Author, Bianca Baymon
The first two Black Student Union Town Hall meetings did not receive much attention or attendance. When time came around for the third meeting an estimated 85 students, faculty, and staff made sure to be in the room for the conversation that was to be had. The third Town Hall meeting discussed the occurrences at Mizzou and how it relates to student activism and unity at the University of Houston. Later in the week on November 20, 2015, a few students and a group of black representatives from organizations like BSU, NAACP, and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. met with Chancellor Renu Khator to present a set of grievances that they desired UH to address.
The first grievance roots in various areas of communication among UH to its students. There is a huge lack of thorough communication with the University of Houston Police Department security alerts. For the majority of the campus robbery cases the suspect is a black male and there are rarely any distinguishable specifics to set the suspect apart from another black male. For example, all students received a security alert on September 14, 2015. It was about a student that was at the trunk of his car and was robbed by three men. The descriptions for the three men were as follows…
“Suspect #1: Black male; low cut hair or bald; brown eyes; approximately 5'10" tall; 25-30 yoa; 140-145 lbs., unknown facial hair, no scars or tattoos visible. Suspect was wearing a black hoodie and white pants.
Suspect #2: Black male; low cut hair or bald; brown eyes; approximately 5'09" tall; 29-30 yoa; 140-155 lbs., goatee, full sleeve of tattoos on his right arm. Suspect was wearing blue jean shorts and white tank top.
Suspect #3: Black male; low cut hair or bald; brown eyes; approximately 6’02" tall; 20-24 yoa; 140-155 lbs., unknown facial hair, no scars or tattoos visible. Suspect was wearing kaki pants and no shirt.”
If you notice, the first three characteristics are the same for all three suspects. That description vaguely describes any black male that you might see on campus. I recall a story of one black male student that was wrongly accused of a crime by UHPD because he matched the description of a suspect for a campus robbery case. It would benefit the UH black community, and even UHPD, if the descriptions included more specific characteristics.
There is also a communication issue of campus policies to black campus organizations. At a campus gathering last semester hosted by Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. and a Hump Day hosted by Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. there was an excess of monitoring. The African-American Greek organizations were thrown off guard by the sudden increase of police officers and card readers because they had not received notice of the supposed new campus policy. Bayou Oaks is the home of many predominantly white fraternities and sororities, but yet the same increase in monitoring wasn’t seen there. There is an evident unbalanced patrolling of Greek events based on race, and the scale is heavier on the side of the black organizations.
As a result of the areas of miscommunication brought to the Chancellor’s attention, the students that met with her proposed that there be equal policing of social and campus events. The students also proposed that there be updated and transparent communication of campus policies of events held by students.
The second grievance that was presented was the lack of UH administration’s support in increasing the visibility of minority organizations and departments. There is not a huge representation of African-American organizations and Greek life on the campus of UH. Out of the nine fraternities and sororities that are a part of the National Pan-Hellenic Council, there are only a total of six that are on campus. UH does not have an active chapter of Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, Inc., Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. Although one may not realize, an increase in representation of black Greek organizations could attract prospective students and retain quality students.
Also, an increase in the visual marketing of black student organizations, like BSU, NAACP, and Collegiate 100, would also attract and retain students. UH is a school where students are a small fish in a big pond, and as a small fish the first thing you do is try to find a place where you fit in. As an African-American student I had to search for the places where I would fit in, because I wasn’t exposed to the different black organizations at orientation and throughout my freshman year. There is also a lack of black representation among students, faculty, and staff. We want to see ourselves in different areas around UH and as now the 3.4% population of black students does not suggest that we are visible. As a result of those grievances, the students that met with Chancellor Khator proposed that there be pipeline initiatives for black students to enter and graduate from the university, increased support of programs that already foster this success, increased visibility of minorities academically and socially, an increase in the amount of tenured black faculty, and an increase of recruitment of black faculty.
One of the proposals that were presented at the meeting with the Chancellor was addressed a few weeks later on December 2, 2015. Provost Short met with Debreka Young, Jalyn Gordon, and Chelsea Murray to respond to the proposal of increasing black faculty on campus. The discussion consisted of the Provost explaining ways the university is using various initiatives and programs to gain a more diverse faculty.
Shortly after that meeting Richard Walker, the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs and Enrollment Services, contacted BSU President, Jalyn Gordon, to give an update on how UH was responding to the grievances and proposals. Walker said that they are in collaboration with UHPD and the Office of General Counsel to look over the way crimes are reported and to find a more efficient way of adhering to the Clery Act with respect to UH students’ safety. Walker said they are also selecting a team of faculty and students to address a few other aspects of the proposal. The team will be figuring out ways to make NPHC and other minority organizations more visible by providing them support. The team will also be looking over social event policies for student organizations, as an attempt to address the unbalanced monitoring of black organizations’ events. Walker also stated that they are finding ways to give the Urban Experience Program additional ways of aiding students’ success. Lastly, he said that they have are putting together another team that will create a UH diversity and inclusion statement.
It is great that the administration is listening to the concerns of African-American students, but I have yet to hear anything substantial. The progress that has been presented only sounds like pacification and indirect answers. It is good that they are working with UHPD to look over the Clery Act, but I would like to hear something more substantial as to how they are planning to change the blanket description of crime reports as it relates to African-Americans. I would like to hear something more substantial as to how the special team will increase visibility of minority organizations and how they will ensure that campus policies for organizations’ events are equally enforced. There will be another Town Hall Meeting in the future to address any more issues and to evaluate the progress being made.
The way the administration is currently addressing the various grievances is only the basis of fixing the true problem. There is supposed to be a follow-up meeting with the Chancellor, but no date has been set. If the follow-up meeting occurs then that would solidify the fact that administration truly does care about the worries of its minority students and the substantial actions from UH administration would put pressure on the gas to excel African-American students at UH towards feeling like we belong.