Speaking to a packed crowd at the Quarry Amphitheater, Black Student Union (BSU) President X Starr turned around and locked eyes with one attendee sitting behind them during their speech: Michael Drake, the president of the University of California. Squatting in front of both Drake and Chancellor Cynthia Larive and staring them down, one message that Starr had for them was this: Start listening to your students.
To Starr, the same urgency given in renaming College Ten was not given to Black students on campus, who lack equitable access to housing, sustainable food resources, and mental health care.
“Use this time to take charge and show that you are different from previous and other presidents and start listening to your students by working on the new Students’ Quality of Life Demands that were literally just handed to you,” Starr said.
Passed around the John R. Lewis College dedication were pamphlets listing three demands for President Drake and the UCSC administration:
- UCSC administration committing to abolish the proposed 2022-23 meal plan and integrate an in-depth task force that not only brings in community stakeholders but provides voting membership that gives authority to reject any proposals if need be.
- Cancel any housing increases and meet graduate worker demands on Cost of Living Adjustments.
- Fully address and complete BSU’s May 2021 Unrelenting Anti-Blackness Demands by the end of fall 2022 and reallocate the endowment for renaming College Ten to John R. Lewis College, in funding the completion of BSU’s May 2021 Unrelenting Anti-Blackness Demands.
During the event, Starr and BSU Chair of Political and Cultural Affairs Airielle Silva spoke to the crowd in a section listed in the program as a “call to action.” By the time they were finished, it proved to be a strong rebuke to the university’s policies and inaction towards supporting Black students.
“The dedication event is supposed to be filled with joy and celebration. We as Black students cannot and are not allowed to fully enjoy this moment,” Silva said. “The Black students on this campus are faced with the repercussions of your decisions. Your decision to continually not support us and host performative events such as this one as a bandaid to the real issues at hand. The BSU has clearly and directly outlined what we have been demanding. The way that you make good trouble is by accepting the solutions we have repeatedly handed you.”
All this was said after students stood up in solidarity with BSU and their list of demands. Students rose to their feet holding signs saying “We Can See Your Greed UC,” as Larive and Drake took to the mic.
Emcees Cheru Robinson and Ray Diaz, the current College Ten representatives for the SUA, spoke on the matter. Diaz listed the demands, and when he turned around, taped to his back was the sign attendees were holding up, which was staring at Drake and Larive as he spoke at the podium.
President Drake’s presence as the first Black UC President emphasized the necessity of devolving the structures of whiteness involved in his position.
“If he continues on the path of not listening to his community and his students he’s going to end that succession and futority of Blackness in his position as well,” Silva said in a follow-up interview.
When the renaming of College Ten to John R. Lewis College was announced, there was initial excitement and pride for Starr and Silva. But those feelings of eagerness and enthusiasm subsided into confusion as to why the university was focusing more on its public image than working on substantive policies to support Black students on campus.
For Starr and Silva, that’s where the frustration kicks in. Frustration of unkept promises and the tireless labor and advocacy that Black students have to do just to survive in this institution. It’s appalling to them that they were on that stage expressing their frustration in the first place.
“This campus does not simply go from being anti-Black to pro-Black, just because one college is named after a revolutionary Black man,” Silva said.
The BSU sent Chancellor Larive the Unrelenting Anti-Blackness Demands on June 1, 2020 that UCSC fulfill to support Black students and build local resilience and safety for the Black community. Despite revisiting, revising, and resending the demands on May 17, 2021, only two of them have been completed by the university, while another two are currently being worked on. The remaining three demands have yet to be addressed.
Starr and Silva reiterated that the university should not resume business as usual. With the dedication of John R. Lewis College, the duo said, the bar is raised exponentially high.
“Meet us in the moment. You all have unfinished business, with not only your Black students on campus, but with all of its marginalized students,” Silva said.
Their call was also previously echoed by keynote speaker Terisa Siagatonu, who called for the UCSC administration and UC representatives to pay closer attention to the BSU’s call to action in the aftermath of students standing in solidarity for their demands. Other keynote speakers Wisdom Cole and LaTosha Brown used their time at the podium in order to speak on the action taken by audience members during Larive and Drake’s speeches.
“It is not lost on me that since my time here at UCSC, students of color here are still battling the same damn struggles that so many of us have battled within these institutions,” Siagatonu said.
Starr and Silva closed by thanking the students who supported and stood in solidarity with the BSU. They urged students to support them in challenging the university and supporting the Black community, all BIPOC communities on campus, and all marginalized communities as a whole.
They reminded the crowd that all the student resources provided by UC Santa Cruz were fought for and won by students. It’s a memory of the values that John R. Lewis always spoke of — good trouble.
“Good trouble will continue to be the cornerstone to student advocacy,” Starr said, “especially when greed and profiting off of those students, student-workers, workers, staff, lecturers, professors, unions has been the cornerstone of this imperialist, capitalist and anti-Black institution.”
Additional reporting by Rachel Raiyani.