By Siri Osborne, CONTRIBUTOR
When Malachi Taylor the current Black Student Union President of San Jose State University arrived as a freshman fall 2015, he expected to encounter a campus far more welcoming, student engagement, and diverse than what he was previously exposed to from his high school Envision Academy in Oakland.
What Taylor experienced during his freshman year at the 163-year-old University was a complete culture shock.
“If it wasn’t for like the Black resources on campus like my fraternity and just like, you know, the people I connected with… I probably wouldn’t be at San Jose State now.” Taylor explains as he remembers his freshmen year experience.
In fact this a common feeling amongst many young incoming black college students who attend PWI (Predominantly White institution). Most Black students rely heavily on the Black community to get them through college.
BSU (Black Student Union) president from San Francisco State University; Diana Freslassie was not too happy about having to attend SFSU back in 2016. After complying that she had a very distinctive first year she states that “one of the best decisions that I made was living on the Afrocentric floor”, due to feeling included within a community on campus.
The United States’ Brown V. Board ended school segregation the year 1954 which allowed anyone of any race or ethnicity to attend any school. Fast forward to the present day and Black students result in the lowest college success rates when compared to other ethnicities.
The number of Black college students that are represented at either a CSU or University within the Bay Area of California are that of 9% or less. San Jose State University, San Francisco State University, University of California, Berkeley, and California State University East Bay are schools that have two things in common; Black students have the lowest retention rate, and all Black resources centers (if they have one) were fought for by Black students.
This can easily be seen as a problem because colleges should be able to resource all of the diversity that is represented of their campus.
As of Fall 2017 Data USA recorded San Jose State University enrolled population is made of 31% Asian, 25% Hispanic or Latino, 19.1% White, 4.63% Two or More Races, 3.19% Black or African American, 0.391% Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islanders, and 0.109% American Indian or Alaska Native. This includes both full-time and part-time students as well as graduates and undergraduates.
The currently enrolled student population at CSUEB, both undergraduate and graduate, is 30.3% Hispanic or Latino, 23.1% Asian, 16.2% White, 9.61% Black or African American, 5.53% Two or More Races, 0.792% Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islanders, and 0.206% American Indian or Alaska Native.
At SFSU there are 25% of students who identify as Asian, 32% Hispanic/Latino, 21% White, 7% International, and 5% Black/African American as of Fall 2019.
University of California-Berkeley student population is made of 29% Asian, 28.6% White, 13.5% Hispanic or Latino, 5.33% Two or More Races, 1.98% Black or African American, 0.153% American Indian or Alaska Native, and 0.0931% Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islanders.
CSUEB’s BSU president Jasmine Domino a third year, states her reasoning for wanting to attend CSUEB in the first place was due because “it had the highest Black population at the time and I wanted to see what my Black culture was like.” This indicates the importance Black students feel that they are present and represented on campuses.
However, there is something happening on college campuses to where each campus results in Black students being if not the smallest, one of the smallest, demographic groups and yet have the highest dropout rates.
“Even though we have 6% of Black students like demographically speaking. You probably see like 2 to 3% on a regular basis. So it really sucks that you don’t see anyone until like black graduation or something.” Explains BSU president from SFSU.
According to a research done by Kenneth Matthew in his, Causes and Differences in Retention of White, African American, and Hispanic Students Who Progressed toward Graduation after First Year in College, “Minority college student persistence has been a vexing problem for higher education institutions and stakeholders for many years”.
Although institutions and stakeholders have been adjusting to the Brown vs. Board act for almost 70 years, minorities seem to be the only ones resulting in extreme hardships.
Matthew also mentions in his research that after the Brown v. Board act in 1954 as institutions increased their minority populations, many campuses were not prepared to deal with a diverse student body.
“Adjusting to a school like San Jose State where it’s predominately Asian and White and having to deal with like overt racism and microaggressions from professors.” Malachi continues as he tries to describe his experience “in a sense I had to go to class with this chip on my shoulder.
“I felt like I had just got thrown into classes… [and] looking for a tutor was hard. I felt at times the [designated] tutors did not want to help me.” Jasmine shares her experience reaching out for help.
African American students are presently attending college but spaces do not always feel welcoming. For that exact reason; San Jose State University, Berkeley, and SFSU all have a Black/African American resource center were the Black communities are provided with a ‘safe space’.
SJSU has had the African American Black Resource Success Center for two years, SFSU has the Black Student Union Center, and Berkeley University has the African American Development Office.
Meanwhile, Cal State University East Bay Black community has been fighting to get one on campus for years.
Diana describes “one of the most beautiful things about the black community center is that it is a direct product of student-led organizations” meaning students saw the need for space where people can get direct resources to help them from classes, internships, jobs, mental health and more.
“The African American Black Resource Success center is supposed to serve to increase the Black graduation rate at San Jose State” Taylor continues to admit, however, “I think what it is being used for now is just a social space”.
At SFSU Diana also explains the seriousness of improving their campus Black college graduate rates and how as BSU president she wants to “rebuild the foundation of their Black resource center for the next generations”.
What is alarming is that research shows that in 2001, the U.S. Dеpаrtmеnt of Еducаtion data revealed that the persistence of minority students at United States colleges during their first and second year was so poor that the government was studying ways to use federal money to pay successful programs that persisted (Borrego, 2002).
This has been an unsolved problem for years and somewhere along the way, it was forgotten. Nevertheless, Black students see, feel, and experience this great indifference every day in classrooms and offices.
“Support from faculty would look like people that are really going to care… like, keep their foot on our necks to ensure we stay on track and graduate on time” Malachi tries to imagine what he would like support to look like on his campus.
Like all college students, there needs to structure and discipline and that is where the University is needed. College is and forever will be a great place where students can create and develop new organizations, clubs, etc. but it can no longer be students fighting for students.
“It’s not fair to Black students… I realized along with being full-time employees, we are student leaders, activists, we are everything, we serve so many roles.” Freslassie from SF State expresses.
“Of course,” Jasmine Domino current BSU President of East Bay starts, “There’s some faculty out there that are really down to help students”.
However, it is simply not enough. Data has been collected for years, and you can see the results that the Black communities on college campuses need more assistance.
Black students should not be the only ones concerned and trying to do something about increasing their community graduation rate, the universes need to care too.
There needs to be a very serious conversation held about how Black college students are at a great disadvantage and it is not fair. The ending result is that universities need to be as equally diverse in resources as they are in their acceptance letters.