By Joshua Biragbara
Walking into class, 21-year-old Public Relations major Trinity Beasley notices something vastly different between her and her classmates. “I see two to three other Black students in all of my classes,” she said. Beasley attends Long Beach State University, which is known to be a diverse campus with Hispanic/Latinx students making up 46.1% of the student body population and Asian students making up 20.7%, according to LBSU’s Latinx Faculty & Staff Association. Despite these numbers, one demographic remains noticeably minute, that being the Black population who consists only 3.8% of the student body population despite making 13% of the City of Long Beach’s population. For some reason, the school has failed to attract Black students as opposed to other minority racial and ethnic demographics.
Black representation in all areas of life came to the forefront in the post-George Floyd era, especially in the field of education. For the dearth of Black students at LBSU, specifically, Africana Studies assistant professor Keith Claybrook discussed the reasons behind this dilemma and the solutions that comes with it. “There’s three [important] reasons for that, I think,” Dr. Claybrook explained. “One of them is the perception of Cal State Long Beach in the Black community at large, [in the past] the buzz was that Greater Los Angeles area Black students wanted to go to Long Beach, Northridge and San Diego State. But the buzz now is that Cal State Long Beach is not welcoming. So that feeling that not being welcome is a major obstacle now,” he said.
Dr. Claybrook also believes that poor outreach efforts by the university have been a factor. “Traditionally, Long Beach reached out to local high schools and did the generic ‘Hey, come to Long Beach’ spiel. But I’m not aware that there’s any high schools that are predominantly Black anymore. Milikan, Jordan, Poly and even St. Anthony [High Schools] look very different now. So, if we want to increase Black student enrollment, then we can’t have a generic going-to-a-high school campaign. We need to be more targeted to the Black Student Unions at these high schools and even employ some of our current Black students here to go and speak to these Black middle and high school students and recruit them,” Dr. Claybrook said. “Recruitment [as a whole] could be better,” he said.
Getting Black students is not the only challenge that the university is facing when it comes to diversity. Black students already enrolled at LBSU have the second-lowest graduation rate, with 62% graduating within six years in 2020. Although this is a higher percentage compared to other CSU campuses and the CSU national average, the low numbers are still indicative of a larger problem. Dr. Claybrook attributes the problem to not only the typical financial gaps that Black students face but also to the sense of alienation that Black students at the university face. “We [LBSU] have to support the programs and the initiatives we already have in place to help [retain Black students],” Dr. Claybrook said. “So that means not only supporting the Black Student Union and Greek organizations financially but highlighting them in the community beyond Cal State Long Beach but throughout the Greater L.A. area,” he expounded. “That means providing staffing and financial resources to the Black Resource Center and spreading awareness to the Africana Studies Department. It is about providing resources and increasing their visibility on-campus and off-campus so we change the narrative to one that makes CSULB a more welcoming [experience] for Black students,” Dr. Claybrook said.
Racism has been cited as a problem for Black students in campuses across the country and at LBSU. In 2015, the University of Missouri was rocked by a series of protests about racial bias and aggression that allegedly ran rampant on the campus. The protests garnered so much national attention that it led to the resignation of the university system president and the campus chancellor and led to a decline of students of all races applying and enrolling there some two years later. Part of the student protestors’ woes at Missouri were that Black students were a small percentage of the student body, causing their demands to be neglected at best and ignored at worst. LBSU differs from Missouri in that the majority student body population consists of non-Black people of color which, according to Black LBSU students, alleviates the problem somewhat. “I’m from a predominantly white city so I just seek out any type of diversity in general. Long Beach is a pretty diverse school with its Latinx/Hispanic and Asian student populations. So that attracted me,” said Beasley. Biomedical engineering major Ayoola Fadonougbo, concurs. “It makes a slight difference. With a majority non-Black person of color population, the Black population does get some allyship,” he said. Despite this contrast to Missouri and other Eastern universities where racism may be more explicit, microaggressions against Black people remain a daily fact of life at LBSU. Beasley, Fadonougbo and Dr. Claybrook all said that they either directly experienced microaggressions and or heard from another Black student or faculty member who experienced it. Additionally, Beasley and Dr. Claybrook even take it further to say that these problems will still be present on campus even with a larger Black student and faculty population.
“I doubt a larger Black population would prevent racial incidents. Racism is everywhere, even in communities with majority Black populations. The number of POCs doesn’t really dictate the number of racial incidents,” Beasley said. Dr. Claybrook expanded on her views that more Black people means less racism. “Having more Black people at CSULB doesn’t hurt, but at a school like Cal State Dominguez where it was 40% Black, there were still incidents of racism. You can go to HBCU’s in the South, and racial incidents still happen. Racism and microaggressions are a part of a larger conversation even if you increase the number of Black students and faculty. Anti-Blackness is still present in various degrees amongst non-Blacks and even Black people themselves,” he said.
The solutions for anti-Blackness at LBSU and higher learning in general? Reorganization. “There’s a couple things. At some point it is revisiting the goals, objectives and structures of higher education itself. Thinking about the curriculum and procedures that are so commonplace that we don’t see how bias is infused in it. There must be a broader societal shift,” Dr. Claybrook said. “The issues of race and racism often center around the victims, where we should shift our focus to those who benefit from it, whether they are conscious or not,” he said. “We need to look at every aspect of society. We can increase the number of Black students, faculty and programs but without an in-depth-look at some of the structures we have in place then [these problems] will reproduce in another form,” Dr. Claybrook said. “When Affirmative Action was first enacted in the late 60’s [in California], white women benefited from it most and when it was removed in the 90’s, Black people were the most affected in the hiring and college admissions field. This calls for some very deep reflection for every party involved,” he said. “The short-term solution for this is looking at certain policies our institution has. That means having scholarships that are not only merit-based but also income. We need to look at how we are advising our students. How are we going to fund our [Black] students beyond grants and loans?” Dr. Claybrook said.
In response to these issues brought up by Black students and faculty, certain sectors of Long Beach State have attempted to make a more inclusive space for them. The CSULB Lobby Group, the official student lobbying committee, plans to address and provide solutions for the low numbers of Black and Native students in their Spring 2022 newsletter. The Black Student Union at LBSU continues to hold recruiting events to create some sense of community in the post-COVID world. But according to Fadonougbo, much more needs to be done. Ending his interview, he said this: “There is still so much work to be done. CSULB needs to return to its status as the HBCU of the West.”