Black History Month is in full swing at Las Positas College with a lineup of celebratory events, but the centering of Black culture on campus is a year-round effort supported by the Black Education Association and student groups.
The BEA is "an employee development group that provides culturally reflective, responsive, and relevant programs and support to Black identified employees and students at Las Positas College," according to its mission statement.
While the BEA exists across the Chabot-Las Positas Community College District, the members at LPC include President Dyrell Foster as well as Carolyn Scott, the executive assistant to the vice president of academic services; Emerald Templeton, the educational partnerships project manager and Jeanne Wilson, the vice president of student services, among several other faculty and staff members at the Livermore campus.
In a recent interview with the Weekly, Scott, Templeton and Wilson shared the ways that the organization supports Black members of the campus community during Black History Month and beyond.
A core value of the BEA's mission is to promote a sense of belonging and cultivate a welcoming environment for Black employees and students and one of the efforts toward achieving this mission was recently opening the Black Cultural Resource Center (BCRC), a physical space on campus that offers various resources and programs and serves as a hub for events.
The center's grand opening was in spring of 2022, but the planning for it began in fall of 2021 -- in the midst of pandemic recovery.
"We knew that we would be returning (to campus) and one of the ways that we were trying to prepare for that was thinking about the many ways that we can serve our students," Templeton said.
"Our president has charged us all with thinking about how to engage in an anti-racist environment and one of the charges that he has given us is to make this a destination college, particularly for Black students," she added.
Scott noted that the need for the center stemmed from feedback from students that didn't feel supported or that they had a centralized, safe space on campus where they could share experiences and camaraderie with one another.
Several of this year's Black History Month events at the college are centered around bringing students together in the BCRC, including the screening of the Netflix comedy "You People" followed by a "porch talk" discussion that took place on Feb. 6 and the upcoming Afro-Centric Healing Workshop set for Feb. 22.
Among the student groups involved in planning Black History Month events and that use the BCRC for their meetings and gatherings are the Black Student Union and the Umoja learning community as well as "Sista 2 Sista" -- a leadership development support group for women of color -- and the student charter program of A²MEND, which seeks to support African American male success in college and life.
While most of the events this month are geared toward members of the campus community, their culminating celebration to round out Black History Month is a talent showcase in the Mertes Center for the Arts set for Feb. 23 that is open to the public.
"If we look at the history of Black History Month, the whole purpose is to celebrate the contributions and the excellence that we see in Black communities," Templeton said.
In addition to Black History Month, the BEA calendar includes events to commemorate Women's History Month in March, Black Student Success Week in April and even Black graduation celebrations in May.
The BEA has been organizing programs and events and supporting students long before they had the physical resource center.
Wilson said she initially founded the group about 10 years ago in her own living room.
"There were not very many African American leaders or even counselors or faculty, so it was very important for us to come together to be able to support each other as we supported students," Wilson said, noting that the group started with roughly 30 people.
Over the years, the organization has become more established and the BCRC is coordinated and staffed by BEA members as the center does not currently have a director overseeing it.
"All of the faculty, classified professionals and administrators have stepped up to help to make sure that students know that they have a warm and welcoming environment where they can always come to find support," Wilson said. "In the center, we offer snacks, there are tutoring opportunities, there's a lot of Historically Black College transfer information, there's going to be a college tour coming up this semester and just different workshops that build community."
The center also serves as a space for socializing. "There was a game night where even the president came in to play games with the students -- it's just a welcoming environment," Wilson said.
Currently, about 4% of LPC students are of African descent, according to Wilson. However, she said that as part of their educational master plan, Foster has identified increasing those numbers as a goal.
"When we think about the mission of community colleges as being an equity mission, we really want to reinforce that it's not just for one type of student, it can be for anyone," Templeton said while highlighting that as a part of their initiative to attract more Black students, the campus hosts tours for youth that encourage them to envision themselves in college and particularly at LPC.
The BCRC also serves as a significant component of not only attracting students to the college but supporting them academically.
"When you look at research on cultural centers or any other kind of community center for students, time and again qualitative and quantitative research points to these centers being really important not only to development -- like social identity development -- but to their academic success," Templeton said, adding that the tutoring services offered in the center are especially crucial for that reason.
Wilson echoed similar sentiments. "I think the key to success for most students is the relationship piece, so if someone knows my name ... At our college we have the caring campus campaign and part of the campaign is that all employees will wear their ID. It's something as simple as (students) seeing someone with a name badge and knowing that's someone they can talk to," she said.
Scott agreed with her colleagues and offered an example of how establishing relationships with students is a priority within the BEA.
She recalled a situation when a student felt one of their instructors was being biased and they didn't feel comfortable talking directly to them so they shared their concerns with Scott and she was able to offer support and another perspective on the issue that the student was dealing with. "They felt better about going to class; they didn't feel like they were being picked on anymore," she said.
In addition to the many resources that the BEA and the BCRC provide, Wilson said at the heart of their mission is love.
"Culturally, it's easy for many to say, 'I love you,' 'That's my brother' or 'That's my sister.' You may not be my biological brother or sister but because we have been through many of the same struggles and have many of the same backgrounds, we are grounded and rooted in family," she said.
To learn more about the BCRC and the BEA, visit laspositascollege.edu/bcrc.