Prior to the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor that sparked worldwide outrage in recent months, the Blackademia program at PCC held meetings discussing police brutality. A few months ago, they discussed how the lives of Black people aren’t taken seriously. Some students believe they don’t get the same opportunities to work, go to school and speak as freely as others because of the color of their skin. They expressed their anger, sadness and concern for equality for all Black people.
“One of our students said I’ve been admitted into 20-plus colleges and I still fear for my life,” said Black Student Success Center director Dr. Gena Lopez. “There were a lot of tears. We had Black faculty and staff that were also in tears.”
The deaths of Floyd and others brought students closer together to express their fear and feelings about the lives of Black people. In these conversations they focus on equality, speaking loudly for change.
“Blackademia is a safe space for Black students to come in and to express their feelings, to just be Black with no judgement,” lead staff member Ewnet Zeleke said.
Blackademia has been a part of PCC for over 20 years, and has worked to help Black students complete their goals ever since. Blackademia has resources and services from academic coaching, tutoring, success workshops, community building and financial aid.
“Blackademia is a referral center that provides different resources to the right people with assistance, financial aid and book vouchers,” Zeleke said.
Some students feel change is coming in terms of the standards they set. Some of this change included being able to feel welcome on campus. One student said she has experienced being followed on campus, making her feel insecure while walking to class. Blackademia’s call to change is to make the campus safe when students go from class to class.
“Ask me if I feel safe, the answer is no. I never feel safe anywhere I go,” said student Anasazi Grant. “We want the campus to put the work in and to make us feel comfortable enough to come to you when we are being discriminated against on campus.”
When students have questions or concerns they contact coaches for guidance through email, online appointments, and conference calls on Zoom. These coaches assist with academics, transferring and campus resources, such as tutoring. Ewnet and other members play a role in connecting students with coaches.
“I make sure that they are always focused and ensure that they are achieving their goals at PCC,” Zeleke said. “I refer them to the transfer center and coaches for help they need.”
Blackademia was formed to connect Black students and has since launched a series of subprograms within the organization. With over 1,400 students on campus, groups like Ujima and the Extended Opportunity Programs and Services (EOP&S) were formed to aid all Black students.
In these programs, Blackademia has multiple clubs that keep their students on the right track for success. The Ujima club has counselors who help students pick classes and transfer to four year colleges. Providing access to the Pathways Center and priority registration is key to what the Ujima program is about.
“We wanted to make sure that all Black students had some sort of connection to a service program on campus,” Lopez said. “Blackademia has a newsletter out and you see everybody from EOP&S, Amend and Ujima that are available to all students.”
Blackademia hosts workshops for students as well, including one entitled “Black Student Success Strategies: How to Revive the Vine For Education For Our Amazing Students.” At this workshop, the faculty of Blackademia talked about the four different strategies that help Black student success. These included how to build relationships, safe spaces that reflected their experience, meaningful course work of what it meant to be Black, and robust summer bridging. Robust summer bridging is a strategy that helps students prepare for success in the fall semester.
“We had the biggest workshops on Black students’ success strategies, we were able to advocate on a larger platform,” said Lopez. “We wanted to limit barriers that would limit them toward success.”
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