Monica Itxy Quintanilla
During the political volatility of the 1960s, issues of minority group representation on college campuses began to surface. In a system primarily dominated by Caucasian students, Black students have claimed the need for a space for African Americans in higher education institutions as vital to their progress and comfort.
The Black Student Union (BSU) first emerged at San Francisco State University as a support system and safe space for students of the African diaspora. Shortly after, the University of California, Santa Barbara’s Black Student Union, formerly known as Harambee, developed to tackle and discuss inequalities occurring within their communities, and to take action to dismantle said injustices.
It was in 1968 that BSU made their presence known to UCSB as they marched through North Hall, barricading themselves within its walls and reclaiming the building as “Malcolm X Hall.” After refusing to exit the building until the Chancellor accepted their terms, the takeover of North Hall consequently led to the establishment of the Black Studies Department. Shortly thereafter, the emergence of the Chicano Studies Department sprouted from the seedlings of student action.
Today, BSU continues with its mission to make lasting impacts and tangible change across the UC system. “Our mission,” Ladijah Corder, third-year internal co-chair of BSU, said, “is to develop a socially and politically safe space for Black students, and provide them with the resources needed to become strong Black leaders and uplift their communities back home.”
As internal co-chair, Corder is responsible for advising the executive board, which consists of 13 people. Additionally, she oversees and ensures that the social and political visions BSU advocates for are being met and surpassed. The remaining members are called the general body, but are treated with equal respect and prestige.
“The dynamic is collaborative and very much horizontal,” Corder explained. “Anyone and everyone can present different ideas, programs, political agendas and social events.”
This past February, the Afrikan Black Coalition (ABC) took place at UCSB. ABC is a conference in which African Americans from all UC campuses gather to discuss issues that affect Black students and possible solutions to improving those issues. Workshops focused on a variety of topics, from politics and internal issues to graduate school, aiming to provide a safe space for conversation and growth.
“It’s really rare to see such a large group of Black students who have the same or similar backgrounds and goals,” Corder said as she recalled her experience. “It was a great time to learn and feel at home.”
BSU’s past projects and current works in progress continue the mission of its origin. Most recently, in 2013, BSU released a set of demands to “improve the racial climate and secure much needed resources for those Black students yet to come,” according to their statement at the time.
Among these were the request and appointment of two Black psychologists within CAPS, an allotment for resources to hire several endowed chairs in different faculty positions, more representation of Black staff, interns working at the office of admissions regarding retention and recruitment outreach in predominately Black communities (there are currently six) and a North Hall display commemorating the 1968 takeover.
BSU also achieved a $25 million UC divestment from the private prison industry and is continuing to work on eradicating an extra $425 million of indirect investments. BSU plans to establish a concrete faculty and student recruitment and retention plan, as well as endowed scholarships for incoming Black students and universal Black resource centers on all campuses.
Corder, along with the External Co-Chair Jamelia Harris and BSU chairs from other UCs, meets on a quarterly basis with Janet Napolitano and the UC Office of the President to discuss efforts and policies to set forth these missions.
In the upcoming months, BSU has several events planned. Their annual Student Initiated Outreach Program, which brings students from different high schools in predominately Black schools and neighborhoods to stay the night in the Black Scholars Hall, will take place this April. This event will also intentionally align with the PanAfrican Student Union’s Cultural Show, a collaborative effort with BSU in which students learn about African culture, food and dance. Lastly, Black Culture Week is scheduled to take place during spring quarter.
For those interested in joining or learning more about BSU, the organization meets weekly from 5 to 7 p.m. in Girvetz Hall. As an Office of Student Life group, BSU is open to everyone, though it is mainly a space for those who identify as African American. BSU is meant as a community and healing space for Black students, as well as a place for student activism to strive for change in the spaces in which students live and thrive.