Black students at UC Berkeley demand institutional changes

BERKELEY, Calif. – The Black Student Union and other key Black student organizations on UC Berkeley’s campus have demanded that Chancellor Nicholas Dirks implement institutional changes to address the conditions of Black students at the university.

“Black students, staff, and faculty on UC Berkeley’s campus are in a state of emergency requiring immediate attention,” said Gabrielle Shuman, co-chair of political affairs for the BSU. On Feb. 13, Black student leaders met with Chancellor Dirks and Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Claude Steele to demand changes. These demands of the Chancellor include increased space for Black students, increased staffing for recruitment and retention of Black students, mental health resources, support for Black student athletes, and recruitment of more Black graduate students and faculty.

Admissions and enrollment of Black undergraduate and graduate students at UC Berkeley is abysmal. Black students also report high levels of disrespect, stereotypes and an anti-black campus climate. “The Chancellor told the campus he is working with the Black Student Union to improve campus climate,” said Spencer Pritchard, chair of the CalSERVE coalition. “We worked with multiple campus partners to bring the Chancellor tangible proposals that are ready to be implemented.”

We found both the February 13th and the March 6th meetings to be positive, and were looking forward to the next concrete steps Chancellor Dirks would take to address our demands. However, we were frustrated when Chancellor Dirks defaulted on the March 6th, 2015 deadline we gave him to respond to the Black Student Union Demands, and did not respond until Tuesday, March 10th. We were further frustrated when the response we received did not adequately address our concerns - rather Chancellor Dirks circumvented having to directly respond to each of our demands as we had requested. He instead removed his office from the responsibility to implement solutions to the issues we face, shifting the focus to other departments, and left several critical issues we raised unaddressed entirely. We understand this action to demonstrate disrespect to the Black Student Union and our efforts to better our conditions on this campus.

BSU member Alana Banks said, “Black people have been oppressed by this university since its creation. The fact that we have to come up with demands for long-overdue support, to us, is a testament of our condition.”

Students found the meeting to be positive and look forward to the next concrete steps Chancellor Dirks will take to address their demands. Nzingha Dugas, Director of African American Student Development, also attended the meeting.

“We hope the chancellor stays true to his word and works with us. We need leadership, not rhetoric, in order to improve campus climate,” Pritchard said. “He must follow up his words with action.”

Furthermore, if studnets do not receive a written response from Chancellor Dirks addressing in detail, each of the individual demands as they were presented, by 5:00PM on Tuesday, March 17th, students will understand that the Chancellor has not prioritized the dire needs of Black students on this campus. And as such, students and allies will proceed accordingly.