UC Berkeley’s student-led Black Lives Matter movement calls for ‘systemic change’ on campus

BSU Protest
Brianna Luna/Staff

Related Posts

UC Berkeley’s Black student leaders and organizers have long advocated for increased recruitment, academic support and a more welcoming campus climate for Black students, but recent national unrest has reinvigorated the campus Black Lives Matter movement’s calls for change.

Three student organizations central to the campus movement — known collectively as the “Triad” — are the Black Student Union, or BSU, the office of African American Student Development, or AASD, and the Black Recruitment and Retention Center, or BRRC.

While BRRC and AASD both aim to improve the academic, social and professional experience of Black students on campus, BRRC is also responsible for increasing Black representation in UC Berkeley’s student body by reaching out to prospective students.

According to ASUC Academic Affairs Vice President Nicole Anyanwu, a Black student at UC Berkeley, BSU acts as the advocacy and political arm of UC Berkeley’s Black student community. BSU also serves as a resource for the community to make “systemic change” on campus through organizational activism and direct lobbying of the administration.

“While communication has improved, the administration still needs to meet with BSU’s leaders more often,” Anyanwu said. “We feel that our demands are not being fully heard.”

The Black student community’s frustration reached a boiling point in 2015, Anyanwu explained, when it staged a protest to demand a community center to support Black students on campus. A two-year demonstration organized by BSU eventually resulted in the creation of the Fannie Lou Hamer Black Resource Center.

Anyanwu added that while the resource center was a hard-fought victory for the Black student community, a number of important campus reforms are still pending.

In 2016, BSU presented a list of 10 demands to administration, some of which have yet to be fulfilled. One unmet demand is the renaming of Barrows Hall to “Assata Shakur Hall.”

According to Nayzak Wali-Ali, a Black organizer and board member of BSU and BRRC, two primary goals have emerged for the Black student community since the list of demands was presented in 2016.

“Black activists on campus are working towards defunding and ultimately abolishing UCPD, while reinvesting those funds to better serve students,” Wali-Ali said in an email.

The UC Berkeley Black Lives Matter, or BLM, movement’s other major goal is the passage of ACA 5, Wali-Ali added.

ACA 5, a bill that aims to address racial, ethnic and gender inequality by repealing Proposition 209 and reinstating affirmative action, is expected to improve Black student representation at many of California’s colleges and universities. With Black students making up less than 4% of UC Berkeley’s total student population, Wali-Ali and other BLM organizers believe that ACA 5’s passage is “vital” to solving the campus’s representation issues.

According to Alexa Nicolas, a campus Ph.D. candidate and spokesperson for the student worker union United Auto Workers, or UAW, Local 2865, UC Berkeley’s BLM movement has found allies in organized campus labor on the issue of UCPD funding.

“It has long been part of our tradition of organizing and activism on campus to rally around defunding, demilitarizing and disarming UCPD in line with our Black and Brown members,” Nicolas said.

Nicolas added that UAW Local 2865 has called for UCPD’s defunding for multiple reasons.

The union’s support for the BLM movement’s defunding campaign stems from UCPD’s alleged racial targeting and excessive use of force, Nicolas explained, citing as an example the 2018 arrest of David Cole, a picketing Black member of a UC service workers’ union.

“As workers and as part of a labor movement at large, our stance has always been that the police are there to break picket lines — they are not allies of workers,” Nicolas alleged, elaborating on another reason for UAW Local 2865’s calls to defund UCPD.

Amid ongoing national unrest over the death of George Floyd, UC Berkeley’s Black student leaders have weighed the most effective methods of political change.

Anyanwu believes that a bottom-up approach to combating racial injustice has greater potential than alternative strategies of change.

“While it’s heartening to see so many students donating to national BLM groups, investing in local organizations and campus groups is so much more impactful,” Anyanwu said. “There are many, many injustices happening in students’ backyards that need to be dealt with immediately.”

Contact Mattias Hoz at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @hozmattias.