urgent demands listed in the committee’s statement include diversity training for UCSA’s board and for SOCC facilitators, availability of gender-neutral restrooms for future UCSA conferences, a UC-wide campaign on anti-Blackness and circulation of the Black Oversight Committee’s statement across UC news outlets.

Students on the committee emphasized that the anti-Blackness that was evident at SOCC was not only indicative of a lack of diversity training within the UCSA structure but also of a lack of solidarity on the issue of anti-Blackness at the campus level.

“An understanding and grasp of anti-Blackness is prerequisite to talking about these issues,” said ASUC External Affairs Vice President Rigel Robinson. “Too often it becomes the job of just Black students to have these conversations.”

Contact Michele Meltzer at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @michele_meltzer.