After 15 months of negotiations, UC Berkeley’s Black Student Union (BSU) and Chancellor Nicholas Dirks reached an agreement to establish a new Black resource center on campus that will be named after Fannie Lou Hamer, the famed voting and civil rights activist.
The BSU, which worked with the Afrikan Black Coalition, hopes that the new suite of rooms in the Hearst Field Annex off Bancroft Avenue and right behind Sproul Hall will create a place where the Black community can feel safe and thrive and will also make the campus feel more inclusive. Members also hope securing this space symbolizes what’s in store for the future.
“Black students have reported multiple times through campus climate surveys that they feel isolated and disrespected on campus regularly,” said Gabrielle Shuman who served as the chair of the Black Student Union from 2014-15. “A primary reason for this is the lack of a critical mass of Black students at the university and a lack of physical space where students can be themselves and feel as though they are understood by those around them. This is exactly what the Fannie Lou Hamer Resource Center aims to change.”
On July 19, Elias Hint, current chair of the BSU, and Dirks signed an agreement that will make three rooms in the Hearst Field Annex Building (the former home of the Pacific Film Archive) the “Fannie Lou Hamer Resource Center” for the next five years. UC also pledged to allocate $82,885 into refurbishing and equipping the center.
If UC officials don’t find another location for the center after June 2021, it can remain in that space for another five years, according to the agreement.
The BSU has also asked Dirks for an additional $547,500 to hire five full-time staff members, fifteen part-time student staff, and for programming and equipment. Negotiations for the budget will resume this fall.
The Fannie Lou Hamer Resource Center will be open to the public in early September 2016.
The creation of the center came after the BSU presented a list of 15 demands to the campus administration in March 2105, including a demand for the creation of a resource center. This followed large Black Lives Matter protests in Berkeley and on campus in December 2014, as well as the hanging of effigies of Blacks who had been lynched throughout campus. An anonymous artists’ collective later took credit for putting up the disturbing figures around campus.
Black students have long complained that the low number of African Americans on campus made them feel isolated in classes and in the community. The number of African-American and other minority students at UC Berkeley was cut in half after 1996 when California voters passed Proposition 209, which essentially banned the use of affirmative action in UC admissions, according to Cal.
In the fall of 2015, 911 of UC Berkeley approximate 27,500 undergraduates were African American, or about 3.3% of the student body, according to university statistics. A 2013 survey also showed that the number of African American faculty members hovered around 3% as well.
Blake Simons, a recent Cal graduate and the director of communications for the Afrikan Black Coalition, said that having the Fannie Lou Hammer Resource Center will play an important role in making Black students feel comfortable on campus.
“As a former student-athlete, having a Black space for all of the Black community is important,” said Simons. “For too long, Black athletes have been segregated from the rest of the Black Student population. The resource center will give a common space for all Black people to congregate and build a community.”
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