BERKELEY (KPIX 5) – The issue of race has the University of California, Berkeley campus buzzing, after a student group wants a building named after a member of the Black Panthers who was once convicted of killing a New Jersey state trooper.
Only 3 percent of Berkeley students are African-American and a 2013 survey revealed just over half of those students feel respected on campus. Last month, Spencer Pritchard and other members of the Black Student Union sent a letter to Chancellor Nicholas Dirks, demanding changes.
Among the changes, the group seeks more black staff members and graduate students, support for black student athletes, along with two full-time black psychologists to talk to students about dealing with discrimination.
Perhaps most dramatic request is to change the name of the campus ethnic studies building, from Barrows Hall to Assata Shakur Hall.
“Her story is emblematic of the black freedom struggle in the nation,” Pritchard told KPIX 5.
To say Assata Shakur is a polarizing figure is an understatement. By some, she is considered an icon of the Black Panther movement. But she was convicted of killing a state trooper in 1977. Shakur escaped to Cuba, where she’s believed to still be hiding, and became the first woman on the FBI’s most wanted terrorists list.
“I think the media has focused on this conversation, because they actually don’t want to address what black students and black people have to go through in this nation,” Pritchard said.
Dirks addressed the student union, meeting with them last month. The chancellor didn’t comment on the renaming but reportedly told students: “Too many black students have told us about being ignored during class discussions, verbally harassed at parties…and feeling isolated and invisible. This is something we deplore.”