For three days in May 2017, Black students and supporters sat in the confines of an unventilated Kerr Hall to secure guaranteed housing for African, Black, and Caribbean (ABC) identifying students, along with other demands.
UC Santa Cruz’s Black Student Union (BSU), known then as the Afrikan/ Black Student Alliance (A/BSA), was at the forefront of this undertaking. Its legacy has since been cemented in the four year housing guarantee of the red, black, and green painted Rosa Parks African American Themed Housing (RPAATH) in Stevenson College.
BSU has continuously worked to uphold its mission statement of protecting the well-being of all Black students at UCSC.
At the cusp of the new school year, BSU will be welcoming its largest core since the start of the pandemic, with 13 members. On account of the many underclassmen in the mix, there’s a new burning ember for student organizing in the upcoming year.
New passion shouldn’t distract from the continual fight of BSU. For the past two years, members have struggled to get their demands answered by UCSC’s administration during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Response to State of Demands
Fifth-year BSU president X Starr, who goes by the mononym X, states their frustration with University administration’s response time to the union’s demands.
“I’m happy we’re at this place where we are, but it should not have taken so much blood, sweat and tears to just get these [demands] completed. There’s no way that that amount of work should have been needed to push the needle forward and create a baseline for how the university should operate.” – X, BSU President
First introduced on June 1, 2020 in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd the same year, the BSU came out with a demands list to ensure the safety of its Black students. Titled, “The Unrelenting Anti-Blackness of 2020,” this list was met with no tangible response–until a revised list came out almost a year later.
On May 17, 2021, “BSU May 2021 Revised Unrelenting Anti-Blackness Demands,” were sent in an email to Chancellor Cynthia Larive. While the demands stayed the same, the vernacular shifted to reflect the realities of the students and the necessity for the demands.
Almost a year later, only half of the demands were underway. Incoming second-year and current BSU Vice President, Airielle Silva, represents a newer face to the core. They relayed their sentiment towards the pace of these demands.
“I’m disappointed in how the institution responds to us. There’s no consistent relationship building. It’s like, oh, we hear you, we support you. And then a couple emails down the road is not really fixing it,” Silva said. “If we’re going to have these meetings, […] we want results.”
BSU Takes The Stage
UCSC administration announced in late 2021 that the previously named College Ten would be renamed to John R. Lewis (JRL) college to celebrate the work of the late civil rights activist and congressman.
With the celebration underway this past May 6, BSU students were invited to speak about what this renaming and representation meant to them. Both Silva and X took the stage.
Unbeknownst to the organizers of the dedication, students took the time to share what they were actually feeling.
As UCSC Chancellor Larive and the President of the University of California Michael Drake took to the stage to address the moment, students in the audience rose in unison. We Can See Your Greed UC, printed on paper in Pan-Afrikan colors, draped the audience during the duration of the speeches.
Students who attended the event with plans to support the BSU in holding signs during Larive and Drake’s speeches also wore red, green, or black to show their solidarity. Read more.
Silva and X’s speech highlighted the administration’s tone deafness to Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) student issues, calling the University’s actions performative–especially, its lack of care for the wellbeing and protection of its BIack students.
Directly addressing Chancellor Larive and President Drake, they presented the administrators with the Students’ Quality of Life Demands, a collective list of demands that was supported in a coalition between BSU and other members of the Student Organizing for Liberation council.
Included in the demands, was doubling down on the full completion of the 2021 BSU demands list along with the reallocation of the endowment awarded to the renaming for completing this list.
In an interview just after the closing of the JRL Dedication, Chancellor Larive responded to the lack of speed of campus’s responses to the demands of different organizations.
“Sometimes students come with demands,” Larive said. “It’s better that students come with problems and goals. We can work together to meet their goals with enough constrictions that the University has.”
Larive went on to explain the difficulty in enacting solutions that students have requested, with the implication that it may not be possible for the University to do so, not stating why.
On May 25, 2022, about three weeks after the JRL dedication, UCSC administration sent an email to BSU outlining the progress of each demand from the BSU May 2021 Revised Unrelenting Anti-Blackness Demands.
When asked by City on a Hill Press to comment about the current state of the BSU demands, Assistant Vice Chancellor of University Relations Scott Hernandez-Jason sent a statement outlining the UCSC administration’s response so far.
“While we are encouraged by this initial progress, we recognize there is a great deal more to do even beyond BSU demands. We are committed to ongoing, critical conversations, and we resolve to make necessary changes and improvements,” Hernandez-Jason said. “We are grateful to BSU for their collaboration and look forward to working closely with BSU leadership to provide the support and resources needed to excel as UC Santa Cruz students.”
Back and Forth and Where To Go From Here
Going back to May 2017, the narrative seems to have stayed the same.
A/BSA, now BSU, had a demands list of their own, and BIPOC students are still putting their bodies on the line for equity and representation.
Alumni Keiera Bradley, who was co-chair of A/BSA during the 2015- 2016 school year and a core member during the Reclamation of Kerr hall, commented on the progress and pace of UCSC’s administration response to the BSU’s demand’s list.
“Every year there’s going to be a group of new Black students with new demands. It would be better if our demands were addressed in real time, so that in students’ 4-5 years at the University, they can actually see that turnaround,” Bradley said. “We spent a lot of our time protesting and having to march instead of being able to enjoy our existence as Black students in college.”
Bradley went on to talk about how students can play a key role in making decisions that are the best for them. Emphasizing student agency, she spoke of how when given the opportunity, students are ready to find the solutions to what they need.
With conversations underway for many of the issues addressed in the demands list, the BSU core is looking into the future, and what this means for students to come.
“This year will be really transformative for the BSU. I think all of us student organizers feel a lot more prepared to communicate with students,” Silva said. “Hopefully it will give students more reassurance and make them join in the community and have a role.”
The Status of BSU’s Demands
Abolition and Defunding of UCSC Police Department
Even if the chancellor were able to abolish UCSCPD, campus would simply become the county or the city’s legal jurisdiction. This would mean students’ money would fund local departments not accountable to the UC or its students. Instead of removing the police from campus, there are plans for a Tiered Safety Model, introduced by the UC Community Safety Plan. Depending on the incident, the first response deemed fit would be put in effect.
US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
In an email written to BSU, UCSC administration has said, as policy, the University of California does not collaborate with ICE. However, being a public campus, UCSC administration would not be able to prevent ICE from entering campus.
The Gold Book is a framework of policies surrounding policing on UC campuses. The right for plainclothes officers to be carrying firearms on UC campuses, showing badge on discretion of the Chief of Police, and the right to deactivate body cameras depending on the officer’s judgment are some of the policies outlined in this document. These standards went live February 2021 and had a 90-day public comment after. In an email to BSU, UCSC administration said they sent extensive public commentary during the review period. After UCSC administration checked in with University of California Officer of the President, it seemed that no progress had been made in implementing the public comments into the review of the policies.
Critical Race and Ethnic Studies (CRES)
Since the revised list was sent, CRES was departmentalized on July 1, 2021, The department will be welcoming Assistant Professor Sophia Azeb and Associate Professor Fahima Ife, full-time equivalent staff that have been hired to supplement the growth of the Black Studies minor.
Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS)
According to BSU, and an email sent to BSU by UCSC administration, CAPS is in the process of hiring four Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) identifying counselors, and two licensed administrators with the help from a student taskforce. All of these new hirees are familiar with multiple intersecting identities, including ABC, LGBTQ+, and different faith backgrounds.
More ABC-Dedicated Housing
New dedicated ABC Housing similar to RPAATH, which will be located in the John R. Lewis apartments, are in the process of being confirmed. The supplemental application and the guidelines for the new housing are still being worked on.
African American Resource & Cultural Center (AARCC)
Right now, BSU students and administration are in the discussion of acquiring a new space for the AARCC.
Consequences of Hate Prejudice and Bias
BSU and University administration are in discussions regarding this demand.
One AARCC Staff Member on Hate Bias-Response Team (HBRT)
Instead of one AARCC staff member, the Executive Director for ABC Student Success Lenora Willis will be on the HBRT as well as Nancy Kim, the executive director of all the resource centers. Other resource center directors will be brought on to the team as needed.