African-American resource center becomes reality at UC Berkeley this fall

A new space dedicated to African American students on the UC Berkeley campus becomes a reality this fall.

It will be called The Fannie Lou Hamer Resource Center in honor of the civil rights activist and philanthropist. The resource center is a win for organizations such as the Black Student Union and Afrikan Black Coalition on campus that fought for the creation of the space over a period of 15 months.

“This is something I wanted to happen since I got here and to see it actually happen is amazing,” Gabrielle Shuman said, former co-chair of the Black Student Union. Shuman graduated from UC Berkeley in May 2016.

She and another graduate, Blake Simons of the Afrikan Black Coalition, spent 15 months fighting for the creation of a resource center for Black students housed inside the Hearst Annex Building. They said it is among a list of demands that university officials shot down at first due to what officials called self-segregation.

“Which is the kind of the first thing that comes to people’s heads,” Shuman said. “They say, ‘Why do you want a space like this, isn’t it self-segregation?’ We have to create a space like that in order to have a sense of community that everyone else just gets to have by default by attending this university.”

“We really fought for this and we demanded it,” Simons said. “They did not take us seriously from the beginning.”

Sandra Messick with the UC Berkeley’s Division of Equity and Inclusion admits the process was long and there were a number of roadblocks.

“Vice Chancellor of Equity and Inclusion Na’ilah Nasir came in and help negotiate to bring the two sides closer together,” Messick said.

The resource center will serve as a comfortable place for Black students to talk about experiences and study. It is a space Simons wishes he had as a student when he experienced racism during his first few weeks on campus.

“The N-word was carved into my dorm wall and there weren’t too many Black students living in those dorms,” Simons said. Simons and Shuman said the center is under renovations, but they know when it is complete the battle will have been worth the fight.

“It will build community for students, support network for students and bridge the gap from campus to the community,” Simons said.

As part of the agreement, UC Berkeley will hire additional Black staff members and more outreach will be done to recruit Black students to Cal. The university is also fundraising to provide a $20 million scholarship for Black students in the future.

The center is expected to open in October 2016.