Fannie Lou Hamer Black Resource Center Opens at UC Berkeley, Minority Students Rejoice

Cal junior A.J. Moultrie, 21, of the UC Berkeley Black Student Union, reads a statement demanding the university fund the Fannie Lou Hamer Black Resource Center, which it approved last year. The school has told the BSU that students need to find the money for operating expenses. (Robin Abcarian)

A small but important piece of history was made Tuesday evening at UC Berkeley when the Fannie Lou Hamer Black Resource Center opened its doors.

To celebrate, there were speeches. And refreshments. And a deejay.

Also, an understandable sense of accomplishment on the part of the Black Student Union, which has spent years pushing the university to establish the center, named for the great civil rights activist.

Nestled behind Sproul Hall, the Hamer Center occupies a low-slung metal building that for years was a temporary quarters for various departments displaced by remodeling. From now on, it will be a space — yes, a safe space — for black students, whose numbers are so low (less than 3% of the student body) that they feel isolated.

How isolated?

Take Tayler Hughes, a 20-year-old junior majoring in gender/women’s studies and molecular cell biology. Hughes, an aspiring OB-GYN, is often the only black person in her science, technology, engineering and math — or STEM — classes.

“I could tell from the get-go, in Chem 1A, that this was not a safe space for me because there was no one willing to be my lab partner,” she told me the other day. “This is something all black STEM majors go through at Berkeley. The white students don’t even acknowledge my presence half the time. They don’t think I’m capable enough or know the material. What it means is I study alone.”

It has been isolating for Carlisha Washington, a 24-year-old senior, who was assigned a campus apartment with three international students as roommates on her return from a three-week study trip in Cuba in August.

“They told me they didn’t want me to use their dishes, when all my stuff was still in storage,” she said. “They told me they didn’t want me to keep any of my products in the shower because they don’t want my ‘germs.’”

She complained and went through mediation with her roommates (which sounds awful to me, like putting a victim in a room with an assailant), and it took the housing office two months to find her another home, but with a much higher rent. In her new apartment building, someone has scrawled “Trump” twice on the frosted glass door of her upstairs neighbor, who is also black.

And it has been isolating for Key’Toya Burrell, 23, a sociology major and member of Cal’s mock trial team, who is tired of being featured on posters used to attract black students to a school that seems to stop paying attention once they enroll.

She’s appreciated for what she calls “my adorable brown skin and puffy hair.”

“I’m like a little pet, so they can say, ‘Oh, we have black students.’ But they don’t care about my soul.”

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Source: The Los Angeles Times | Robin Abcarian