HomeEducationHigher EducationBlack Student Coalition Focuses on Mental Health, Is Open to All Students

Black Student Coalition Focuses on Mental Health, Is Open to All Students

Around 48,000 academic workers at all 10 University of California (UC) campuses went on strike Nov.14, shutting down classrooms and research laboratories in the largest employee walkout at any academic institution in history.

By Patty Guerra, UC Merced l February 4, 2023

When Stephen Smith got to UC Merced, he found several organizations aimed at helping Black students succeed. But he didn’t find one specifically aimed at mental health. So, he started one.

Smith co-founded the Black Student Coalition last year. The organization’s stated mission is “to provide a community away from home for the Black community here at the University of California, Merced, with an emphasis on mental health.”

It wasn’t an immediate success.

“Early on, it was definitely trial and error,” Smith said. “We did have a slow start.”

In the early days, prospective members might have been put off by the serious-sounding nature of the organization.

“But then we started going heavy with social media and events,” Smith said. Now the Black Student Coalition has an executive board and 122 active members. And its events have drawn as many as 350 participants.

One key to success has been planning more casual social events, such as painting and ceramics sessions. A paint-your-tote-bag evening is planned for this week. Other events have included building vision boards and navigating the winter blues. The Coalition also has hosted a homecoming dance and a prom.

“There’s a big emphasis on creativity,” Smith said. “We noticed there aren’t a lot of outlets for students to be creative on campus.”

In addition to providing a social outlet, these events allow for a safe space for participants, and serve to build community among them. It all goes back to the Coalition’s mission aimed at mental health.

“It’s important to have fun things and an outlet to go to,” Smith said.

One thing that surprises some folks is that the Black Student Coalition isn’t limited to Black students.

“It’s open to all people,” Smith said. “We have 21 percent of our members who are non-Black. That’s something we really want to emphasize … a lot of things that we do really transcend color and race.”

Smith, who grew up in Los Angeles and plans to attend graduate school, said what drew him to UC Merced was the opportunity to have an entirely different type of experience.

“I’ve loved it,” Smith said. “I don’t think if I went to any other school I would have been able to do as many things as I’m able to do and have as many opportunities as I’ve had here.”

He is getting ready to graduate next year but said he feels confident the Coalition is in a strong position to continue to grow.

Last semester the organization added a section called “The Tribe,” which Smith described as a leadership bootcamp.

“We have four first-year students on the (executive) board,” he said. Those four members completed The Tribe program. “It was really important to get fresh faces and new ideas on the board going into the new semester just so we can have that fresh perspective.”

Smith said the experience has taught him organizational and other skills that will continue to serve him throughout his career. But he is somewhat surprised at the Coalition’s growth.

“I was just hoping to create a safe space for myself,” he said. “I would have never thought we’d have events with hundreds of people.”

For more information, follow the Black Student Coalition’s Instagram page.

UC Academics Picket Campuses in the Largest Strike of the Year

By Maxim Elramsisy | California Black Media

Around 48,000 academic workers at all 10 University of California (UC) campuses went on strike Nov.14, shutting down classrooms and research laboratories in the largest employee walkout at any academic institution in history.  

The Post-Doctoral scholars, teaching assistants’ and associate instructors, graduate student researchers, and academic researchers are represented by the United Auto Workers union in contract negotiations with the UC system. 

Bargaining between the disputing parties has been ongoing for months, and while UC officials recently called for a third-party mediator to address remaining issues, they are continuing to negotiate without one.

“When I was working in the lab, I worked 50-60 hours per week, and the salary was so low that every month I really had to think about if I would make it through the month,” said Neil Sweeny, President of UAW 5810, which is representing the striking UC employees. “I have two small children and my partner was a full-time student. We lived in campus family housing and we went to the campus foodbank every month to make sure that we had food.  This was while my research was bringing in millions of dollars in research funding for the University.”

The workers are demanding better pay and benefits, including wage increases tied to housing costs. Housing costs in California are among the highest in the country, especially in the Los Angeles and San Francisco metropolitan areas. 

Aside from UC campuses located in the state’s biggest cities, many of the research university system’s campuses are in parts of the state that have relatively high costs living, like Berkeley, San Diego and the Westside of Los Angeles. 

“UC’s pay falls below all their self-identified peer institutions, including Harvard, Stanford, Yale and even public schools like the University of Michigan where living costs are far less” the union said in a press release on Thursday.

The UC maintains that “On average, UC rents systemwide are 20-25% below market rates, with some campuses providing even deeper discounts. UC has offered wage increases for all UAW members which would further help them meet their housing needs.”

The aggrieved employees paint a different picture. 

“Being a TA pays for tuition but there is no way I can support myself in this city with what they pay,” said Victor E., a PhD. student and Teachers Assistant on strike at UCLA. “With teaching, my own coursework, and my research, there isn’t really any time to pick up another job. This has resulted in me taking out loans just to live and eat here. This shouldn’t be the case. With the amount of work the university gets out of its graduate students, postdocs, and others, a living wage is a small ask… A number one ranked public university should be doing no less and certainly much, much more.”

Another priority for the workers is transportation costs. The cost of gasoline has gone up around the world and according to a statewide survey conducted by The Public Policy Institute of California, an independent and non-partisan research firm, 43% of Californians including half of lower income residents worry every day about the high cost of gasoline and the increasing unaffordability of various modes of transportation. 

The union wants UC to cover regional transit passes, and additional subsidies and incentives for taking public transit or bikes to work. 

Recently, UC has offered to pay campus fees to extend “existing student-funded transit discounts,” to UAW members.

Although agreements have yet to be announced, on Thursday the UAW reported that “parties made progress on issues related to Parking and Transit, Appointment Notification, and Paid Time Off.”  

There continues to be a large gap between the salary asks and the UC proposals. On Friday, a UAW statement said, “UC made another economic proposal to Academic Researchers containing 4.5% raises that do not match the rate of inflation.” 

However, they did report progress in some other areas. “We have reached agreement on a few issues – such as health benefits improvements for Postdocs – which, while important, are not the major ones dividing the parties.”

As final examinations approach for students in the UC system, so does uncertainty. “UAW remains ready to meet for round-the-clock negotiations, but UC has not agreed to schedule sessions for the weekend,” a UAW release said. “Workers will be back on the strike lines Monday Morning.”

Students, faculty and elected officials are showing support for the strikers. Some professors are cancelling classes, and some students are electing to walk out. California State Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon tweeted “Academic workers are essential to the success of all of our @UofCalifornia campuses. The UC must continue to bargain in good faith to reach an agreement with the @UAW.”

Community College Leadership Retreat Builds Pipeline for Students of Color to Attend UC Merced

By FDR Media-Posted: July 19, 2022

To continue to execute and build a strong foundation for students of color to attend a four-year college, UC Merced held its first Black California Community Colleges CEO’s Retreat. The three-day event welcomed to the campus several Black community college leaders from around the state….

To continue to execute and build a strong foundation for students of color to attend a four-year college, UC Merced held its first Black California Community Colleges CEO’s Retreat. The three-day event welcomed to the campus several Black community college leaders from around the state.

Attendees had the opportunity to learn about UC Merced’s mission and the pathways the campus created for transfer students to attend the university, including the third party online program called Program Pathways Mapper. This online program allows students to explore vetted transfer pathways independently and gives counselors an excellent tool for advising.

“A critical component of our institution’s success is ensuring that students who begin their academic journey at a California community college can envision a clear pathway from your institutions to completing their bachelor’s degree at UC Merced. So, we are creating innovative pathways for transfer students,” Chancellor Juan Sánchez Muñoz said.

UC Merced, in collaboration with Stanislaus State, recently announced the expansion of the 1300 Campaign, an initiative aimed to send an additional 1,300 young people of color into the UC and California State University (CSU) systems by 2030.

The 1300 Campaign will focus on high school students in the Northern Central Valley, including the areas of Stanislaus, Merced and San Joaquin counties.

“What truly sets us apart is our mission and our momentum. We are here to create a better future for students and their families, and we have more than words to back that up,” Muñoz said.

The Black California Community Colleges CEO’s Retreat was led by Vice Chancellor and Chief Diversity Officer Delia Saenz with a welcome by UC Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Michael Brown.

Felicia Roberts took an idea gathered a few people to reached into a minority community to highlight the positive, using a minority newspaper the Central Valley Voice. Roberts was joined by her sisters Carolyn Williams, Alleashia Thomas, niece Hermonie Lynn Williams, nephew Ron Williams, cousin Jerald Lester, Jay Slaffey, Greg Savage, Tim Daniels and the late J Denise Fontaine. Each individual played an important role in the birth of the newspapers. Since, then many have stood strong behind the success of the newspapers and its goal to fill a void in the Central Valley community. The Central Valley Voice published their 1st issue in November 1991. Its purposed was to highlight the achievements of minorities in the Central Valley. The Voice focuses on the accomplishments of African Americans and Hispanics giving young people role models while diminishing the stereotypical pictures of gangs, crime and violence that permeate the minority communities. Since 1991, the Central Valley Voice has provided an important voice for the minority community throughout the Madera, Merced. Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties.

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