Katie Ward & Monica McCown
The University’s Black Student Union published a list of demands last December addressed to USF President the Rev. Paul J. Fitzgerald, S.J., with a deadline for an action plan set to Feb. 1, 2016. Inspired by the calls for change that other black student organizations are making to university administrators across the country, the BSU focused on issues specific to black students on USF’s campus. Although the University has yet to make an official response, BSU President Sarah Toutant and Fitzgerald have met several times since the demands were introduced to address the items that are included in the list.
BSU’s list of demands begins by noting the lack of black students on campus. There is also a concern for the number of black faculty on campus as far as professors, and both psychological and academic counselors. BSU also calls for more transparency and accountability from current white faculty and campus leaders, as well as 25 percent representation in leadership posts of traditionally underrepresented groups, of which 10 percent must be black. At this point, the University is developing faculty microaggression training, but BSU demands that there should be microaggression training for students as well, which the University plans to implement through new educational offerings.
The Office of Multicultural Recruitment and Retention (OMCRR) was dedicated to recruiting and retaining marginalized students. This office was decommissioned last year when the admissions offices were restructured, and BSU members feel that they have lost the OMCRR as an advocate and a resource. The loss of OMCRR also resulted in the loss of a certain amount of money for cultural clubs and events, which has made funding for these clubs more difficult.
“Each year the OMCRR had seen the numbers of underrepresented students increasing, which the office was directly responsible for,” said Toutant. “Had the Office of Admissions been transparent with these changes I think things would have gone a lot differently, but they just took an office and its legacy for absolutely ridiculous reasons.”
Professor James Taylor, Director of the African American Studies program, said, “Here at USF there’s a big concern around retention and recruitment, which is the big issue on campus for students of color. As much as [USF] is heralded by a reputation that this school encourages diversity, the diversity experience has to be real for people, it can’t be abstract and theoretical.”
The BSU also demands that they be consulted before the appointment of student service positions, including the administrative role of Vice Provost for Student Life. The Interim Vice Provost position is currently held by Julie Orio, and the University has not yet announced the search for the official Vice Provost. According to the document, BSU also demands for the separation of the Intercultural Center and the Gender and Sexuality Center, “as both are distinctly important and necessary for marginalized students’ retention at USF.”
The list of demands also wants the University to update its various marketing strategies that tokenize the USF community’s marginalized groups: “Seeing [Toutant’s] face plastered on the homepage of the website titled, ‘Bolder Not Louder,’ accompanied by a partial and revisionist story of our collective experiences as black students at USF, […] The Office of Marketing and Communication has repeatedly microaggressed students of color in their marketing efforts.”
Toutant first proposed creating a list of demands to the BSU after other BSU chapters across the nation began to demand recognition from their respective administrators. Her proposal was met with an enthusiastic response from her peers, as they agreed that there was a need for change. “I admire USF’s attempt to promote diversity, but as an African American student on campus, it seems sometimes that we are not represented, or that we do not get the resources and support that we need,” said BSU Secretary Stanley Whitaker.
Now that BSU has seen different drafts of the University’s response, there are some elements of Father Fitzgerald’s statements that they are underwhelmed by. According to BSU Vice President Khadjiah Powell, those drafts address the BSU’s demands by describing the University’s previous successes in alleviating racism, including the fact that USF was one of the first universities to integrate with students of color in 1951. Powell said, “It is irrelevant to the current injustices and struggles that African American students face. This approach, in my opinion, invalidates and slightly silences the concerns we are currently expressing. We as a University, a people, and a society have to focus of the issues to create change, not pat ourselves on the back for what we feel we’ve already alleviated.”
However, BSU members did express their appreciation for different elements of the response, particularly the official addition of an African American student floor in one of USF’s residence halls. Powell says that she was a strong proponent for this new living community. “For African American students, who already make up less than 5% of USF, to be able to live together, learn together, support each other, and have a safe space to express their experiences would greatly alleviate the disconnect such a small population feels,” said Powell.
The Black Student Union is expecting an official response from Fitzgerald soon, and they are pleased to have been involved in his drafting process. BSU Events Coordinator Draucilia Bala said, “All in all, it was a long process, but we are glad that the President of the University has received it.”
Photo courtesy of Kathy Nguyen/Cultural Centers