During the 1980s, African American students at UC Santa Cruz held a 21 percent six-year graduation rate. Recognizing the need for additional resources for this student population, Sister Paula Livers-Powell established the African American Resource and Cultural Center (AARCC). 30 years later, the six-year graduation rate for African American students at UCSC is more than triple what is had been three decades ago.
The center virtually gathered alumni, directors, and students to celebrate its 30th anniversary on April 16. The two-part event consisted of four keynote speakers who shared what the organization means to them, along with breakout rooms uniting current students and AARCC alumni.
The event began with program coordinator Melissa Chimwaza introducing the interns and keynote speakers, along with AARCC programs. These programs, including Black Academy, foster community and connect students with faculty through the promotion of Black excellence.
“During this virtual year, our programs have been focused on helping students feel a sense of community and joy with each other and also bringing them closer to resources that may be difficult to access as we all experience the impacts of COVID at varying degrees,” Chimwaza said in an email. “It was extremely gratifying to hear folks from all across the US of varying graduation years share their memories of AARCC. [The alumni] all agree that AARCC was a big part of their experience at UCSC.”
Chimwaza was grateful to hear the words of appreciation from alumni toward the work of the current students, and emphasized the AARCC interns’ dedicated effort to make its 30th anniversary celebration a success. The interns helped facilitate the event, using brief bios to introduce each keynote speaker and their speeches on the need for this resource center to exist.
“I want to start off with the fact that many of us that are on this Zoom call weren’t meant to be here,” said keynote speaker Dr. Aaron Jones. “That our institutions weren’t created for us and they were intended for the success of white propertied Christian men.”
During his speech, Dr. Jones said the purpose behind the AARCC is to provide “faces, places, and spaces” for Black students at UCSC. Dr. Jones clarified, saying the “faces” were symbols for enriching representation and welcoming students to a safe environment on campus. “Places” represent the tangible locations they occupy, and “spaces” embody the community of students, faculty, and staff that make up AARCC and the UCSC community.
- Dr. Aaron Jones: Dr. Aaron Jones is currently an Educational Opportunity Programs (EOP) director, and has been a part of the program for five years and is now the Associate Director for Black Academy, an AARCC program that aids students with the transition into higher education and provides programs that help them build connections with one another.
- Dr. Jennifer Baszile: She first joined UC Santa Cruz in 2019 as the assistant Vice Chancellor for Career Success, where she brought more student employment, internship and post-grad work opportunities to the career center.
- Sister Paula Livers-Powell: The founding director of the AARCC, Sister Paula Livers-Powell worked as the director of AARCC for 20 years before being hired at San Jose State University to begin their African-American/Black Student Success Center.
- Dr. Marla Wyche: Dr. Marla Wyche became the AARCC director after Sister Paula Livers-Powell stepped down from the position in 2012. As a former director of AARCC, Dr. Wyche prioritized building connections and bringing guidance to the program.
- Shonté Thomas: Shonté Thomas is a UCSC alumna (Rachel Carson, ‘99) and former director of the AARCC. Thomas worked with Dr. Aaron Jones to create Black Academy six years ago, and currently serves as the Associate Dean of Students for Ethnic and Gender Centers (E&Gs) at UC Riverside
Following Dr. Jones, Sister Paula Livers-Powell, through a pre-recorded video, described the AARCC as a model for growing resource and cultural centers. She said it provides a space for community and culture to underresourced students to thrive, and has done so for 30 years.
The event was open to all, and audience members consisted of former staff of the AARCC, alum, current students, family members, and more. AARCC staff members like Xaul Starr and Chimwaza, current students like graduating Ph.D. candidate Maya Iverson-Davis, and Camira Powell, daughter of Sister Livers-Powell, who shared her experience growing up in the AARCC community were among the virtual crowd.
“I spent my entire childhood running around, seeing these programs, seeing these students, and seeing what was created in this space. When I think about what I’ve been able to do in my life and I’ve been able to see, I think what I’ve taken away the most is that Black excellence is everywhere,” Powell said. “It’s in what you do, it’s in what you say, it’s in the community that you build, and what you believe in. I am so thankful for the memory that I have and for the experiences I was able to share in being there.”
Near the close of the main event, participants were invited to share personal testimonies about their experiences in the AARCC community. Among those who shared was Iverson-Davis, who tearfully shared the impact AARCC has had on her education and identity.
“I really didn’t have direction,” Iverson-Davis said. “I think AARCC, Shonté, Aaron, everybody at the Ethnic Resource Centers, really gave me a way to sort of think about just existing as Black, existing as queer, existing as someone who can identify problems in these spaces and then figure out a way to strategize around it and make the world better for people.”