When Kyle Bates, President of the Black Student Union, arrived as a freshman three years ago, he didn’t know what to expect from this new experience, “I didn’t tour the school before accepting my admittance offer, so I didn’t realize that there weren’t a lot of people here that looked like me… When I was a freshman, I almost transferred because I didn’t really feel that tight community around me.”
This year, the Black Student Orientation welcomed new black students into the USF community. USF also hosted a general orientation for all incoming students. President Paul Fitzgerald said, “The BSO is a voluntary, supplemental orientation for new black students, like similar programs here at USF for division one athletes, international students, first generation students, etc., and it is an integral part of our new African-American Scholars Project.” Many universities nationwide host similar programs.
Professor Candice Harrison in the history department and co-lead of the development of the African-American Scholars Project explains the significance of the project, “After a year of researching the particular needs of our black-identified students and the obstacles they face, the Strategy Group then developed a three-pronged proposal which has been approved recently by the President and Provost. The three prongs are a Black Resource Center, a Living Learning Community and a Scholars Program.”
The African-American Scholars program is an effort to improve retention and admittance rates among black students and establish a sustainable foundation of resources that will be available to future black students. This year, the University of San Francisco has received deposits securing admission from 6.4 percent of students who identify as black or African-American. Compared to 2016, in which USF only received deposits from 4 percent of black students—USF’s lowest in the past five years—this years deposit rate reflects a dramatic climb. Over 56 percent of black students who applied to USF were admitted this year.
The reception hall of the Black Student Orientation was packed full of students and faculty, wearing matching T-shirts provided by the Black Student Union, and chatting amongst each other. The reception was so a-buzz that you couldn’t hear the music playing in the background.
Leilani Reid-Vera from Sacramento transferred into the USF Nursing program. Following the orientation, Reid-Vera was impressed by practical resources provided by the Black Student Union, “I thought it was really cool: during one of the small groups, they gave us this little booklet called Black Pages…[it] went over all of the black clubs and sororities, fraternities and different ways to get involved. Sometimes, you can get lost when you come to a new school and you don’t know about those things.”
Black Student Orientation was the brainchild of psychology professor and African American Studies program director Ja’nina Garrett-Walker, who is also a USF alumna. Garrett-Walker said, “Black students are often the only ones in their classes. We wanted to provide a space…so they can say, I know which faculty and staff to contact and I know what other black students are in my major.”
President Paul Fitzgerald of USF commended the efforts brought forward by Professor Garrett-Walker, “Dr. Walker is both brave and brilliant. Not only is she designing terrific educational systems to insure student success, but she is doing [so] without distraction.”
The orientation itself consisted of workshops ranging from creating a four-year plan, navigating financial-aid, community-building and discussing resources that are available through USF and otherwise. As Vice President of the Black Student Union, Taylor Terry explains, “the most impactful part of this orientation has really just been the numbers. How many people came, how many people showed out, I think that it’s wonderful to say welcome, but even more so seeing the community come together.”
After attending the orientation, Kennedy Hayes, a freshman from Chicago, said that she didn’t know that USF existed until the school sent a pamphlet to her home. “I just liked seeing all of the orientations that they had, and actually the Black Student Union is something that dragged me this way, I was really excited to learn about all of the support they provide.” An avid golfer since the age of seven, Hayes is looking forward to joining the golf club on campus and getting involved in various clubs and sororities.
Freshman Antonio Snow, from St. Louis, Mo., said he was attracted to USF because “San Francisco has a really big LGBTQ community. I heard that USF had a really good community, clubs and other stuff where you can talk about black stuff too. Either you get to discuss black stuff, or you get to discuss gay stuff; you rarely get to discuss being gay and black, I’m at the intersection of that, and I get to discuss both here at USF.”
Support for the black student body will continue in the form of an African-American Floor, a part of the Living Learning Community approved for Fall 2018. There will also be a Black Student Resource Center and a recently-hired, full-time black psychologist under CAPS, Dominique Broussard.
Featured Photo – Kyle, Kennedy and Leilani share a laugh after the black student orientation. Racquel Gonzales/ Foghorn