‘Increase that sense of community’: UC Berkeley’s Black community resources

Emily Bi/Senior Staff

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Tucked in the corner of the Hearst Field Annex building is the Fannie Lou Hamer Black Resource Center, one of the various resources for the Black community at UC Berkeley.

The center first opened in February 2017 and will be celebrating its third anniversary this month, according to campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore. As a part of UC Berkeley’s African American Student Development, or AASD, the center serves the academic, social, cultural and political needs of the campus Black community.

AASD director Takiyah Jackson said in an email that since the opening of the center, AASD has been able to “enhance support services, resources, programs and development in the academic, social-emotional, career, and cultural enrichment realms.

“Our programs are comprehensive in scope and developmental in nature so we equip students with what they need at each stage of their journey,” Jackson said in the email. “We run year round programs to support the development of students and also partner with programs and departments across campus and in the community to support the community.”

In addition to offering space for students to convene and study, it provides multiple resources to the community. These resources include tutoring, professional development and networking events, special talks and workshops on mental and physical health, cultural programs and lecture series, among others.

Black student organizations are key partners in the collective community goals of AASD, according to Jackson.

AASD works in partnership with students, staff, faculty and the community to advance student development initiatives centered around the UC system’s diversity mission.

In a statement released December 2018 by UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ, a comprehensive Undergraduate Student Diversity Project was created to provide the necessary analysis and recommendations.

This was to expand undergraduate diversity to improve the campus experience for students from historically underrepresented or marginalized groups and communities in higher education.

The project also outlined proposals, including the expansion and improvement of the UC Berkeley African American Initiative, or AAI, which provides targeted financial aid and scholarships to increase yield in admitted students from the Black community.

The AAI scholarship fund was designed to bolster the campus’s African American student community and its overall campus experience, according to José Rodríguez, campus spokesperson for the University Development and Alumni Relations department.

“The AAI Scholarship is a valuable tool to help draw African American students who have been admitted to Berkeley but would otherwise choose to go elsewhere,” Rodríguez said in an email. “This investment supports a wide range of programs to transform the student population and create a more welcoming and inclusive campus.”

Rodríguez added that in the scholarship’s first two years, it has been awarded to 40 students, and it is anticipated that up to 42 scholarships will be offered in the upcoming academic year.

The Fannie Lou Hamer Black Resource Center is also considered to be the latest progress in the AAI.

The most effective way to become involved with the campus Black community is to meet staff, students and community members at the center, Gilmore said in an email.

“Typically many students representing a variety of Black orgs/majors/etc. On campus are coming in and out,” Gilmore said in the email. “It’s also where a student can go to get added to AASD’s list-serve where events, resources and more are shared regularly.”

Kyra Abrams, a teaching assistant for the African American Theme Program seminar, started working at the center during her freshman year at UC Berkeley and now helps students on the “Afro floor” of the residence halls become acclimated with writing about topics that impact the Black community.

Abrams added that the center is a space for Black students and that it tries to hold events and activities for Black students often, specifically ones that attract people to the center.

“It’s been a really great experience because we’re providing resources to our community. It’s just a really personalized space,” Abrams said. “When I say our community, I don’t mean just like Berkeley Black students. I mean like all Black people everywhere.”

Mariah Thompson, a space and logistics coordinator, has been working at the center for two years. Thompson and Abrams added that there are many initiatives in place, such as Black women healing groups and barbershop talks for Black-identifying males, and the center also works with the Gender Equity Resource Center.

The center hosts Black Wednesdays with other Black organizations outside of the Golden Bear Café as a way to draw more people in and increase community engagement, according to Thompson. The center also offers free printing and snacks to help with food insecurity.

“It’s a general holistic wellness that we try to really strive for here,” Thompson said.

According to Gilmore, Black students on campus are also provided with a host of other support services and resources for the broader student population.

There are also specific support services for the UC Berkeley Black community besides AASD and its initiatives, such as the Black Student Union and the Black Recruitment and Retention Center, or BRRC.

The BRRC helps bring students to the center and recruits the majority of Black students to campus, according to Abrams.

Thompson said the Fannie Lou Hamer Black Resource Center’s main goal is to make the space permanent and to expand its amount of resources to support current and incoming students.

“It’s about 3% Black students here total,” Thompson said. “Those numbers are low, it can be pretty isolating. To really increase that sense of community, you’re happy to be going to Cal every day.”

Thao Nguyen is a deputy news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @tnguyen_dc.