Campus climate hearing addresses Black student experience across UC system

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A campus climate hearing held Tuesday by the ASUC External Affairs Vice President’s office and Assemblymember Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, addressed issues regarding the Black student experience throughout the UC system.

Marking the fifth year of the establishment of the state Select Committee on Campus Climate, committee chair Weber said the hearing aimed to disclose the origins and handlings of situations involving underrepresented students on college campuses, as well as finding solutions. The evening was split into two parts, enabling the student perspective to be heard, followed by a panel addressing campus climate progress and responses to alleged racial hate incidents.

Chancellor Carol Christ opened the hearing with a statement about the challenges persisting on campus after a history of “systemic marginalization.” She added that a comprehensive undergraduate student diversity project was launched last year to expand diversity and improve the experience of historically underrepresented or marginalized communities.

“We must strive for equity of experience for every student on our campus, building a culture of belonging and identify ways to highlight those from underrepresented and marginalized groups as contributors and co-constructors of our university,” Christ said during the hearing. “These efforts … are necessary for us to remain a top teaching and research institution.”

Using data from the Anti-Defamation League, Weber shared that there has been a 77% increase across the nation of extremist propaganda distribution on college campuses. Furthermore, California had the most incidents of extremist propaganda across the country for the 2018-19 school year, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

Traversing into the student panel portion of the evening, Sadia Khan, campus senior and student leader from the Muslim Student Association West, alleged that Islamophobic rhetoric is present on campus. She alleges that this includes hosting conservative speakers and the alleged vilification of religions, which can affect students’ ability to learn.

In 2018, UC Berkeley had the lowest “equity index score” of all the UC schools for Black students, according to a report from the USC Race and Equity Center.

“Despite the common descriptor of a progressive campus in the most progressive city in the world, students of color tend to suffer at UC Berkeley,” alleged Dominick Williams, campus senior and former UC Student Association Racial Justice Now campaign chair, during the hearing.

Williams alleged that Black students continue to face discrimination from UPCD, adding that a Black student was allegedly harassed by a former UCPD officer six times.

On campus, Black student enrollment was at 2.8% for fall 2019, which is slightly lower than the past two years, according to UC Berkeley’s fall enrollment data.

After Proposition 209 was passed — banning affirmative action across California — the UC system created the Student Academic Preparation and Educational Partnerships program to tackle problems of income, education and racial gaps, Williams said during the hearing. Since 2005, however, funding for this and other programs decreased, while tuition and housing costs increased, according to Williams.

“We definitely feel like we don’t belong if we can’t afford to go here or must starve ourselves in order to afford our books,” Williams said during the hearing.

Every Wednesday, Black students meet in front of the Golden Bear café for “Black Wednesday,” according to Williams. He said this space was born out of the rarity of Black students seeing each other on campus, and every year their numbers decrease.

During the last five years, the UC Berkeley African American Initiative has addressed issues including recruitment, retention and academic support, said Oscar Dubón, UC Berkeley vice chancellor of equity and inclusion, at the event. The Fannie Lou Hamer Black Resource Center was also opened, but these are “fruits of the labor of Black student activism,” said Ahmad Mahmoud, president of the campus NAACP chapter.

When Weber asked each student on the panel for one suggestion that would make a difference on campus, some students echoed the need to repeal Proposition 209, which Weber said aligns with her hopes for future conversations at the California Capitol.

“Our campuses are not thermometers — they don’t just measure the climate, they determine the climate,” Weber said during the hearing.

Contact Maxine Mouly at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @moulymaxine.