Almost 10 years ago on March 4, 2010, four CSUN students and one Los Angeles Valley College student – all students of color – were arrested on Reseda Boulevard near CSUN for protesting against harmful cuts to education and bloated administrator salaries.
A beautiful assembly of 7,000 students, teachers, faculty, staff and community members came together to march for access to a quality higher education. What happened? CSUN police were deployed in riot gear and students of color were arrested. We – Jonnae Thompson, Justin Andrew Marks, Antony García, José Juan Gómez-Becerra and Angel Guzmán – faced charges ranging from failure to disperse to assault. The assault charge was a baseless attempt to explain how then 79-year-old American Indian Studies Professor Karren-Baird Olsen got her arm broken during the arrests. Olsen was among the students in protest and reported being trampled by “black boots” as police moved in on the students. We, the students, and the professor were subsequently named the “CSUN Six.”
The response by the university was shameful. In the days after the demonstration then-President Jolene Koester made statements admonishing us black and brown students who were arrested. For two years, as we were continuing our studies, taking midterms and working to pay for classes, we faced criminal charges from the Los Angeles City Attorney. Meanwhile, the university administration attempted to dissuade us from taking action.
The CSUN administration has never embraced the campus’ rich history of activism and growth towards racial and gender equity. Though CSUN’s student body is incredibly diverse today, the university has its roots in institutional racism. In 1967, CSUN had only 23 black and 11 Latino students out of 15,600. Between 1967 to 1971, there were six significant student demonstrations where Los Angeles police arrested 400 students and faculty. Administrators refused to listen to the demands of students of color, which were to increase enrollment of minorities and faculty and staff of color and investigate racism complaints. In November of 1968, members of the Black Student Union took to controversial measures. The BSU occupied the administration building and held 34 staff and administrators hostage. The students were ultimately arrested and the months that followed saw intense protests and arrests, which at one point put the university in a state of emergency. As a result of faculty and student activism, Afro-American and Chicano Studies departments were established after negotiating with administration.
It is shameful then, that exactly 40 years later, black faculty, staff and students still face institutional racism in higher education. Black student enrollment has dropped steadily over the last 10 years, from 3,023 in fall 2008 to 1,849 in fall 2017, according to CSUN Institutional Research. In her lawsuit against CSUN, Shante Morgan-Durisseau alleges discrimination and harassment based on her race as a black woman. As the founder of the Black Alumni Association, Morgan-Durisseau has contributed a great deal to the black CSUN community. The university stated that there is “absolutely no merit” to her claims. This is after another black female CSUN professor, Marilyn Joshua Williams, sued the university in 2012 for racial discrimination. And earlier this year, when Africana Studies professor Dr. Karin Stanford received threatening emails, she had to stop teaching out of fear with little university support. It is disheartening to think that in 2018, there is still such a refusal to trust and protect black women.
Our question is, when will the CSUN administration take education seriously, and do better?
José Juan Gómez-Becerra.
(Members of the CSUN Six)