A last word with a member of the BSU demands team

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In late January, the Black Student Union (BSU) released a set of nine demands for the UCI administration to implement institutional resources for Black students.

Chancellor Howard Gillman responded with the formation of a task force intended to ensure a positive campus climate for the campus’s African-American community.

Two weeks ago, the task force issued a progress report detailing the steps it has taken toward its goal. Listed were five updates that mirrored five demands put forth by the BSU demands team.

In his report, engineering dean Gregory Washington said that the task force, which is comprised mostly of Black UCI administrators, endorsed:

  • the departmentalization of the African African studies program
  • the establishment of a Black resource center
  • the restoration of a dedicated residential advisor to the Rosa Parks Arroyo Vista House
  • the chancellor recognizing the negative impacts of racist incidents, rather than considering them rare or isolated
  • requesting the Academic Senate add a new learning outcome to the Category VII multicultural general education requirement for students to combat bias, discrimination and harassment.

At first glance, the task force’s progress seems like a step in the right direction for Black students. However, the BSU demands team is not convinced.

First, the task force’s update fails to mention progress toward several of the other demands:

  • the formation of a permanent task force for the recruitment and retention of Black faculty members
  • the requirement that the multiculturalism course be taught by Dr. Frank B. Wilderson III
  • that several top UCI administrators meet with the co-chairs of the BSU at least once every quarter
  • that the full list of demands be implemented no later than six months from January.

More importantly, however, the task force’s progress updates only present half-way solutions to a more systemic problem, according to BSU co-chair Mia Ogundipe-Tillman.

“It was a bastardized version and interpretation and implementation of the demands, and we knew it would be because we were not allowed to be incorporated equally and fairly,” she said.

Since its formation, the task force has not included members of the demands team and communication has been absent.

“They won’t explain anything including why they won’t add the people we suggest to the task force,” explained the BSU co-chair.

For her, the entire process amounts to theft of the efforts spearheaded by her and co-chair Cheryl Flores.

“The white chancellor is stealing the work of Black women’s efforts to make this campus less of a hell for black students,” she said.

When asked about why the task force chose to focus on goals that it did, Ogundipe-Tillman said that it was because the goals they did not address get at the anti-Black violence that the university perpetuates.

“Chattel slavery built this county. It built this world, and the gratuitous violence of slavery is recreated every day and it is what creates and sustains oppressive institutions: capitalism, U.S. imperialism, interpersonal relationships, the U.S. government and institutions of higher education like universities, specifically the University of California, Irvine,” she said.

Ogundiidpe-Tillman does not hold onto any hopes that the university will get at the root of the violence that Black students face. She thinks, at best, they will concede to a few more demands, like dedicating the resource center to Black transgender activist Marsha P. Johnson, like the demands team asked for, in an attempt to not to be anti-Black and transphobic.

Ideally, the task force will implement the unabridged demands, but Ogundipe-Tillman’s view remained realistic.

“They’ll just be moving money around,” she said.

For her and the demands team, a partial implementation of the demand will mean that the university would not have acknowledged the violence it perpetuates. Therefore, it could not have created a remedy.

“How can they create a remedy for the violence that they won’t even acknowledge exists?” she asked. “They can’t. It’s impossible.”

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