A black student organization at the University of California at Berkeley is demanding the university rename a building on campus after Assata Shakur, a former Black Panther, convicted cop killer and the first woman named to the FBI’s Most-Wanted Terrorist List.
A jury convicted Shakur of killing a New Jersey State Trooper in 1979. She escaped prison and fled to Cuba. The FBI calls her a domestic terrorist. In 2013, the agency added her to the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorist List, alongside several members of Al Qaeda, airline hijackers and bombers.
But to the Black Student Union at Berkeley, Shakur is an “icon of resistance within oppressed communities (who) represents black resilience in the face of state-sanctioned violence.” They demanded the university rename Barrows Hall, named after former Chancellor David Barrows, “Shakur Hall.” In 2013, Shakur declared her innocence and called her trial in 1979 a legal lynching by an all-white jury. Shakur, formerly known as Joann Chesimard, belonged to the Black Liberation Army at the time of the shooting.
“We want the renaming for someone — Assata Shakur — who we feel like represents us as black students,” said Black Student Union spokesman Cori McGowens. “Black students on campus have a feeling of isolation, marginalization. We’re at a crisis on campus.”
The renaming of Barrows Hall is just one of 10 demands the Black Student Union delivered to Berkeley Chancellor Nick Dirks last month.
They’re also demanding a meeting place solely for black students, $300,371 for two black admissions staff focused on black recruiting, $113,932 for another staffer to handle black retention, two black psychologists who understand the “racially hostile campus,” two black advisers to mentor black athletes and a fully-funded ‘Get into Graduate School’ mentoring program.
“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.”
University officials met with the groups last week. While not agreeing to honor Shakur, Chancellor Dirks did apologize, saying, “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.”
African-American students at Berkeley already have 33 campus organizations dedicated to their well-being, from fraternities and sororities, to a African Theme Program, an African American Studies Department, an African Arts Society, a Black Campus Ministries, Finance Guild and Pre-Law Society.
But that isn’t the point, say students.
“We definitely need more resources for underrepresented minorities on campus,” says senior Amanda Burke. “I know personally people who suffer micro-aggressions on a daily basis at Cal and it’s something that’s kind of gone ignored by a lot of people.”
Some black students cite a mock lynching last year at one fraternity. However, a police investigation later revealed the hanging effigy on Halloween was meant to be a zombie, not an African-American.
Still, McGowens said it was difficult to succeed academically because of the anti-black atmosphere.
“There are a lot of black students that apply –get into Cal — who don’t want to come for that reason,” he said. “Because the environment isn’t welcoming. It isn’t safe for black students. So we feel like as black students we are the most marginalized on campus.”
After Chancellor Dirks “defaulted” on the group’s March 6 deadline, the Black Student Union said it would “persevere” until they get what they “deserve.”
Of UC Berkeley’s 36,000 enrolled students, roughly 3 percent are black, 40 percent are Asian, 30 percent are white and 13 percent are Hispanic. By comparison, the statewide population is 7 percent black, 14 percent Asian, 37 percent Hispanic and 42 percent white.
William La Jeunesse joined FOX News Channel (FNC) in March 1998 and currently serves as a Los Angeles-based correspondent.