USD’s Black Student Union officially demands change from the administration
SARAH BREWINGTON | NEWS EDITOR | THE USD VISTA
Voices of impatient students became louder than usual last week, when several students invited themselves into a faculty panel to discuss diversity and inclusion at the University of San Diego. Students interrupted a faculty panel with Greg Preto, from the Sociology department, Michelle Jacob, from the Ethnic Studies department, Cheryl Getz, from SOLES as well as Esteban del Río who serves as the associate provost for inclusion and diversity as well as the director of the Center for Inclusion and Diversity. The panel was convened to discuss topics around inclusion, equity, and other issues that have been at the forefront of issues on other college campuses.*
A few minutes into the discussion, the panel heard a low murmur from outside the doors. Within moments, a group of students from the Black Student Union (BSU), and the DARE collective interrupted the panel discussion to present the panel with a list of demands.*
This body of students, the Intersectional Council (IC), presented a list of about 20 demands, advocating for various changes at USD. Most of the issues addressed minority groups, especially African Americans who, according to university institutional research and planning, make up three percent of the undergraduate student population.
The IC declined to be interviewed, but instead released a statement, clarifying their actions. Part of the grievances expressed by the students is that the panel, discussing Mizzou, was closed to the student body.
“BSU and its allies interrupted a forum on Mizzou, protesting the exclusion of black students from the organization of the event and the chronic marginalization of students of color on the overwhelmingly white, privileged campus of USD,” the release states. “BSU and its allies presented a list of demands for the improvement of the university, which seeks to redress a diverse range of disadvantages related to racism, as well as various other mutually consolidating prejudices.”
The list of demands touched on numerous topics, the first demand however directly addressed USD’s president, James T. Harris.
“We demand that President James Harris publicly state that Black Lives Matter,” the document states. “We demand that he do so without the clause ‘All Lives Matter’ – for though all lives do matter, Black lives in particular have been the target of 400 years of unabated brutality. Such a clause invalidates the struggles and full humanity of Black people.”
Within two days of the meeting Harris addressed an email to the USD community.
“Our students shared with me this week specific ideas to advance equity and a feeling of belonging on our campus,” the email states. “An especially timely issue that they raised touches on the dignity of every person, and in particular, the awareness and recognition that black lives matter.”
Harris plans to address the USD community in an opinion article that will be published in the next print edition of the USD Vista.
The remaining demands on the list range from a change in the school’s mascot, the renaming of Serra Hall, the distribution of financial aid, a gender and queer studies department, and the restructuring of diversity amongst the various departments on campus.
Amongst the list of demands, a few of them come with deadlines. The students ask that by Nov. 18, 2020 the percentage of tenured black faculty increase by 10 percent in every department. Currently, of the 427 full time faculty in the fall of 2015, three percent are black. In the business school, there are over 80 faculty, and none of them are tenured black faculty.
According to the university’s institutional research and planning department, the percentage of full time faculty of color, which includes American Indian, Alaska Native, Asian, Black, Hispanic, Native Hawaiian, and other Pacific Islander, was 21 percent in the fall of 2014.
Other demands include gender-neutral bathrooms, banning of the social media site (Yik Yak), and the restructuring of the Center for Inclusion and Diversity (CID).
Esteban del Río, a communications professor at USD, is the associate provost for inclusion and diversity and the director for the Center for Inclusion and Diversity and believes that the actions of the students, as well as this list of demands, are progressive.
“I know what we [CID] are doing, so when I first read it, a few of them [I thought] we already do, a few of them we are working on, and a few of them could really help me do what I am trying to do,” del Río said. “I think I have really come, in talking with the students and hearing from them, to a more productive place, how the work [of CID] looks from the student perspective. Out of some conversations it is very clear that we have been doing some very important work of institutional transformation and setting it up especially around faculty recruitment and retention through the diversity plan.”
Del Río surmised that the initiative behind advancing diversity within the USD community has left out student involvement.
“The inertia has left out student involvement, and the CID is a great place for students to come together and find out how to activate our mission,” del Río said. “That is the big take away now. I am seeing this as a wonderful opportunity for the university to learn and for CID to bring student energy back, which has been minimized by the inertia of the task at hand. […] Let the student perspective guide that satisfaction, that striving, that searching, that ambition, and that struggle.”
Ashley Barton, director of the black student resource center, attended the meeting. She theorized that the students’ believe that their voices have not been heard in the past.
“The point was not to be polite,” Barton said. “I think that for many students they feel like they have expressed these issues before and are not being heard. I think they chose this venue as an opportunity to share their concerns and to be publicly be heard.”
The IC explained the purpose of the document and the demands.
“The demands were created by a coalition of student activists conscious of how distinct structures of oppression inform and fortify one another to constitute complex systematic disenfranchisement,” the release states. “The demands are therefore intentionally intersectional, demonstrating the connections between different identity specific injustices and reflecting the nuanced needs of students who are, for example, queer and black, or female and working class, needs which the university has failed to meet. It was from this shared principle of intersectional social justice that our coalition developed. We are a community of student leaders, activists and artists dedicated to the decolonial transformation of the university.”
While the panel discussion contained a number of faculty, professor of communication studies Eric Pierson was not on the panel, but attended the event. Pierson is one of the African American full-time tenured faculty members in the communication studies department.
“I think that it is an opportunity for USD to really think about conversations with inclusion and diversity, because inclusion implies presence when you look at issues among faculty of color,” Pierson said. “You find there is still a lot more to do.”
While Pierson said he hopes to see more efforts to involve faculty of color into the discussion of diversity, he also explained that it is not USD’s motives that he questions. Pierson said the discussion about inclusion has become a conversation about evidence, beyond just the effort. While Pierson acknowledges the task to be difficult, he is pleased that students are taking the initiative. He affirms the actions of the students to be inspiring.
“I thought it was very exciting to see students taking ownership of their university,” Pierson said. “It is easy to just pass through for four years […] where students just pick up a diploma. So far I applaud them.”
While the students have been proactive in voicing their opinions, the next move comes from administration. Pierson explained that USD is in need of some self-reflection.
“I think USD has to hold up a mirror to itself when it comes to inclusion and diversity, ask itself if it likes what it sees,” Pierson said. “There will be people unhappy with that reflection and people who will be happy with it. That is where the struggle comes in, how as a community do we work on a reflection that we can all be equally invested in.”
The IC has tasked USD to come up with ways to achieve these diversity and inclusion goals. The IC stated in its document of demands, that through these goals, they can hope to improve USD’s image of being a Changemaker campus. They argue that the fight to create change starts from within, and the fulfillment of these demands is a long awaited step to implement change. The release finishes with a declaration of who the IC is, as well as what they stand for.
“We are Black. We are Chicano/a. We are Indigenous. We are Women. We are Queer. We are Undocumented. We are Working Class,” the release states. “Ours are the marginalized voices at USD, which we have recentered through the articulation of our demands and will continue to raise until those demands have been met. We are the Intersectional Collective. We understand that, in order to achieve sustainable, authentic, and complete liberation, we must remain unified and uncompromising advocates of all oppressed peoples.”
USD is one of 63 educational institutions around the country with a list of demands surrounding inclusion in their communities. USD is among Yale, Brown, and UCLA that have brought up issues regarding diversity. While the document of demands provides no consequences if the demands are not met, many students look to the future for evidence of improvement.
The full list of the demands is accessible through http://www.thedemands.org
*Correction: The original article stated Esteban del Río as the Director for the Center for Inclusion and Diversity. Del Río is the Associate Provost for Inclusion & Diversity and the Director for the Center for Inclusion and Diversity.