Dr. Raquel Baker
Working with the Black Excellence Project (BEP) has been such a nourishing experience, helping me to build skills while also mentoring student researchers – all with the goal of building a culture of Black belonging here at CSU Channel Islands (CI) and in the CSU more broadly. A context of demoralization and fatigue, caused in part by the high and constant turnover of Black faculty and staff at CI, makes it difficult to support Black Excellence on our campus. Precarity is always the bleeding edge of my experience here.
Partnering with faculty, staff, students, administrators, and community members across campuses is an important investment in Blackness. The BEP has allowed me to engage with storytelling as a form of research. Undergraduate research is a high-impact learning practice that allows student researchers to work closely with faculty and develop transformative relationships. In the Spring 2023 semester, I leveraged the BEP to provide two student researchers — the first time I have had two student researchers — with an “unapologetically Black” research project that asked them to center Black students: to get to know, reflect on, and document diversity work at CI, resources that exist for Black students, and Black students’ lived experiences at CI. For the first time, I was able to collaborate on a robust project and customize it to meet the needs of the students I worked with, and Black students more broadly. The BEP’s key principles create a rich frame for ongoing research on who CI’s Black students are, what their experiences are, and what happens to them once they leave CI.
The BEP has also provided support for Black faculty. In addition to being able to do meaningful work with students on a well-developed project, I received critical support for my work in CI’s Bedford and Dr. Irene Pinkard Living-Learning Community (LLC), named for founders of the Ventura County Chapter of Black American Political Association of California to honor their work with underserved communities. I also work with four new faculty members who arrived in Fall 2022 as a Black Studies cluster hire (one of whom will not return in Fall 2023) to develop CI’s Black Studies program. Meeting faculty with positions of responsibility in Black Studies at other campuses has been an invaluable aid to create a safe space to brainstorm ideas and ask questions.
Yet Black students remain at the center of the BEP. The BEP’s first principle, “Know who your Black students are,” is my focus now. I am getting to know our current first-year students, using that knowledge to develop curriculum and co-curricular programming to aid them and future LLC first-years. I have the best sense of those Black students who have taken my English courses; the BEP is helping us get to know all our Black students. The student success stories collected by the Black Excellence Project provide a rich resource for us as we develop the foundations of Black Excellence at CI, enabling us to see each other and to know who we all are.