Black UC Santa Barbara undergraduates, graduate students and faculty came together on June 12 to discuss the Black higher education experience, during which participants discussed instances of anti-Blackness at UCSB and deliberated on changes to help Black students succeed in the future. 

The Zoom panel, titled “State Violence, Anti-Blackness, and the Black Student Experience,” was hosted by the Center for Black Studies Research at UCSB. Faculty panelists posed questions to undergraduate and graduate students to better understand their experiences at UCSB and to find ways that faculty can better advocate for Black students. 

“This town hall with Black UCSB students will provide the university community and others the opportunity to hear the voices of our students and develop action items for our support of Black students on campus and beyond, especially during this devastating time we live in,” Sharon Tettegah, a professor of Black studies and co-moderator of the panel with Victor Rios, a professor of sociology, said to open up the discussion.

The panel’s attendance reached approximately 650 people; audience members used the chat function on Zoom to show support for student speakers and to pose their own questions, which Black student panelists then answered.

The town hall included Black psychologists from Counseling & Psychological Services (C.A.P.S.) as well as psychologists at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis, who were on hand to provide mental health support for students and facilitate discussion. 

Many undergraduate students touched on their feelings of isolation at UCSB, where Black students make up just 5% of the populationMultiple panelists said the low number of Black UCSB students particularly affects freshmen, who often feel isolated in the transition from their hometowns to dorm floors with only a few Black students.

“I think that it’s so unfortunate that so many students, I hear all the time, saying ‘My first quarter here was so terrible, my first year was actually the worst,’” fourth-year sociology major Paige Edwards said. “It has everything to do with the fact that they were Black first, or they were Black and queer first.” 

Edwards lived in Santa Catalina Residence Hall her first year, and said she “had to go out of [her] way” to find resources for Black students. 

“We are walking, talking, living embodiments of resilience because we are Black and being on this campus, which is a PWI [predominately white institution].” 

Some students who lived on the Black Scholars Floor in Santa Rosa Hall said that the experience was important for connecting with other Black students. But those who didn’t live on the Black Scholars Floor said they had difficulty building a community when they first came to campus, Edwards said. 

Some students said that the campus police presence around the residence halls is traumatic and recommended that police be removed from campus entirely. 

Raymok Ketema, a third-year Ph.D. history student, said she has experienced “years of trauma” from police during both her undergraduate and graduate studies at UCSB. 

“From being called the N-word to seeing my friends tackled by the police to seeing friends drop out of school and never coming back,” she told the panel. “I had a white lady chasing me down with a stick, calling me the N-word. I don’t feel safe on the campus and the police do not make me feel safer.”

Ketema called on UCSB to reallocate resources away from the “hyper-policing of Black students” by removing the UC Police Department and instead using the funding to invest in academic resources for Black students. 

Multiple students said the first step in creating better learning conditions for Black students is to improve the representation of Black faculty on campus. The lack of diverse faculty often hits freshmen taking introductory courses the hardest, according to third-year sociology major Amanda Glover. 

“It was hard going to lectures like these big lecture halls, not seeing anyone that looked like me, not seeing any professors or staff that really looked like me,” Glover said. 

“There are definitely a handful of faculty and staff at UCSB that I do feel supported by and the support is genuine, but the act of having to go out and search is emotionally taxing and I feel like it shouldn’t be that way.”

Students and faculty agreed that the general higher education system needs to make Black studies courses mandatory, regardless of a student’s major. Jennifer Jacobs, a third-year Black studies and sociology double major, said a pivotal step is eliminating the European Traditions requirement — an initiative that another UCSB student is tackling — and creating a mandatory class or online module educating students about anti-Blackness.

“I would like for disciplines outside of Black studies to acknowledge that institutional racism exists because I feel like Black studies and other ethnicities do acknowledge that, but we definitely need the university to acknowledge it and not to just keep sending out the solidarity emails, telling us that they’re here for us when they’re really not,” Jacobs explained. 

Professor France Winddance Twine, a renowned scholar in racial literacy in the sociology department, echoed Jacobs’ thoughts and said that real change needs to happen at the departmental level. 

“In the United States, you can get a university degree or a Ph.D. and learn absolutely nothing about Black history, about racism or anti-racism,” she said. 

“This is an opportunity for us to think about the burden we place on the Black studies department and on Black faculty to do all this educating. Black faculty and Black studies should not have to carry the burden for all of the anti-racist racism training.” 

Panelists discussed the role that S.T.E.M. faculty need to play in improving their departments. Third-year biology major Havalin Nyivih spoke about the “huge problem” within the biology department of diminishing Black students. 

“I’ve taken a bunch of biology classes and chemistry classes at the university, and they have never talked about the implicit bias that exists in the medical fields or the racial disparities that are causing specifically Black people to be killed at higher rates,” which Nyivih said she hopes to change in her career. 

“So I think it’s important for professors to understand that it’s your job. You need to take that upon yourself because you are the one who’s supposed to be teaching us about all these things,” she said. “And it’s so easy for students to plead ignorance and you help them. You enable them by not teaching us.”

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Katherine Swartz
Katherine Swartz is the University News Editor for the 2020-2021 school year. She reports on campus news, Associated Students and UC-wide news. She can be reached at kswartz@dailynexus.com or news@dailynexus.com, and on twitter @kv_swartz.