By Jennifer Yin
This year will mark the 50th anniversary for City College’s African American Studies Department [AFAM]. The department’s semi-centennial anniversary coincides with the resurrection of the college’s Black Student Union [BSU].
BSU has laid in dormancy since the former head of the African American Studies Department, Aliyah Dunn-Salahuddin, had left to pursue her graduate degree in the field of history at Stanford University.
The role of BSU president was handed to political science student, Nikki Hatfield, 23, by Student Trustee, Bryan Daley.
“Nikki, from my experience seems like the type of person that a lot of people know and can connect with very easily. She is from San Francisco, born and raised, and I believe she is second generation. So she has some pretty deep roots in the city,” Daley said. “It is important to uplift the people that do have those authentic roots here and can connect to what people are going through more authentically with shared history.”
Hatfield stated how she felt socially responsible to make sure City College’s Black students had a sense of community and was making sure she was reaching out to her peers. More importantly, Hatfield is currently creating leadership roles within her presidential position.
“I am giving them leadership roles and I am making sure they’re doing outreach as well. I love the work. You know, when you are really passionate about something it doesn’t feel like work. This is bigger than me,” Hatfield said.
In addition, Hatfield’s goal as president is to acquire a larger space for BSU, so members could feel more comfortable to be themselves and for the club to gain additional visibility. Currently, BSU meets at the African American Resource Center at Batmale Hall 325 or Student Trustee Daley’s office located in the Student Union building. However, due to their growth in numbers the members of BSU are unable to fit in both assigned spaces.
“BSU has close to 20 members at this point since we’ve been doing meetings every Thursday. There is a lot of visibility and access issues and I feel like that is our biggest barrier. So let’s be real if BSU came to AFAM we would be really crowded in there. The same goes to Trustee Daley’s office but at least with Trustee Daley’s office we’re visible so people can see us and I feel like that plays a huge factor,” Hatfield said.
A lack of visibility has been one main issue regarding BSU, AFAM, and the African American Resource Center. Akelli Lord, AFAM student ambassador stated how the resource center was absent on the map.
“There are several other resource centers and they are all on the map but we are not anywhere to be found. I went down there personally to talk to several people to get us on there and they said hopefully we will be in 2020’s. We didn’t even get on 2020’s,” Lord said.
The African American Resource Center is described by former head of AFAM, Dr. Romona Coates, as a place for students to study, relax, socialize with one another, and pray.
“But I was shocked when I was chair that the African American Resource Center wasn’t even listed on the college’s map. There is this bulletin that has all the resource centers and locations for student support. We weren’t even listed in there,” Dr. Coates said.
In addition to a lack of visibility some larger issues still plagues AFAM, BSU, and the resource center such as funding for a coordinator to manage BSU, funding for full-time faculty members for AFAM, and instituting a permanent head for the department.
Dr. Coates had to relinquish her title as head of AFAM, due to her being unable to acquire a full-time teaching position at City College. “If I am not mistaken Romona Coates was tapped to be the head of the department but there was some kind of discrepancy where she couldn’t teach her full time load and be the head. The school would not allow that and I believe it has something to do with the changes to our reassign guidelines,” Daley said.
Dr. Coates has been teaching as a part-time faculty at City College for 13 years, and has been working effortlessly to secure a full-time position for three years. “I have been applying for the full-time position and have not gotten it. I was elected by my peers to be chair for the next three years, but I had to choose,” Dr. Coates said.
The choice to choose between teaching her statistics class at San Francisco State University, or to stay as the current head of AFAM at City College was a difficult decision for Dr. Coates. In the end she chose to stay at S.F. State because she couldn’t leave her statistics class or students.
The current interim head of AFAM was assigned to the Chair of the Latin American and Latino Studies, Dr. Edgar Torres. Dr. Torres’s newly appointed position came to much of a surprise for City College’s community.
Dr. Coates explained the reason why Dr. Torres had taken the offer as head of AFAM was so the department would not be consolidated.
“If African American Studies falls and becomes consolidated with other departments, then eventually other ethnic studies departments are going to get hit next. We’re losing classes and we are not increasing classes and faculty to teach full-time,” Dr. Coates said. “And the other thing is students can’t finish. I went to a student equity forum and I was shocked to learn that students, who were in the audience have been at City College for 10 to 20 years. City College is not designed to have students there for 10 to 20 years and not finish,” Dr. Coates said.
Hatfield further added to the argument in saying, “You can see black students are not completing their educational goals. It’s on the student success card on Community Colleges of California’s website. They have a student score card for City College and you can see the lowest population for completion of their education is Black Americans. So when you see that and then you see there’s been a disinvestment of AFAM, you can’t help but think there is a correlation.”
The disinvestment of BSU, AFAM, and the African American Resource Center stems to what Hatfield described, “this is an institutional issue and there’s historical systemic oppression still lingering.” However, despite their hardships the Black community at City College still manages to stay strong.
In celebration of Black History Month, BSU collaborated with AFAM to host multiple events such as Black Wellness workshop, the Black Entrepreneur workshop, and Black Film Friday. For future works BSU and AFAM are planning on taking their student members to the Mod Museum for a group outing.
Hatfield, Lord, Student Trustee Daley, and Dr. Coates are all working hand in hand to seek the betterment for AFAM, BSU, the African American resource center, and for the Black students fighting to keep their place at City College where Hatfield said, “People are thirsty for this type of community.”