Dear University at Buffalo’s administration,
As the Black Council of the University at Buffalo, we are extremely disheartened by the murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Tony McDade, and the many other Black people who have been murdered due to systemic racial violence. We stand in solidarity with those fighting for the lives of black people on the ground and on social media platforms.
The Black Council is appalled by the vagueness of President Satish K. Tripathi, Vice Provost for Inclusive Excellence Despina Stratigakos, and the College of Arts and Sciences’ statements regarding worldwide demonstrations against the continued oppression of Black people. As an institution that prides itself on diversity and inclusion, we find it absolutely abhorrent that the University at Buffalo’s administration has disregarded the voices of Black students and other students of color. We DEMAND that the University administration release a new statement that declares outright support of the protests and includes structural initiatives to support Black students and Black communities in the city of Buffalo and beyond.
First, in May 2017, a UB student was pepper sprayed, beaten, and arrested by a University police officer. The incident occurred after the student’s cousin was apprehended for sleeping in his car. The administration has failed to provide this student the justice he deserves. We DEMAND that the University release a formal and public apology. We also DEMAND that the University reach out to the student, seek his instruction on how to rectify the situation, and sever ties with any police department. Given the harm that policing has done to Black people and Black communities, the University must disclose any relationship it has with any police department and dissociate from them.
Second, the administration has gradually been diminishing the size of the African and African American Studies Department and officially downsized the department into a program in 2011. At the program’s 50th anniversary celebration, former department chair and professor, Cecil Foster stated that the department lost its autonomy and history when it was reduced to a program. The University has also been deliberately reducing funding of the program. In spring of 2019, the University at Buffalo cut funding for the program once again. The University has also connsiderably reduced its Black faculty. Since 2004, the number of Black tenured faculty at the University at Buffalo has decreased by almost 50%. UB’s black tenure-track faculty fell from 61 to 33 between 2008 to 2017. Then fell again to 31 in 2018. Black scholars are critical but scarce at the University at Buffalo. UB’s failure to meet the demands of its students to provide adequate resources and faculty for the African American Studies Program is embarrassing. That is why we are DEMANDING that the University at Buffalo expand the African American Studies program into a department, increase funding for the department, and hire more black faculty. Furthermore, as an institution that was built in a city with a rich history of abolitionism and Black liberation struggles, the University has a responsibility to give back to the Black community but it has failed to do so. 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. We DEMAND that the University be more active with non-profit organizations and programs that are geared towards supporting the livelihoods of Buffalo’s Black residents.
The University at Buffalo is a predominately white institution. One factor that has contributed to this status is its lack of efforts to recruit and retain Black students. Black students averaged around only 7.5% of the student population at UB and had a 40:1 Black student to Black faculty ratio in the 2016-2017 year. We DEMAND that UB create and publish a plan to increase the number of Black students at the University. Black students at the University at Buffalo endure racism and microaggressions at the hands of their white peers. This stems from a lack of cultural competency and ignorance on their part. And UB has failed to remedy the mistreatment of Black students by not properly educating its white students. While the University at Buffalo offers diversity courses as part of the Pathways curriculum, students have circumvented the required courses to avoid taking African American Studies courses. For example, STEM majors have taken Communication Systems I, a course about transmitters and receivers to fulfill a “Understanding Racism” requirement. That is why DEMAND that students that African American Studies courses fulfill the diversity requirement of the Pathways curriculum. We also DEMAND that UB create a safe Black academic space on North Campus.
We DEMAND Millard Fillmore’s name be removed from the Academic Center in Ellicott Complex. As the thirteenth president of the United States, Fillmore signed the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which gave slave owners the right to capture enslaved black people, and considered black people a ‘wretched race’. We DEMAND that UB outline structural plans to take down monuments commemorating white supremacists.
Black lives have been subjected to four hundred years of systemic racism in the United States of America. Education on both historical and contemporary contributions and living conditions of the entire African Diaspora are necessary for a better world. The University at Buffalo must meet our DEMANDS to demonstrate their commitment to supporting black communities on and off campus.
We would have hoped to meet with the administration, strategize on implementing diversity initiatives and advocate on behalf of the African and African-American studies programs consistently. Since our town hall meetings and rallies, we have yet to hear back from the administration for concrete future initiatives. Therefore, we request to have a teleconference meeting with administration in regards to discuss our demands and how to further progress the needs of Black students and faculty at the University at Buffalo.
The Black Council, serving as a multi-representative body of various student organizations including: The Black Student Union, UB’s Pre-Law Chapter of the National Black Law Students Association, the African-American Studies Academic Association, African-American Students of Architecture and Planning ,the Caribbean Student Associationand the African Students Association.
Sheryl Salimata Toure