Prior to fall 2021, few resources at UC Berkeley existed to aid Black students in researching the histories and legacies of the Black students on campus before them. However, Black Lives at Cal, or BLAC, was founded in fall 2021 to do just that — research and archive the untold and unearthed stories of Black history here in Berkeley.
BLAC was founded as a collaboration between the African American Student Development and the Institute for the Study of Societal Issues. The multi-year initiative is led by Black students researching the issues they face on campus and the long and rich history of Black life at UC Berkeley.
Campus junior and former Daily Californian staffer Daniella Lake had been involved in her community while growing up in a predominantly white neighborhood of Los Angeles and sought to continue her involvement in the Black community at Berkeley.
“When I read about Black Lives at Cal (BLAC) in an email sent by Takiyah Jackson, the Director of African American Student Development and Fannie Lou Hamer Black Resource Center, I couldn’t believe it!” Lake said in an email. “It was the perfect project for me.”
Undergraduate students participating in BLAC do so through the Undergraduate Research Apprentice Program, or URAP. There are three teams students can be a part of: a research team conducting archival research of untold stories of campus’s Black history; content creation, responsible for producing the website, social media and creative projects; and special projects, responsible for helping organize events.
Additionally, graduate student researchers for BLAC play vital roles mentoring undergraduate students, leading logistical planning and coming from areas of specialization that are essential to helping BLAC thrive.
Since its founding nearly two years ago, BLAC has hosted a variety of events, including a logo competition for its website, a research presentation at a sociological conference, a launch party in 2022 and a Black history tour for individuals to learn more about Black history as they walk on campus.
To Caleb Dawson, doctoral candidate and lead investigator of BLAC, BLAC is “exceptional” because it offers a “meaningful and healthy learning environment” for students of all majors, especially Black students who may otherwise not feel like they belong and are taken seriously as scholars.
Dawson pointed out that according to the 2019 My Experience Survey, approximately four in 10 Black undergraduate students reported experiencing exclusionary behavior and nearly six of 10 Black undergraduate students expressed that Black people are not respected on campus.
Horror stories from residential halls, negative classroom interactions and avoidance by non-Black classmates have contributed to an environment of isolation for Black students on campus, Dawson stated.
Dawson says he believes that Black-led initiatives are critical to the retention and advancement of Black people at UC Berkeley, and he supports the efforts of the African American Initiative to ensure that Black students, staff and faculty have enriching experiences beyond Black community spaces.
“Black students have research opportunities with us that they may have otherwise been overlooked for,” Dawson said. “Until BLAC, there was not a central place on campus to go to for Black history, so our students are playing a vital role.”
Undergraduate students can participate in BLAC by applying through URAP each semester. Graduate students with areas of specialization that aid BLAC’s research process can be recruited and hired.
Lake noted the importance of realizing Black history should not just be learned during Black History Month.
“Black history is American history, the same way the history of UC Berkeley’s Black campus community is the history of UC Berkeley,” Lake stated.
By giving credit to hidden figures on campus, BLAC ensures that the legacies of Black folk on campus are seen.
Many figures have gone unrecognized and uncredited at UC Berkeley. BLAC works to make sure these figures get that credit and works to be a resource to uncover their stories and legacies, remarked Dawson.
“There is a long history of Black folk making significant contributions and going on to lead meaningful and beautiful lives,” Dawson said.