The Black Student Union (BSU) held a town hall to amplify members’ opinions and concerns about various aspects and departments that affect the lives of USF students. Held on Nov. 3, D’Vine Riley, president of the BSU, called its second annual meeting a “brave space where we can challenge each other in a loving way.”
Riley began the event with a statement of intent and poetry reading of Valerie Kaur’s “See No Stranger.” She then called forward Black representatives from various departments. These individuals introduced themselves and their departments to new members of the community and gave updates on existing and future developments that may directly affect students at USF.
Secretary of BSU Amida Nigena and Director of Publicity De’Jena McClean led a community discussion on residential life. The two most repeated issues were Black students feeling uncomfortable in USF dorms and a lack of transparency regarding reporting Residential Advisors (RAs) for microaggressions.
On the topic of discomfort and microaggressions in the dorms, one student in a living learning community commented on his feelings regarding leaving the safety of his community hall to attend classes on a daily basis. “As soon as I leave, it’s all eyes on me again,” he said. Other students outside of living learning communities repeated how isolated they felt on their own floors and the many small ways they are reminded of their differences from their peers. From overhearing alienating conservations about Black culture from non-Black students to witnessing inappropriate posters on personal residence dorm doors, students shared the multiple ways they have struggled in having USF feel like home.
Students also shared what they believed to be a lack of transparency regarding reports to SHaRE about RAs and other members of USF’s residential community. Students were not only frustrated that they were not communicated with about the end result of their reports but that they weren’t involved in the restorative process. One student argued that “we shouldn’t be making complaints one day and then not seeing change a month later.”
Although the majority of students agreed with the sentiment of more transparency, Assistant Dean of Students and Director of Community Living Dr. Aja Holmes disclosed that the end result of a report against a student becomes a part of that student’s file and to release any information from that file would result in a breach of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).
Holmes and the attendees agreed to a possible confirmation email solution where those who filed the complaints would receive some sort of notification that SHaRE looked into their complaint and took the appropriate actions to resolve it.
Black RAs also shared their apprehensions toward calling Public Safety on their residents. They want to restructure their relationships with residents to correct potential power imbalances. One RA in attendance called for implementing an unarmed taskforce to handle nonviolent transgressions like on campus drug use and mental health emergencies arguing that “guns aren’t necessary for a community like ours.” Holmes reminded the RA that they can specify that they need the assistance of unarmed officers but did offer to consider the RA’s proposal.
Program Assistant and Secretary of the Progressive Policing Committee Advisory Board (PPCAB) Kahanu Salavea and Black Achievement Success and Engagement (BASE) seat Shiara Coleman introduced their goal to have PPCAB act as a liaison for students and staff to talk to Public Safety. Salavea and Coleman displayed the Public Safety Community Comment Form where members of the USF community can submit comments or concerns about Public Safety and its officers.
Public Safety Dispatch Supervisor April Al-Shamma disclosed the work Public Safety officers have been doing to combat possible racial bias in their duties. The officers have been undergoing training that tackles racism, racial justice, and policing in higher education institutions. Additionally, officers and the USF community have been participating in listening circles where community members and officers alike can discuss their own relationships to and opinions about policing.
BASE Administrative Intern Monzerrad Fierro reminded the town hall attendees that BASE aims to “holistically” help Black students by “aiding and empower[ing]” them. Aside from a living learning community, BASE also has resources like the Black Scholars Scholarship that provides free tuition to a select number of incoming freshmen, and a Black Resource Center, which hosts a variety of programming for undergraduate and graduate students. As Fierro summarized, “BASE is your base, your home, your core.”
Holmes also spoke about her goals of supporting all USF students, regardless of their on-campus or off-campus residency through “edutainment”, a mixture of entertaining but educational programming. Aside from aiding students through the transition from residency halls to apartment life,there is also a push for expanding the USF food pantry and a search for a new space that best suits the pantry’s demand. Collymore brought up a possible collaboration with Counseling and Psychological Service (CAPS) for biweekly workshops catered towards Black and first-generation students .
Shannon Gary, the assistant vice president of student life gave important updates on the continuing search for a new Black CAPS counselor Gary reassured town hall attendees that a position has been officially posted and that the listing specifically states that the University is searching for a Black counselor who will work with Black students.
Gary noted that issues like the cost of living in San Francisco as well as the lack of Black people in the city may be standing in the way of possible applicants. To the dismay of some attendees, CAPS is only searching for one Black counselor despite the growing number of Black students at USF. Additionally, Gary mentioned a proposal where an agency would provide counseling when CAPS appointments are fully booked.
Pamela Balls Organista, the senior vice provost for equity, inclusion, and faculty excellence, spoke on retention for Black faculty and staff at the University,ensuring that the end goal of hiring Black staff and faculty will be “to recruit but also to retain.”