Members of the campus community discussed the racial climate that African-American, Black and Caribbean (ABC) students face at UC Santa Cruz during a forum held at the Cervantes and Velasquez room of the Bay Tree Conference Center.
The forum, held on Oct. 9 and hosted by members of the African-American Resource and Cultural Center, saw faculty administrators, students and other staff discuss the result of the Diverse Learning Environments (DLE) survey. They shared their thoughts on how African-American students, who make up 2.9 percent of undergraduates at UCSC, experience the racial climate on campus.
Held in spring 2011, the DLE survey aimed to examine the racial climate at UCSC by asking undergraduate students about their personal experiences and interactions as well as their opinions about university policies and actions.
The DLE Survey results found that almost half of ABC respondents were dissatisfied with the racial diversity on campus. The outcome of the survey resonated with many students who attended the panel discussion.
Jocqui Smollett, co-chair of the African/Black Student Alliance (A/BSA), said the racial climate on campus was “unstable.” He shared with the audience how he had in the past been ignored by some of his class professors, and recalled instances of discrimination among students on campus.
“People don’t really see [racism on campus]. Everyone thinks Santa Cruz is such a progressive university and there’s nothing to be done, when in reality there is a lot of room for improving diversity on this campus,” Smollett said.
According to the DLE Survey results, 55 percent of African-American/Black respondents reported “feeling insulted or threatened because of their race” at least sometimes, and 35 percent often or very often, while 45 percent of African American/Black respondents said they “never” or “rarely” had experiences of a hostile climate. 29 percent of African-American/Black respondents frequently heard students making insensitive or disparaging racial comments, while 22 percent reported witnessing discrimination often or very often.
The survey also found that 85 percent of ABC respondents felt that faculty believed in their potential to succeed academically. Institutional research analyst Anna Sher said this may have been because of the broad nature of the survey questions, so that even if a student had experienced a specific instance of racial discrimination, their overall response might still be positive.
“The survey questions are very general … like, ‘Do you feel faculty encourage you to ask questions?’ If the majority of faculty members treat you well, then you would say yes,” Sher said.
Some students and faculty at the panel also advocated for the expansion of the Rosa Parks African American Theme House (RPAATH), which is located at Stevenson College. The residency is a popular living environment for students who share a passion for political, cultural, social and economic issues that affect African-Americans.
“Instead of dedicating a whole building to the African and Black community, students were asking for a floor that would be centralized around a theme like African-American culture,” said commissioner of academic affairs Wanjiku (Shiku)Muhire.
However, Smith said, not all ABC students wish to stay in an exclusively African-American space. Meka Williams, RPAATH resident and second-year sociology major said she wanted to embrace diversity by living among students of all ethnicities.
“A lot of people don’t want to feel isolated, that’s not the goal here,” Williams said. “We just wanna see more [ABC students] on campus.”
Speaking at the panel discussion, executive vice chancellor Alison Galloway said the university is aiming for higher levels of recruitment and retention of African-American students and staff, though she said the task may prove challenging.
“We say a lot about diversity on this campus, and yet we are often less able to say how we support it,” Galloway said.
Sher said the results of the DLE Survey concluded that students at UCSC expect to see more campus-wide actions promoting diversity, including more public discussions of critical issues such as racism.
Sher said participation in the survey was completely voluntary. Students were requested via e-mail and poster advertisements to sign up for the questionnaire, but many students never responded. Sher said the poll still represents the diversity on campus.
“Our response rate was 33 percent … we included students of all ethnicities, so the results are representative of the entire student population,” Sher said.
Donnae Smith, coordinator of the Diversity and Inclusion Program, an initiative aimed at enhancing cultural competency around UCSC, said she was concerned about the low response rate. Student participation is crucial, Smith said, since survey results often inform decisions around diversity policies.
“I often tell my students that their voice is a tool that can be used to make a difference,” Smith said