UC Berkeley Black Student Union wants Barrows Hall renamed for Assata Shakur as one of 10 demands

by UC Berkeley BSU

Berkeley – The Black Student Union and other key Black student organizations on UC Berkeley’s campus have demanded that Chancellor Nicholas Dirks implement institutional changes to address the conditions of Black students at the university.

“Black people have been oppressed at this university since its creation,” declared Black Student Union member Alana Banks. “The fact that we have to come up with demands for support that has been long overdue to us is a testament to our condition. Regardless, I believe that we will win; and they believe that we will win too.”

The UC Berkeley BSU Demands Committee meets on the roof of Afro House March 18 to plan strategy. Only 3 percent of Berkeley students are Black. – Photo: Carlos Avila Gonzalez, SF Chronicle
The UC Berkeley BSU Demands Committee meets on the roof of Afro House March 18 to plan strategy. Only 3 percent of Berkeley students are Black. – Photo: Carlos Avila Gonzalez, SF Chronicle

On Feb. 13, Black student leaders met with Chancellor Dirks and Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Claude Steele to present their demands. These demands of the chancellor include increased space for Black students, increased staffing for recruitment and retention of Black students, mental health resources, support for Black student athletes, and recruitment of more Black graduate students, staff and faculty.

Nzingha Dugas, director of African American Student Development, also attended the meeting. We gave the chancellor until March 6, three weeks from our meeting, to respond to our demands. We further met with Executive Vice-Chancellor and Provost Claude Steele and Vice Chancellor for Equity and Inclusion Gibor Basri on Friday, March 6, 2015.

We found both the Feb. 13 and the March 6 meetings to be positive and were looking forward to the next concrete steps Chancellor Dirks would take to address our demands. However, we were frustrated when Chancellor Dirks defaulted on the March 6 deadline we gave him to respond to the Black Student Union Demands and did not respond until Tuesday, March 10.

We were further frustrated when the response we received did not adequately address our concerns – rather, Chancellor Dirks circumvented having to directly respond to each of our demands as we had requested. He instead removed his office from the responsibility to implement solutions to the issues we face, shifting the focus to other departments, and left several critical issues we raised unaddressed entirely.

We understand this action to demonstrate disrespect to the Black Student Union and our efforts to better our conditions on this campus. Furthermore, if we do not receive a written response from Chancellor Dirks addressing in detail each of our individual demands as they were presented, by 5 p.m. on Tuesday, March 17, we will understand that the chancellor has not prioritized the dire needs of Black students on this campus. And as such, we will proceed accordingly.

Chancellor Dirks circumvented having to directly respond to each of our demands. We understand this action to demonstrate disrespect to the Black Student Union. The chancellor has not prioritized the dire needs of Black students on this campus.

“We see the state of Black students, staff and faculty on UC Berkeley’s campus as an emergency situation, requiring immediate attention, and we will persevere until we get what we need and what we deserve,” said Black Student Union Co-Chair of Political Affairs Gabby Shuman.

“The chancellor told the campus he is working with the Black Student Union to improve campus climate,” CalSERVE Coalition Chair Spencer Pritchard pointed out. “We have worked with multiple campus partners to bring to him tangible proposals ready to be implemented. We hope the chancellor stays true to his word and works with us. We need leadership, not rhetoric, in order to improve campus climate. He must follow up his words with action.”

The UC Berkeley Black Student Union can be reached at bsudemands.berkeley@gmail.com.

UC Berkeley BSU wants campus building renamed Assata Shakur Hall

Editor’s note: A flood of media coverage reported a demand not mentioned in the BSU statement above. The right-wing FrontPageMag.com reported:

This view from a kite of UC Berkeley shows the clock and bell tower known as The Campanile on the left, Barrows Hall in the center and Telegraph Avenue stretching off into the distance. – Photo: Charles C. Benton
This view from a kite of UC Berkeley shows the clock and bell tower known as The Campanile on the left, Barrows Hall in the center and Telegraph Avenue stretching off into the distance. – Photo: Charles C. Benton

Disgruntled Black students at the University of California at Berkeley are demanding a campus building be named after convicted cop-killing terrorist and fugitive from justice, Assata Shakur.

The reason for the demand? In the stated opinion of the school’s Black Student Union, Blacks are disrespected on campus. BSU member Cori McGowens told reporters that “trying to excel academically is immensely difficult while coping with the issue of antiBlackness on campus.”

“It troubles me that I have already been told countless times that antiBlackness is not an issue to discuss within the context of the American political system,” said McGowens, a political science major. “My professors and graduate-student instructors have told me that I shouldn’t bring up the politics of race and the reality of my Black experience.”

From CBS SF Bay Area:

The issue of race has the University of California, Berkeley campus buzzing, after a student group wants a building named after a member of the Black Panthers. …

Perhaps the most dramatic request is to change the name of the campus ethnic studies building from Barrows Hall to Assata Shakur Hall.

“Her story is emblematic of the Black freedom struggle in the nation,” (CalSERVE Coalition Chair Spencer) Pritchard told KPIX 5.

To say Assata Shakur is a polarizing figure is an understatement. By some, she is considered an icon of the Black Panther movement. But she was convicted of killing a state trooper in 1977. Shakur escaped to Cuba, where she’s believed to still be hiding, and became the first woman on the FBI’s most wanted terrorists list.

“I think the media has focused on this conversation because they actually don’t want to address what Black students and Black people have to go through in this nation,” Pritchard said.

Assata Shakur celebrates May Day 2010 in Cuba. – Photo: Kenny Snodgrass
Assata Shakur celebrates May Day 2010 in Cuba. – Photo: Kenny Snodgrass

Dirks addressed the student union, meeting with them last month. The chancellor didn’t comment on the renaming but reportedly told students: “Too many Black students have told us about being ignored during class discussions, verbally harassed at parties … and feeling isolated and invisible. This is something we deplore.”

From the San Francisco Chronicle:

Black Student Union’s 10 demands

Open an African American Student Development Resource Center with event space to help improve Black students’ relatively low graduation rate of 77 percent.

Allocate $300,371 to hire two Black admissions staff members who specialize in recruiting Black students.

Allocate $113,932 for a program director to help with outreach and retention efforts done by student volunteers who say they are overburdened by the work.

Hire two Black psychologists who understand “the racially hostile campus climate at this university.”

Hire two Black development advisers to mentor and provide academic guidance for Black athletes.

Double the budget for the “Getting into Graduate School” mentorship program.

Immediately create a committee to recommend, by April 8, ways to aggressively recruit and retain Black staff and faculty.

Rename Barrows Hall “Assata Shakur Hall.”

Fully fund the American Cultures and Engaged Scholarship program, and hire two staff members for it.

Top administrators and Black student groups will meet together at least once a semester.