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Gillman Forces Task Force to Improve Campus Experience for Black Community

In an email released late Friday, Chancellor Howard Gillman announced the formation of a task force in order to address UC Irvine’s shortcomings regarding its practices and policies that affect campus climate for the black community.

The Task Force on Ensuring a Positive Climate for the Campus’ African American Community is tasked with accelerating and extending the work done by a previous work group that was assigned to improve the African American student experience.

Chaired by Dean of Engineering Gregory Washington, the task force is made up of students, staff and faculty. There will be six black students represented on the task force. Ayana Baines and Kaleen Cole are the two undergraduate representatives. They are joined by their graduate counterparts Joseph Bell and James Pratt. Additionally, two students from the Black Student Union are also set to be on the task force, although the organization has not yet chosen their representatives. ASUCI President Reza Zomorrodian will also be representing students at large.

Their goal is to provide a comprehensive review of the campus climate for the black community, due to Gillman by commencement in June.

“Areas of interest should include, but are not limited to, our hiring and recruitment practices, the structure and content of student orientation, campus infrastructure for supporting a positive climate, housing programs and recruitment and promotional materials,” said Gillman in the email.

However, the university’s approach diverges from the solutions presented by BSU in their Jan. 16 petition.

For example, the petition details specific instructions on the formation of a Marsha P. Johnson Black Resource, Outreach and Retention Center due to the inability of the SOAR Center to specifically serve black students.

“The UCI Student Outreach and Retention Center is unable to address the specific negative effects of anti-blackness and the particular barriers to recruiting and retaining Black students,” reads the petition.

Gillman’s email, however, vaguely gestures toward the recent hiring of a SOAR program coordinator to address the needs of an “at-risk student population.”

For black students, however, administration’s approach represents a convoluted bureaucratic process that ignores their explicit demands.

During the campus anti-blackness teach-in, Kevin Huie, the director of the Cross-Cultural Center, mentioned that there are ongoing administrative efforts that students may not be aware of.

However, Mia Ongundipe-Tillman, co-chair of the Black Student Union, remained skeptical.

“Why would it need to be behind closed doors? Why should it be a secret and why wouldn’t they tell us?” questioned Ogundipe-Tillman, who is also part of the demands team that released BSU’s petition.

The work that Huie referred to came in the hiring of six black faculty in the past year as well as an ongoing review of category VII of UCI’s general education requirements that would ensure that  courses better fulfill the requirements goal of providing students a critical perspective on issues of race.

Gillman’s email also points to a 7.1 percent growth in African-American in-state applicants as a sign that UCI’s numbers are moving towards a reflection of California’s diversity.

Striking, however, was the statistic’s juxtaposition with one about Chicano/Latino students in order to make the case that UCI graduates underrepresented minorities at a higher rate than other UC campuses.

The email proceeds to note that UCI received the most Chicano/Latino applicants and that it is headed towards becoming a Hispanic-Serving Institution in two years.

The most recent statistics show that the 400 black students on campus comprise two percent of UCI’s undergraduate population. Meanwhile, Hispanic students number over 5,000, representing 22 percent of the student body.

“What exactly does that have to do with black students’ retention and admissions rates?” questioned Ogundipe-Tillman. “Anytime admin talks about diversity, it’s always to draw attention away from anti-blackness. And the chancellor in his email is no different.”

Although some of administration’s efforts do partially align with the institutional changes that BSU demanded, Oguinde-Tillman remains doubtful of administration’s sincerity when it comes to working with black students.

“Why didn’t he meet with us first like we demanded? If he’s going to do that stuff, why put together a task force that already exists as the climate council?” she asked. “I don’t believe that they do work to really help black students.”