Death of BSC births OBSA and 5C Black Studies Department

The Office of Black Student Affairs and the Intercollegiate Department of Black Studies take over Black Studies Center spaces. (Photo courtesy: Honnold-Mudd Library Special Collections)

In April 1979, the Black Student Union’s (BSU) brainchild, the Black Studies Center (BSC), celebrated its tenth anniversary. By May, the Black Studies Center ceased to exist.

Over the course of the 1970s, many Black intercollegiate organizations and departments saw significant funding cuts from the 5C administration. In Mar. 1971,The BSC Bulletin reported the 20 Black students in the graduating class of 1971 was the largest in the history of the 5Cs. The Center attributed the enrollment growth in large part to the BSU’s active recruitment and advocacy just a few years earlier.

However, despite any hopes of bolstering their respective organizations, in 1972, the ASPC slashed BSU funding nearly 40 percent from just the year prior. By the spring of 1974, there were multiple proposals submitted to the Provost’s office asking to cut the Black Studies Center annual budget by $30,000, leaving their funding for the academic year 42 percent lower than their original budget when the center had opened.

In April 1974, the faculty published an open letter addressed to the 5C community, asking the Council of Claremont Colleges to reconsider their allocations. With this budget decrease, BSC Director Dr. James Garrett explained the organization would be forced to terminate their tutor counseling program, one secretarial position, one full-time faculty position and one dean of counseling position.

“The Black Students Center Family believes that what it asks is just,” the letter on behalf of the BSC stated. “We are not asking for more funds for our center. We only ask that it remain at its present level.”

But for the BSC, their funding was not the only aspect of the program in jeopardy. The 5C administration had plans to absorb full-time BSC faculty into the 5Cs and remove the summer pre-freshman program, designed to help incoming Black students navigate any academic or social adjustments, to be more cost effective.

“A move which Black Admissions Officer Eileen Wilson predicts will cause 30 percent of next fall’s entering class to fail,” the Black Studies Center bulletin reported.

On May 7, 1975, Kit Morgan PO ‘25 wrote an article for TSL entitled “Pendleton Take-over Forces The Issue.” He described that 5C students occupied the Pendleton Business Building in support of the BSC and their faculty to retain their independence from the 5Cs in the next academic year.

“The faculty at the BSC and CSC object strongly to having center faculty incorporated into the colleges,” Morgan wrote. “They argue that if professors are taken away from the Centers they will lose their allegiance and dependence upon the ethnic center and consequently unity will deteriorate.”

By May, the Council of the Claremont Colleges announced their 1974-1975 budget. The Council had voted in favor of the 13 percent budget cut for the BSC, removal of the pre-freshman program and no longer allowing “center-only” professors. Instead, all professors would be reassigned to a college department in addition to their duties at the BSC. In response, many 5C students of color and faculty were outraged.

“On May 1st (May Day) the Council of Presidents murdered the Black and Chicano Studies center by removing budgets for full time faculty from the Centers and returning it to various colleges, thereby eradicating the directors’ control over both faculty and the curriculum,” one student group said in an open letter to the 5Cs. “We can not accept the Presidents’ response. Nor can we allow the Presidents to believe that we will consider a return to the status quo.”

Not long after, Garrett had been replaced by another Director of the BSC, Kuregiy Hekymara, appointed by the 5C Presidents. With Black student enrollment continuing to decline and the Black Studies Center at more limited capacity, the 5C administration enlisted a Special Committee on Black Studies to investigate the “effectiveness” of BSC, and potentially, consider its dismantling.

In April 1979, the Council of Claremont Colleges voted unanimously to disband the BSC.

“After ten years, the Black Studies Center will be no more,” the final BSC Bulletin read. “Effective July 1, 1979, Black Studies in Claremont will be two separate services: the Intercollegiate Department of Black Studies and The Office of Black Student Affairs. That the new era will bring revitalization and success are the hope […] of all who are genuinely interested in Black Studies impacting the academic community.”

The Intercollegiate Department of Black Studies, now known as the Intercollegiate Department of Africana Studies, and The Office of Black Student Affairs (OBSA) still exist on campus today in two former BSC locations, the BSC faculty office and clubhouse. OBSA was envisioned to maintain the primarily social and affinity based community building of the now defunct BSC. For many Black students, OBSA became their solace at the 5Cs.

“OBSA has done a wonderful job of making students feel welcome. It’s not that the administrators don’t sympathize … but they can’t understand,” Kimberly Hill PO ’83 said. “If it weren’t for the [BSU and OBSA] and the fellowship existing between black students, the attrition rate would be higher than it is already … I don’t think Pomona [College] makes a big effort to keep minority students here.”

Meanwhile, the Intercollegiate Department assumed the Center’s academic capacities, offering over 25 courses to all students across the 5Cs.

“The mission of the Intercollegiate Department of Black Studies (IDBS) is to examine through various academic disciplines the experiences of people of African heritage worldwide,” The Intercollegiate Department of Black Studies Interdisciplinary Curriculum and Programs 1979 brochure read. “Moreover, its faculty endeavors to create an intellectual climate which fosters cross-cultural dialogue.”

Yet, many Black students at the 5Cs felt the two services were not enough to replace the power of the incapacitated Black Studies Center. According to the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, enrollment only continued to nosedive in the 1980s with most Black students either transferring upon arrival or not accepting their offers of admission.

“One might be surprised at how ‘unenlightened’ and ‘narrow-minded’ the Claremont Colleges are,” Melina Vourlekis wrote for TSL in 1981. “It is interesting to note how few minorities, particularly [B]lacks, there are at Pomona: for example, there is only one [B]lack woman in the graduating class of 1981. Surprising?”

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