UCI Task Force Responds to Black Student Union Demands for Positive Campus Climate

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Vice Chancellor Parham announced last Monday that UCI’s Task Force for racial inclusivity recently addressed several demands made by the Black Student Union (BSU) earlier this year, including approving the creation of an on-campus Black Resource Center and considering full departmental status for the African American Studies program.

Since the Task Force submitted a request for action to Vice Chancellor Parham in June, UCI has established an African American Scholars and Excellence house in Arroyo Vista (AV), reinstated the Resident Assistant position in AV’s Rosa Parks house, and proposed to strengthen UCI’s multicultural breadth requirement to stipulate that students “demonstrate skills to recognize, critically analyze, and question structural systems of oppression.”

Additionally, the administration will no longer refer to incidents of racism or racial insensitivity as “rare or isolated,” under the Task Force’s proposed policy.

Proposals are also underway to elevate the Program in African American studies to departmental status under the school of humanities, similar in structure to the already-existing Asian American Studies department.  The university has also approved the creation of a Black Resource Center on campus, pending the appointment of a director and location.

Vice Chancellor Parham’s report of progress comes ten months after the Black Student Union issued a petition of demands in January aimed at Chancellor Howard Gillman. The petition contained nine demands intended to promote an inclusive campus climate and implement institutional resources for African American students.

The BSU originally aimed to have the petition’s demands met within three to six months of its January release. As of Parham’s statement last week, UCI has made efforts to address all nine demands, with only slight variation to the original petition. For instance, the African American Scholars and Excellence House was originally proposed for construction in Mesa Court, but the house is currently located in Arroyo Vista.  

The university attempted to maintain the petition’s original sentiments in UCI’s response to the demands, including in the designation of the Black Scholars house. The house, AV 1064, is currently “occupied by a full complement of students,” according to Parham, and is overseen by RA Leanne Castillo.

“The Black Scholars’ Hall is to serve incoming Black students by providing a safe space where Black history, culture, and intellectual thought is celebrated while still allowing them to take part in the first-year experience,” according to the original petition.

Sandra Johnson, co-chair of the BSU, was appointed RA of the previously-existing Rosa Parks house in Arroyo Vista, described by the BSU in January as “the only residence hall on campus with an explicit commitment to the welfare of Black students.”

Aside from creating designated living spaces to serve black students, the Task Force bolstered its commitment to enhancing UCI’s multicultural education requirement, and granting the African American Studies program its own department.

“The proposal [for the department] was endorsed by the dean, reviewed by the appropriate faculty and is in final consideration by the Academic Senate,” Parham said last Monday.

Currently, the program aims to teach African colonization and culture with a focus on the unique struggles of this community.

“Among the topics explored in the course offerings are the process of colonization and the forced migration of African people, the positionality of African people in the racialized symbolic and social orders of the western hemisphere, the rhetoric produced by and about African people, and the cultural and aesthetic values associated with ‘blackness’ and ‘Africanness,’” according to the program’s website.

UC Irvine’s initiatives attempt  to parallel recent campus climate progress on other UC campuses, including flagship campuses UC Berkeley and UCLA. UCLA and UC Santa Cruz  are currently among the only UC campuses with full black resource centers, and UC Berkeley’s Black Student Union is currently in talks with an implementation committee to build a resource center for black students, and to initiate a $20 million endowment for scholarships for black students.

Representatives from UCI’s Black Student Union were unavailable to comment on whether or not the response to their demands and its timeliness has been sufficient.

Vice Chancellor Parham notes that while the Task Force’s recent progress has been encouraging, the university must still remain committed to sustained efforts to create a positive and inclusive campus climate.

“We recognize that there is more work to do, and we will remain vigilant in cultivating a welcoming, positive culture,” said Parham. “We believe UCI should be the standard for inclusive excellence in higher education, and we are determined to create a culture that embraces diversity, celebrates differences and encourages an abundance of opinions.”

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