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UC Berkeley Black student clubs, organizations voice concerns

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Deputy Projects Editor

FEBRUARY 23, 2022

Before she stepped foot on campus, UC Berkeley Haas School of Business sophomore Marisa Balades was told she only got into UC Berkeley because she is Black.

In a 2019 campus survey, Black undergraduate students reported the highest rate of experiencing exclusionary behaviors. In this campus climate, many Black students such as Balades are left searching for solidarity and belonging. This is often found within campus’s more than 15 Black student clubs and organizations.

While he’s walking through campus, doctoral student and Black Graduate Student Association President Benjamin Fields said people “swarm away” — as if he were running through a flock of birds.

After facing discriminatory comments about her religion and identity, Yumna Talaat, campus freshman and director of internal affairs of campus’s Faces of African Muslims, or FAM, Students club, said she was left wondering, “Do I belong here? Should I be here? Are there even people to support me here?”

As one of few Black students, Talaat searched for a community — a place where she could go to be around others who shared her experiences, something she said she found in FAM.

“As soon as I joined, everybody in FAM made it a point to emphasize to us first years that we belong at Cal,” Talaat said. “Something that was really important to me was to carry that around and show future Black Muslim Bears that they also belong here and have a community here.”

Illustration of a Black Cal student standing amidst a large crowd in Sproul Plaza during club tabling (Black History Month Cover)
(Angela Bi)

Fields shared similar sentiments regarding his sense of belonging and the search for a community.

In his first year on campus, Fields said he didn’t meet many other Black graduate students. Now, as a part of the Black Graduate Student Association, he aims to increase solidarity in Black communities from an organizational and administrative level.

Student clubs and organizations often serve as places for students to find commonalities and belonging. But in Black affinity groups, an additional weight oftentimes befalls the club.

This weight is one of ensuring the needs of Black students across campus are met.

Action items and petitions have been a necessary measure for many Black organizations on campus, a way to demand change from administration for Black students.

In a list of action items made by the National Association of Black Journalists, or NABJ, members in UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism class of 2021 highlighted areas where they felt Black students were not being adequately supported.

Among other items, the list includes a call for more Black faculty and lecturers and for “more support and recognition” of cultural affinity groups from campus.

Concerns in the NABJ’s list of action items find many parallels in the petition created by campus’s Haas Undergraduate Black Business Association, or HUBBA, in July.

The HUBBA petition also includes a call to hire more Black lecturers within the business school, as well as implement a paid student task force to recruit more underrepresented students.

“We want to see people teaching us who look like us,” Balades said.

The latter goal, Balades added, highlights the burden that groups such as HUBBA “single-handedly” take on to diversify the student population.

According to Balades, as of 2021, 25 students out of Haas’ 700 student population are Black.

“It is Black students that are getting Black students into Haas,” she said, adding that they take on this taxing work without any form of compensation or outside aid. 

She noted there is additional stress placed on Black students — beyond just being a student — of being responsible for securing their own comfort and basic needs.

Nahima Shaffer, a co-chair of UC Berkeley’s NABJ chapter, said that while she appreciates that student input is valued, she wishes those racist incidents would be addressed without the NABJ having to come out with action items and “big statements.”

What non-Black individuals often fail to understand about the Black student experience, Balades said, is the all-encompassing nature one’s own race has when part of a marginalized community.

“It’s not just a battle with ignorant people,” Balades said. “It’s a battle that you’re dealing with internally, among your friends, among your peers, professors, faculty, administration and beyond.”

Lydia Sidhom is the lead academics and administration reporter. Contact her at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @SidhomLydia .

FEBRUARY 25, 2022