Moving to the College Nine and John R. Lewis College African, Black, and Caribbean (ABC) housing block was different from any other on-campus housing experience for third-year Eric Herbert.
“[My roommates and I] don’t have the same experiences, but we have similar enough backgrounds where it’s easier to understand each other,” Herbert said. “I feel like that’s not something I’ve had before.”
On a campus where Black students only make up 4.6 percent of UC Santa Cruz’s undergraduate student population, many struggle to find spaces that aren’t predominantly white.
Herbert is one of many Black students currently living in one of UCSC’s four ABC housing communities. Since the establishment of the Rosa Parks African American Theme House (R.PAATH) in 2011 at Stevenson College, the ABC housing options have grown to include College Nine and John R. Lewis (JRL), and Oakes College.
Located at Oakes, the Shabazz Apartments are an ABC theme housing community that opened this year and contains an atmosphere that nurtures cultural pride and liberation. These apartments are named in honor of El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X) & Dr. Betty El-Shabazz. Photos by Abe Muñoz.
For Black Student Union (BSU) co-chair Egypt Chin, maintaining ABC housing spaces is crucial to that effort.
“[ABC housing] allows for a safe space for Black students to have a community here on campus where there’s still unrelenting anti-Blackness in academia,” Chin said. “We recognize that Black comes in all shapes and sizes. Black people are not a monolith.”
Over the past two years, the ABC housing community has expanded from 79 beds at R.PAATH to over 200 beds across the college communities, according to Lenora Willis, the Executive Director of African, Black, and Caribbean (ABC) Student Success.
“Not only is it beautiful and is well-painted, but it just shows the representation,” said BSU President Basheera Ali-El to City on a Hill Press in 2017. “Every time a Black student who lives there comes home, they see their pride. They see their history. They see their people. They see their ancestors.”
Originally, R.PAATH existed as a residential building for first-year students. In 2021, R.PAATH expanded to include apartments in Stevenson Building 10. But demand from students kept increasing. Soon, it became clear that ABC housing needed to expand once again.
“We worked with other colleges about opening an ABC theme housing option for continuing students to continue their experience but in an apartment-style living option,” wrote Willis in an email to City on a Hill Press.
This year, UCSC expanded the ABC housing community to include a College Nine and JRL apartment block, the Oakes Shabazz Apartments, and the ABC STEM floor at the Biko House, only available to Oakes affiliates.
Bill Moore of the Black Liberation Front said, “The college must be named after Malcolm X. This is nothing but out-and-out tokenism reflecting a racist mentality. The Black Liberation Movement will not settle for less than Malcolm X.”
Ultimately, the college was founded by Professors Herman J. Blake and Ralph C. Guzman in 1972 as College Seven. Now called Oakes College, multiculturalism, equality, and social justice are foundational to its mission.
Student organizations like BSU, Umoja, and the Black Lives Matter Garden collaborate with Willis and the Office of ABC Student Success to enrich the ABC housing experience. Egypt Chin recognized the importance of these meetings in helping the BSU to align its agendas and goals to best serve ABC students on campus.
“Although we’re a part of a leadership organization on campus, we’re still students and we don’t have a lot of the professional experiences that we would like to have,” Chin said.
Illustration by Lily Hooper.
Each ABC housing block has a student mentor. Fourth-year Omar Salem is the current ABC mentor for the JRL housing block.
“Being able to speak to people every day, remember their names, and check on them […] are the small things I’m able to see that are instrumental in people’s lives,” Salem said.
Black representation isn’t just vital in the housing experience for students. Salem points to the lack of diversity for POC students in academia, namely within STEM.
“When you’re in class and you look for people who look like [you], it adds a sense of comfort,” Salem said. “It’s like, I’m supposed to be here.”
The retention of Black students remains at the forefront for student leaders on campus. Chin’s own retention had a lot to do with the Black student organizations and resources at UCSC. However, Chin stated much of the administrative labor to support students falls on a few Black faculty members and administration.
Creating change on campus for Black students requires dialogue and action by the university.
“They need to listen to Black students,” Chin said. “They need to do more than just be there and send out statements.”