Black Student Union Leads The Fight For Institutional Change

The Black Student Union held a town hall meeting to confront anti-blackness on campus and mandate action.

By Janica Torres

The Black Student Union (BSU) organized a town hall meeting on Monday at TSU Pavilion B to air out grievances and demand actions to be made toward structural change.

“We are no longer accepting your best regards through emails and letters and messages,” Dorrien Mohammed-Matkins, Black community programs director for BSU said. “I no longer require or even ask for you to empathize, but you will hear and feel what we need to be done.”

One such demand was a call made by Sister Talk and G-Chat facilitator, Aaliyah Reed, to prioritize Black mental health during what she said was a hate crime on campus.

“I want Black mental health to be a priority on campus,” Reed said.

“It’s important because this stuff affects us. In the Black community, mental health has always been pushed aside, and I really wanted to emphasize that it is okay. Especially when multiple hate crimes have happened on this campus, we need to make sure our Black students are okay,” she said.

In response to fraternity Phi Sigma Kappa posting a flyer with a watermark of the N word and the haphazard handling of the situation, BSU’s town hall meeting gave voice to the black community’s hurt and frustrations. 

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On behalf of the Black Student Union on campus we feel disgusted, angry and appalled at the actions that have taken place at California State University, Fullerton. This week, Phi Sigma Kappa Fraternity posted a flyer with the watermark “nigger” at the bottom of the flyer as a joke within their fraternity. Black students feel unsafe on and around campus due to the hostile environment and constant dismissal of our humanity. We are tired of seeing the lack of emphasis and action being put into protecting us as students when racial insults occur that affect and demean us not only as students, but as human beings. In reference to the statement that ASI issued on Thursday October 17, 2019, ASI has not attempted to contact the Black Student Union about the situation. In regards to ASI’s claims on the establishment of BSU as a funding council within the ASI executive senate, it’s being presented as if ASI’s efforts have solely produced this result when in reality Black students fought for the development of the Black Student Union as a funding council. The same can be said about the resolution in support of Black Student Success. We demand that ASI take proactive steps to structurally support Black students and professionals on this campus rather than just promoting a disregarded resolution. We are disappointed that other than the Black professionals, no one has reached out to us to check on the well-being of Black students, especially President Virjee who is a member of the fraternity himself. For such a hateful act to have occurred with such little remorse shows the culture and climate of the university. While this incident is not to be tolerated, it speaks volumes to the systemic anti-blackness within Fraternity and Sorority Life. As a campus that prides itself on caring about diversity, it lacks the competence to put diversity into action in regard to its Black students.

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“As a collective, we were angry and disappointed in the university for how they handle situations like this,” BSU president Bethany Whittaker said. “We decided to host the BSU Town Hall because we felt Black students on campus were not being heard nor acknowledged.” 

Although a response to the aforementioned situation, the Black community made it clear that this was not an isolated incident, rather one of many micro-aggressions they experience daily due to historical and structural racism embedded in the institution. 

“The whole aim of the event was to address an apparent deficiency and an apparent lack of infrastructure for Black students, faculty, and staff on campus,” Whittaker said. “That’s exactly why we wanted the community at large to speak on their experiences.” 

As a start on the university’s part, Vincent Vigil, associate vice president of student affairs, took action to make priority mental health access available to students impacted by the incident during the meeting. 

“So we’re texting right now about it and we will be providing priority counseling to our students who are affected by this incident,” Vigil said. “You will be able to walk into the counseling center and be seen by a counselor.”

This is just the beginning of the structural changes that BSU is calling for in addressing their needs. They reached out to the Black community at large to draft a list of demands for meaningful change to occur at an institutional level. 

“We actually have a group chat we call “The Family Group Chat” that consists of a majority of the Black students on campus,” Whittaker said. “Cause we’re a small portion of the campus population (1.8 percent), there are roughly 600 students in the chat, and there are about 800 Black students on campus.” 

“We simply asked in the chat, ‘What do you feel like you need on this campus for support?’” Whittaker said. “We also reached out to black faculty and staff and held personal meetings with people within such a small time.” 

This was not something that the BSU executive board put together; This is something that the community as a whole put together, she said.

The town hall meeting closed with BSU detailing their list of demands along with a time frame for President Framoze Virjee and the university to respond. 

“The time frame is, we need a written response from president Virjee by Friday, October 25, at noon,” Whittaker said. “We as the Black Student Union have placed a specific deadline and expectations on the institution. These are very simple needs; it’s something that should have been done a long time ago.” 

The town hall was originally booked in Pavilion B but quickly poured over into Pavilion C to accommodate the crowd. Most of which obliged to stand in attendance to allocate seating for Black community members. 

“The amount of support that we have behind us will rock the campus itself. It will disrupt the campus itself because the campus at large supports this,” Whittaker said. “This was a very small portion of the magnitude of support.” 

BSU’s Town Hall was a call to hold CSUF accountable for what it stands for: diversity, equity, and inclusion in action—not just empty rhetoric. They are demanding change NOW.

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