By Kaiyo Funaki
The African American Studies Department (AFAM), BSU, and the Affirmative Action Task Force have teamed up in the hopes of creating a more welcoming and equitable environment for City College’s black and brown students.
Despite celebrating its 50th anniversary earlier this year, the AFAM department continues to struggle to get the resources and visibility it needs to thrive at City College.
In order to rectify these issues, these organizations worked together to develop three demands from the administration to help change the current dynamic.
The first goal was to relocate the African American Resource Center into the new Student Success Center.
Akeli Lord, the student ambassador for the AFAM department first stumbled across the African American Resource Center currently located in Batmale Hall back in September of last year.
Lord discovered that the resource center was no more than a storage closet and paled in comparison to that of the other ethnic and cultural resource centers around the campus.
The room lacked essentials, such as Wi-Fi connection, functional computers, ventilation, and could not fit more than three people at a time.
In addition, it was neither listed on the campus map nor the college catalog.
While the resource center is supposed to serve as a study hall and a food pantry, it also holds symbolic meaning where students can feel welcome on campus.
“That’s the benefit of having a culturally accepting resource center, because I can feel at home at school,” Lord said.
Wynd Kaufmyn, a member of the Affirmative Action Task Force also highlighted the importance of a unified space.
“It’s a way to give them a safe place, a way to give them a place to network with other students who might be facing similar issues and need support,” she said.
The second of the demands was to reinstate Dr. Ramona Coates as the AFAM department chair.
Dr. Coates was briefly the interim chair in 2019, but was stripped of the position due to her status as a part-time professor.
However, Dr. Coates has remained active within AFAM and BSU, holding open houses, fundraisers, and other social functions to support these organizations.
BSU member Trillia Hargrove felt that Dr. Coates would bring a sense of legitimacy for AFAM and BSU at an administrative level.
“It would help with advocacy; it would make sure that black educator voices are being heard black staff voices are being heard, and black student voices are being heard,” Hargrove said.
Fellow BSU member Keir Wilson felt that a lot of the issues black and brown students are encountering at City College can be solved with someone who can relate to them on a more personal level.
“We don’t have the right department chair. Because there is no one to advocate for us, or no one who knows what to advocate for, we can’t get the help that we need,” she said.
Edgar Torres, the chair for the Latin American and Latino/a Studies Department, is also the current interim chair for the AFAM department.
However, he has supported the reinstatement of Dr. Coates to assume the role of chair for the AFAM department.
The last of the demands was to hire at least one full-time faculty member for AFAM.
As it stands right now, the department only has three part-time members and offers just four courses.
With the current political energy around social justice, Dr. Coates argues that now more than ever, representation in academic institutions is vital for the success of students of color.
“It takes the village of City College to prepare and support our students for their graduation. To have a robust African American studies faculty that have that same energy and that same passion and support for students, there’s no telling what students will do.”
While there has been optimism that these demands will be resolved, City College’s failure to address these issues beforehand serves as a microcosm of the educational injustices black and brown students have routinely encountered.
“We are still at the back of the bus at City College,” Lord said. “People keep on shouting black lives matter, but black minds matter as well.”
Wilson expressed a similar sentiment as well.
“Just make things equitable and fair. We can see the inequality every time we walk out of the house, we can see the inequality every time we turn on the news. We shouldn’t have inequality at school.”