Did the Students of Color Conference ignore black students’ concerns?

Allegations of anti-blackness plague UC-wide diversity convention

On the weekend of Jan. 26-28, UC Riverside, in conjunction with the University of California Students’ Association (UCSA), hosted the 30th Annual UC Students of Color Conference (SoCC), bringing together students from a variety of backgrounds to discuss issues faced by minority students across the UC system. The three-day event, consisting of workshops and presentations by student and leaders within communities of color,  drew criticism, however, from African-American attendees who are accusing organizers and other participants of displaying anti-black sentiment and behavior. In a statement sent to the Highlander on Wednesday, Feb. 14, the aggrieved students, organizing themselves as the Black Caucus, cited that conference seminars suffered from a lack of awareness of issues faced by black students in the UC system and resulted in a hostile environment not conducive to the discussion of the aforementioned challenges.

In the 10-page document, the complainants detail what they observe to be continuing patterns of ignorance of these challenges within the UC system. In one instance, during a meeting focused on women’s issues during the SoCC, the release cites a lack of understanding and investment on the part of conference organizers to ensure that issues faced by black women were properly discussed. “Black women who did not previously volunteer to do labor for SOCC,” says the document, “happened to be the main folks leading the caucus and the only ones moving the conversation forward.”

In the men’s caucus meeting, a conference designed to address the concerns of men of color, a similar lack of attention given to black men’s concerns with the UC system left many black students feeling “overlooked and disrespected,” according to the document. After multiple attempts to address racial hierarchies within communities of color, several attendees, feeling frustrated with the lack of cooperation, felt forced to leave the conference.

The public statement also highlighted perceived non-inclusivity toward trans and gender non-conforming students, which, according to the authors, manifested as “the use of gender binary language” and caused “a wave of discomfort for black trans and gender non conforming (sic) students.” Attempts to rectify this by adhering to gender-neutral language went unheeded, and the allegedly hostile and unaccommodating environment was exacerbated by a lack of gender-neutral restroom facilities, which, in one case, forced students “to enter the women’s bathroom, thus invalidating their gender identity,” claims the document.

The caucus also proposed a series of demands for UC administrators to implement in the system as a whole and during future conferences. Among these demands are the creation of “spaces for the centering of vulnerable people within their community,” payment of participants involved in leading discussions and “trainings on anti-blackness for (UCSA) members,” in order to reduce future instances of anti-black hostility. Additional suggestions include hosting future SoCC events at universities with easily accessible gender-neutral bathrooms (UCR has 111, according to the LGBT Resource Center’s website), more publicity campaigns, the establishment of curricula emphasizing black writers and thinkers and mandatory gender diversity training for UCSA board members.

The statement concluded with a summary of grievances against the UC’s perceived lack of diversity and sensitivity to black students’ issues. Among the points raised were the pervasive discrimination and racism faced regularly by these students and what the caucus perceives as the UC’s false image as a neutral and progressive campus.

ASUCR Vice President of External Affairs (VPEA) Johnathan Li was responsible for logistical arrangements and facilitating the SoCC. Li voiced his concerns in an interview with the Highlander, stating that, during the conference, “Black folks felt silenced. Women of color, men of color and queer-trans people of color (QTPOC) discussed and discovered that this was the same issue as last time.”

Li referred to similar allegations of anti-blackness during the previous iteration of SoCC, which took place at UC Irvine in Nov. 2016. “People were asking, ‘How did this happen again?’ What was learned at UCI wasn’t enough.” According to Li, following the UCI conference UCSA leaders implemented new strategies to ensure a discussion more welcoming of black students, including paying delegation leaders and bringing two outside consultants to address “cultural competency issues.”

Li also emphasized, however, that these recent allegations bring new responsibilities for conference organizers. “UCSA needs to step it up,” Li said, adding, “SoCC was supposed to be a safe space. How do we learn from this? How do we improve the experience at the UC?”

UCSA leaders have expressed their intention to work with organizers and black student groups to address these issues and promote inclusivity in future conferences, according to Li. As of time of writing, there is no further information on whether such changes will be implemented.

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