UC Berkeley's Black Student Union want to rename a campus building after Assata Shakur, a former Black Panther who was framed, convicted and jailed for killing a New Jersey cop until she fled and found asylum in Cuba in the 1970s. Naturally, Fox News is confused, but mostly upset. As Fox News usually is.
In renaming UCB's Barrows Hall, a building named after the former Chancellor David Barrows, the students want to create a safe space for themselves and other blacks on campus where they can take a break, play some Young Thug and study, you know? Fox News, for their part, called this an "interesting story" about a "convicted cop killer," which misses the point entirely, as it's a generally accepted theory that Shakur was framed and zealously prosecuted because of her involvement with the Black Panthers.
Here's a bit of background on Shakur from my Jezebel story last year:
For those who didn't read Assata: An Autobiography in college, here's the short version. Born JoAnne Chesimard, Shakur was a member of the Black Panther Party, the Black Liberation Army and the Black Power Movement. After years of being targeted by COINTELPRO, an FBI group assembled to crush social justice movements, she was arrested in 1973 on the New Jersey Turnpike and a shootout followed, leaving Zayd Shakur, her car's driver, and a New Jersey State Trooper dead and Assata injured.
Eventually, she was convicted of first degree murder despite investigators finding no gun residue on her hands, none of her fingerprints found on any of the weapons at the scene and physical evidence that she was shot with her hands up, according to the National Lawyers Guild.
Now the UCB kids want to channel her resistance and legacy into their own push for equality on campus:
"I came to Berkeley and I thought that it was a progressive liberal environment, but the N-word was written on the dorm wall and my white professors were openly using the N-word," said senior Blake Simons. "So that's part of my experience here is feeling marginalized."
The Black Student Union is also demanding two black admissions recruiters to focus on bringing in black freshmen, two staffers for black retention, two black psychologists to soften the "racially hostile campus," two black advisers to guide black athletes and a bank-rolled 'Get into Graduate School' mentoring program.
I am in support of all of this, especially along side the sad, declining numbers of minorities in the UC system—though they probably won't get it all. As a UC Davis graduate, we had the African Diaspora House where we black students could relax and just be ourselves, which was necessary. Few things are more draining than being the only black person on the bus, the only black person in class, the lone black person … nearly everywhere. And little-to-no black hair supplies, let me not even talk about how we struggled to find basic items like … shampoo and conditioner. Anyway ...
UC Berkeley's Chancellor Dirks has not agreed to rename Barrows Hall but he did say "Too many (black) students have told us about being excluded from study groups, ignored during class discussions, verbally harassed at parties and social events, and feeling, in a general sense, vulnerable, isolated and invisible. This is something we deplore."
We'll see if Dirks provides more than just words to combat the university's sliding minority admission rates and the unwelcoming vibe students of color clearly feel at such a great place. Get it together UCB, the Bay Area needs you.
Contact the author at Hillary@jezebel.com.