Monday, May 6, 2013

Black UCI Students Speak Out

Chancellor Drake under pressure.  Photo © Daniel C. Tsang, 2013
In the wake of the "blackface" video by an Asian American fraternity at UCI, Black students have now issued a set of demands to the UC Irvine administration, headed by Chancellor Michael V. Drake, who is also Black.

Here is their statement:

Black students at the University of California, Irvine have the right to enjoy freedom of movement and association, security of housing, and the pursuit of education without fear of violation by other students, faculty, staff, and the police. We, the members of Black Leaders on Campus* (BLOC), call upon the UCI adminis...tration to foster a campus environment for Black students that is free of violence. To this end, the Division of Student Affairs must truly adhere to its stated mission “to promote the general welfare of the campus community within the framework of the UC Irvine values of respect, intellectual curiosity, integrity, commitment, empathy, [and] appreciation.” Combating the climate of anti-Blackness at UCI calls for both the refusal to accommodate attacks on Black peoples and cultures and the allocation of resources to meet the pressing needs of Black students. Our demands, therefore, fall into two broad groups, one punitive and one proactive.

1a) WE DEMAND that the UCI administration cease referring to incidents of anti-Blackness as “isolated” or “rare,” including the Lambda Theta Delta (LTD) videos recently circulated on the Internet. The use of terms such as “isolated” and “rare” suggests that these incidents stand alone rather than collectively indicating a larger, structural problem on campus and in society.

1b) WE DEMAND that the UCI administration create and implement a zero-tolerance policy for anti-Blackness. This policy must be formalized in writing with the participation of two BLOC-elected undergraduate student representatives. This policy must place the offending organization on probation for a minimum of one year and revoke the membership of any individuals found to have committed particular offenses. Conditions of probation would include, but would not be limited to: loss of the use of campus space, on-campus advertising, and university funding. If the offender is not affiliated with any campus organization, other punitive measures could be devised.

1c) WE DEMAND that the UCI administration create a BLOC-elected, UCI-funded undergraduate student position to supervise the implementation of the university’s zero-tolerance policy on anti-Blackness. This student, holding either a major or minor in African American Studies, will work alongside the UCI administration in the investigation of alleged incidents of anti-Blackness, attending all relevant meetings. This student will have the additional power to design educational programs to combat the climate of anti-Blackness on campus. This student will retain autonomy in order to ensure transparency.

2a) WE DEMAND that the UCI administration create and fund a new student outreach and retention center, modeled after the UC Berkeley Black Recruitment and Retention Center (BRRC). The violence Black students face on and off campus has documented negative effects on our physical, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing. These negative effects unnecessarily impede Black students’ academic pursuits and intellectual development and require dedicated resources. If the university administration is committed to combating the climate of anti-Blackness at UCI, then it must also mitigate such negative effects in order for Black students to thrive here. The UCI Student Outreach and Retention Center (SOAR) is spread thin in its support of a broad range of student populations and is therefore unable to address the specific negative effects of anti-Blackness and the particular barriers to recruiting Black students to UCI. Two BLOC-elected student representatives and two African American Studies faculty members, among others, would participate in the hiring of the Center’s director.

2b) WE DEMAND that the UCI administration financially support the newly founded UCI James Baldwin Debate Society. The Society requires funding for a director, graduate assistantships, debater scholarships, team travel and lodging costs at national debate competitions, and other operating expenses. The skills acquired in college debate – careful research, rational argumentation, decision-making, and conflict resolution – would empower Black students to better combat anti-Blackness in their academic, occupational, and social lives. While other debate organizations exist on campus, none provide a dedicated safe space for Black students to fully participate. The UCI James Baldwin Debate Society serves as a productive venue for Black students otherwise living and learning under the duress of the campus climate. Two BLOC-elected student representatives and two African American Studies faculty members, among others, would participate in the hiring of the Society’s director.

2c) WE DEMAND that the UCI administration restore the dedicated Housing Assistant position to the Ele Si Rosa Parks African American Studies Theme House. At present, the Rosa Parks House, as a result of budget cuts, shares one Housing Assistant position with the Humanities House. This creates an untenable scenario in which an applicant for the Humanities House could, however well-intentioned, preside over the residents of Rosa Parks without the necessary training, background or prior interest in the historic mission of the House. The Rosa Parks House is the only residence hall on campus with an explicit commitment to the welfare of Black students and requires a staff with focused attention and preparation.

2d) WE DEMAND that the UCI administration support the promotion of the Program in African American Studies to departmental status. As the only consistent source of scholarship at UCI about the history, culture and politics of African-derived peoples, African American Studies’ stability and growth must be ensured. The budget cuts that have plagued the Program in African American Studies in recent years are another means through which the UCI administration has allowed anti-Blackness to fester. The award-winning, internationally recognized research and teaching carried out by the faculty of African American Studies are essential to the fight against anti-Blackness. A robust Department of African American Studies would help bolster enrollments for Black undergraduate and graduate students as well.

Black Leaders on Campus (BLOC) consists of the following organizations:
100 Black Women
Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.
Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.
Black Educated Men (B.E. Men)
Black Law Society (BLS)
Black Queer Collective (BQC)
Black Student Union (BSU)
Christ Our Redeemer (COR)
Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.
El Si Rosa Parks House
Ethiopian Student Association (ESA)
Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc.
Minority Association of Pre-Health Students (MAPS)
National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE)
Nigerian Student Association (NSA)
Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc.
Umoja NewsMagazine

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