The Black Student Union published a Change.org petition on Jan. 16 demanding that UCI’s administration implement additional institutional resources for black students while making efforts to recruit and retain more black students, staff and faculty.
The nine demands put forth are in response to both institutional factors that hinder the success of black students as well as more blatant incidents of racism.
According to the petition, some of the ways that black students are not being served include the low number of black faculty and staff as well as a lack of a dedicated housing assistant for the Rosa Parks House in Arroyo Vista. The African-American studies program, while facing budget cuts, is also the only ethnic studies program that has not been granted full departmental status. In comparison, Asian American and Chicano/Latino studies are full departments that are able to make their own decisions about faculty and hiring.
Additionally, the petition calls for the establishment of a dedicated hall for black students in the forthcoming Mesa Court housing complex as well as a change in the multiculturalism general education requirement that would mandate a political education course taught by professor Frank B. Wilderson III that would include critical analyses of structural power and oppression.
The most recent among the incidents of racism that the petition lists is the 2013 Lambda Theta Delta incident, during which members of an Asian American fraternity released a video in which they donned blackface. Other incidents include the 2012 “Once you go black you don’t go back” award issued by Pi Beta Phi, paddles from Alpha Phi and Phi Psi labelled “slave driver” and “little slave” and when Hospitality and Dining served chicken and waffles to ostensibly honor the 28th Martin Luther King Jr. Symposium.
“The violence black students face on and off campus has documented negative effects on our physical, emotional and spiritual well-being,” reads the petition.
Chief among the demands is the creation and funding of the Marsha P. Johnson Black Student Resource, Outreach and Retention Center. The center’s goals would include programming, mental health counseling and academic counseling tailored specifically to black students. Also, the center would serve black student organizations by being able to provide programming funds. The petition mentions other UC campuses’ black resource centers as possible models for UCI’s, including those at Berkeley, UCLA, UC San Diego and UC Riverside.
Johnson, a black, gay, transgender woman, was a prominent AIDS activist and leader during the 1969 Stonewall riots. She was chosen as the center’s namesake, as opposed to a more prominent figure, in order to represent marginalized communities, according to the demands team.
While the Student Outreach and Retention Center currently provides resources for underserved students, the demands assert that it doesn’t have the resources to address Black students’ specific needs.
Chancellor Howard Gillman is mentioned by name as the main target for the petition and the demands team has requested to meet directly with him.
UCI administration responded to BSU’s petition with the possibility of a meeting with other top officials, because the chancellor is currently traveling. They have remained firm, however, saying that they will only meet with the chancellor himself.
“Some of his goons emailed us and said we should meet with a whole bunch of administrators that aren’t the chancellor. We refused and reminded them that we would like to meet with the chancellor by the Jan. 30 deadline,” said Mia Ogundipe-Tillman, one of the members of the demands team.
Additionally, the petition demands that Vice Chancellor Student Affairs Thomas Parham and Vice Provost Academic Affairs Herbert P. Killackey, meet with the BSU chair and vice chair at least once every quarter.
The Afrikan Black Coalition, a collective representing black students from across the 10 UC campuses, has expressed their support of the petition, with attendees at their recent conference being urged to support the petition.
“Chancellor Gilman and the UC Irvine administration must accept responsibility for the rampant racism on campus and implement effective institutional resources to support Black student access and success,” said Yoel Haile, the coalition’s political director. “We expect the university to live up to its professed commitment to diversity.”
At this time, the petition has garnered 423 supporters. The demands team hopes to have the changes implemented within the next three to six months.
The demands team says that although they are happy with the petition’s progress so far, they do hope for more support.