UB Black Council’s fight for a progressive UB
UB Black Council is calling on UB stand in solidarity with its black students
UB’s faculty is 82% white and 5.9% black, with their undergraduates being 47.3% white and only 7.5% black.
UB still has a building named after Millard Fillmore, the 13th president who signed into law the Fugitive Slave Act.
UB also has a restaurant named ‘Putnam’s,’ named after James O. Putnam who believed black people were an “inferior race” and introduced anti-Catholic legislation.
Yet, UB says it “prides itself” on the diversity of their community and its mission is to create a “climate” welcoming of a diverse community.
“I think UB has a choice to make here: it can either be a progressive campus and can listen to the demands of black students or it can choose to be regressive and really get left behind in the times.” Asli Ali, a member of UB Black Council, said.
On June 23, UB Black Council put together a list of 11 demands for UB administration to undertake in an effort to “enhance” the black experience on UB’s campus and the “surrounding” community. The council is demanding more funding for the African American Studies program, more black faculty hires and the renaming of all buildings “commemorating white supremacists.” Along with the letter, UBBC created a petition which has garnered over 3,000 signatures and a hashtag called Black at UB, created by UB 2020 alum Amari Fall, to share the experiences of racism and microaggressions black students have faced on campus.
UBBC’s letter took two weeks to write, according to UB 2018 alum Nya Spence, to avoid any room for administrators to think of the letter as “aggressive” and to make sure the tone was “just perfect.”
“Because a lot of times when black students or black faculty express any grievances that they have with [institutions,] universities or colleges they’re called aggressive,” Spence said. “We just wanted to make sure that no one could nitpick any single part of the statement.”
Helen Bamiro, UBBC Chair, said the submissions for the hashtag and the petition is supposed to be a “wake up call” for the administration.
“Just to let them know that we are not the only ones speaking out against what the administration is doing or lack thereof,” Bamiro said. “We have proof that there are people that actually care and actually want change to be done. It’s not just a few people, it’s all of us.”
Ali recalled a time during her freshman year when Buffalo was extending a train line from Downtown Buffalo to North Campus. She was happy to hear this news because it meant easier travel to her classes. A student in her English class, however, wasn’t happy about the news and said she didn’t want this to happen because she didn’t “know what kind of people” would be getting on the train and was afraid they would “break into people’s houses.”
Ali said Downtown Buffalo is predominantly black.
“That’s when I first thought there should definitely be racial and social competency courses at UB because students at UB are wildly ignorant,” Ali said. “And it’s not just white students, it’s students [of color] who are not black just constantly saying the n-word all around campus.”
To give black students like Ali a platform to express their experiences of racism and microaggressions, Fall created the Black At UB hashtag to allow students to submit their stories anonymously.
After reading the submissions, Fall said they don’t believe UB is doing enough for its black students.
“What’s the point of including more students of color and more black students if you’re not going to do anything to protect them and make them feel included,” Fall said.
Fall said they received a lot of submissions and noticed similar statements amongst students, including students from the engineering school, who have received ill-treatment from their professors causing them to believe they don’t belong in their chosen major or industry.
On the UBBC instagram, one of the eight submissions posted, was from a student majoring in architecture. The student said the professor asked them why they wanted to do architecture and after the student answered, the professor told them, “not a lot of people like you make it into architecture.”
Fall said UB cannot allow the fight for change to “die down” once it becomes less “trendy.” With the submissions under the hashtag, Fall hopes to show UB administrators that it will take more than two letters to show “any kind” of solidarity and calls UB President Satish Tripathi’s letters “pathetic.”
“He doesn’t even mention black students and that they should be taking initiative to not only just hear what we have to say, but to create more open dialogue and take steps to actually make these changes,” Fall said.
Spence called Tripathi’s letter “superficial” and felt he could have had a “better call to action.” She said she believed he wrote the letter only because other universities were writing letters addressing the issue.
“It was very disappointing for me to read, and even more so frustrating honestly because a part of me felt like that was a letter that someone like Tripathi would produce,” Spence said. “So I wouldn’t say I’m surprised but mostly just frustrated with the contents of the letter.”
On May 30, Tripathi wrote a campus wide letter addressing the “lives senselessly taken” in Minneapolis, Louisville and Atlanta. Following were letters from Vice Provost for Inclusive Excellence Despina Stratigakos and the College of Arts and Sciences’ regarding the protest around the country for social justice. On June 17, Tripathi released another letter further addressing the fight for social justice, announcing his advisory council on race and UB’s “Let’s Talk about Race” series. Their first will be a town hall zoom meeting called “A Call to Action” on July 15.
UBBC wrote they were “appalled” by the “vagueness” of these letters and are demanding UB release a new statement better declaring their support for their black students and black communities “in the city of Buffalo and beyond.”
To take a firmer stance, Bamiro wished Tripathi was more specific about how he would help the black community and not just depend on an advisory council to solve racial issues within UB.
“The idea does sound great in theory, but we do need more than just talking things over with a council,” Bamiro said. “We actually need to talk to students who are actually doing the work on campus and off campus.”
Bamiro said she would like to see UB reach out to activist organizations such as Citizen Action of West New York, People United for Sustainable Housing, Food for the Spirit and Black Love Resist the Rust.
“[These organizations] are close to home and it directly impacts the Buffalo community, especially the black Buffalo community,” Bamiro said. “Especially, [since] South Campus is in the black community and that UB really hasn’t done much for it speaks volumes.”
Universities are considered anchor institutions because they are important to surrounding neighborhoods. They have an impact on jobs, affordable housing and improve neighborhoods.
UBBC wrote in their letter, “According to the Association of Public & Land-Grant Universities, both the institution and its surrounding communities mutually benefit from community engagement since it is a driving force for innovation. Research from hospital and health centers, neighborhood organizations, and sustainability cooperatives could economically benefit UB and the Black community.”
Many of UBBC’s demands such as diversity, more funding for the AAS program, turning the program into a department and more black faculty, have been the demands of students and AAS faculty since 2011. Beginning in 2011, the program began losing a member of their faculty every two years until 2019, according to,Deborah Pierce Tate, Assistant to the Chair of Transnational Studies. In 2019, the program had four full time faculty members and one adjunct professor, the program currently has three faculty members.
UB has had a problem with diversity since 2004. A 2004 statistic showed its overall student population was 68% white, 7% black, 8%Asain and 3% Hispanic. Their undergraduate percentage of 64% whites has gone down since 1991 but the minority percentages have changed minimally. Today, the Asain percentage is 14.4%, 7.3% is Hispanic/Latino, 7.5% black and 0.3% Native American.
Ali finds it frustrating black students are still asking for more black faculty. She said it feels as though the students are doing the administration’s job when it should be administration“paying attention.”
“They should be the ones who are taking a look at this and addressing it and making the necessary changes and it’s, again, really frustrating that we as students, when our primary focus should be just getting an education and doing well in classes in the middle of a global pandemic, have to be fighting for something like this,” Ali said.
Spence says both she and Bamiro discussed the difficulty of being a graduate and trying to stay connected to UB, but is still hopeful positive change will happen at UB. Although Spence is no longer a student, she said she will still take an advisory role within the council.
“We’re all at home because of the pandemic [and] we’ve still been able to mobilize pretty effectively, so I don’t doubt that this will continue,” Spence said. “Hopefully this academic year students, incoming freshmen or whoever will feel, ‘Okay, the black Council is something that I want to join or be a part of.’ We don’t want to just stick to the same members that are here we want people to join.”
Bamiro hopes UB will comply with their demands but believes UB will instead try to give an “excuse” and have a conversation with them.
“We are going to make sure these demands are met with action we deem fit,” Bamiro said. “Which means rallying or sending letters, keep on finding petitions, whatever it takes to make sure our demands are met because it’s about time that UB actually listened to those they try to advocate for or promote.”
Alexandra Moyen is the Editor-In-Chief and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @AlexandraMoyen