Representing the Underrepresented

The university introduced new housing options to help UCSD’s many minority groups find a sense of belonging on campus.  The Guardian investigates what goes into creating these communities and why students feel they need them more than ever.

In spite of UCSD’s diversity, some minority groups are less represented here than on other UC campuses: the Latino/Chicano community makes up only 16 percent of the student body, compared with UC Santa Cruz’s 31 percent; the LGBT community makes up only 7 percent of the student body, compared with UC Berkeley’s 14 percent; and the black community makes up only 2 percent of the student body, as opposed to UCLA’s 4 percent. While diversity on campus is growing, underrepresentation remains an issue.

As a first step, the administration offered minority students places to gather, converse and collaborate — places like the Raza Resource Centro, the Black Student Union and the LGBT Resource Center. These community headquarters provide solidarity for groups who need it most, and are considered safe zones for both members and non-members. During hours of operation, students can escape the chaos of university life to be among like-minded people. But in light of racially charged incidents, such as the Compton Cookout and strategically placed chalk vandalism quoting some of Donald Trump’s favorite sound bites, these advocates of tolerance have realized the need for increased representation.

Adding to the established LGBTQIA+ housing program, which accommodates both community members and allies, the university answered calls for more safe spaces by introducing both the African Black Diaspora Living-Learning Community and Raza Housing, opening Fall Quarter 2016. Available to students of all backgrounds, but specifically addressing the “unique challenges” of minority groups, these community-housing options celebrate the underrepresented by increasing their presence and visibility on campus. Most importantly, though, specified housing aims to create supportive communities that extend beyond the walls of resource centers.

“[Community housing] ensures that students are able to cultivate a sense of belonging on campus where it is often difficult to find another student with similar experiences,” Adan Chavez, who will be a resident assistant at Raza Housing,  told the UCSD Guardian.         

Whether housing options like the ones offered by Housing Dining Hospitality are based on sexual preference or race, each community takes extreme care in offering something more than what traditional housing can to its residents. Eleanor Roosevelt College freshman and current resident of the LGBTQIA+ Program Michael Capuano, who plans on extending his stay to next school year, described a living experience tailored to the needs of LGBT students.

“At LGBTQIA+ there is better support networks and specially trained RAs,” Capuano told the Guardian. “They know how to deal with LGBT issues that their residents might encounter, holding regular meetings and events for them.”

This special training, a requirement for resident assistants from every community-housing program, entails familiarization with the burdens of being a minority as well as the solutions that most effectively alleviate them. The RAs, who are members of these minority communities themselves, utilize their experiences to reinforce their residents’ prosperity while at the same time maintaining a space that is both all-inclusive and attentive to an exclusive group.

“The service that will be provided to our students is specific to the cultural backgrounds, customs, and practices of our residents,” Chavez explains. “Many of our students are either first-generation and/or working class, so we must have the competency to direct students to the necessary resources, programs, and opportunities.”

For some, separating students into community-housing units echoes back to the dark period of segregation in the United States, an opinion held almost exclusively by majority groups at the university, according to students like David Young, an affiliate of the Black Student Union. He hopes that these “misguided” people will come to see that housing programs like the African Black Diaspora Living-Learning Community are “needed to represent the black community in addition to giving them a place where they feel comfortable.”

“There are times where you can walk around campus and never see a black face in the crowd,” Young said. “[The African Black Diaspora Living-Learning Community] is supposed to be a place where black students can express themselves freely around students who share their ancestry.”

The programs are open to all students, and are rarely without members from different social and ethnic groups. Community-housing applicants are simply asked why they’d like to live in a community-housing program and what they believe they can offer the community. Anyone can apply provided they can justify why it is right for them. Empty space is filled by traditional housing applicants who specify that they are open to the possibility of being placed in a community-housing option.

“In my suite there are five gay residents, including me, and 10 straight ones,” Capuano explained. “Having a healthy mix of gay and straight students is important because it lets different groups understand each other. Strictly separate housing would only increase tensions.”

Taking into account the current condition of minority-majority relations on campus, the addition of both the African Black Diaspora Living-Learning Community and Raza Housing is an apparent motion on the university’s behalf to increase the representation of largely underrepresented groups. Once the programs officially begin next school year, the university will boast a total of six community-housing options, each offering its own unique services and expertise to its respective group. But even when these new housing communities come to fruition in the fall, students from both the minority and majority population might continue to question whether the university is doing enough for these underrepresented groups.

Regarding this, Capuano, who is well-acquainted with living in the LGBTQIA+ community-housing program, believes that the university does a good job of creating a welcoming environment for students.

Still, there remain those like Young, who believe that there is always more that can be done for minority students.

“UCSD does not do enough for underrepresented students,” Young said. “The university only does what is best for itself economically. The fact that housing is only guaranteed during the first two years means that, even though there will be black housing, the school is restricting tons of black students from living in it.”