Santa Rosa Junior College student activism inspires equity that blooms through the college’s learning communities and spurs change.
When Damion Square came to SRJC in 2013 from Albany Technical College in Georgia, he saw a greatly underrepresented and uninspired population of students throughout the school. Square didn’t feel there was an inclusive curriculum for minority students at SRJC and this feeling of isolation was sharpened during a sociology class in his first semester.
A teacher posted a picture of a black man with explicit language degrading to blacks. Square voiced his concern about this portion of the teacher’s presentation, which he felt was offensive. He came under fire and was suspended for two days. Square felt the teacher was “culturally incompetent” in understanding his point of view.
From that moment he turned his frustration into improving equity on campus for all students.
“At the end of the day, all of us are joining arms to really combat against the common oppressor; A flawed American education system,” Square said.
Square’s first major accomplishment began with helping to resurrect SRJC’s Black Student Union, which had been inactive for a decade. The BSU encourages all students to be active throughout learning communities.
The SRJC learning communities provide students with support, resources and committed opportunities for highly engaged classroom environments. These families —Puente, Umoja, Apass, Connections, First Year Experience—all provide a supportive environment for students that aim to close the discrepancy of the underrepresented, unrealized potential of all students regardless of background, race and cultural diversity.
Square’s inspiration is spreading to other students and professors. “Thoughts lead to feelings, feelings lead to actions, actions lead to results,” he said. “Every day you need to be waking up and thinking, ‘Who am I? What can I do? And where do I see myself going every day?’”
Naomi Monatin, 18, a political science major from Ivory Coast, said, “Damion Square really helped me because he started the BSU, which inspired me and told me how important black people should be at SRJC and that was not the case before this group. So he really taught me the importance of being active,” she said.
Monatin is now the BSU vice president and continues her activism in Umoja. She said that Umoja has been of crucial importance for her because they give her financial aid for her books and homework. Monatin also finds support through teacher involvement.
The learning communities create a fair and impartial support group where students can prosper as intellectual equals. These groups are available to all students to help foster education through linked classes with other students, cultural relevancy and passionate staff.
English instructor Michael Hale said on a daily basis students challenge him as a teacher and as a human being to grow. “Sometimes in higher education, they try to professionalize the humanity of it. They try to make you so arrogant that your head is about to explode or something. But it has always been a joy in my life as to how student activists, student clubs, and engaged protests have brought me back down to the ground,” Hale said.
On Feb. 25, Square and Hale served as panelists for a campus discussion honoring Black History Month. The discussion was aimed at bringing awareness to the discrepancy of minority students’ college graduation success rate compared to the overall student population.
The panel implored students to engage and be active with their peers in learning communities. Square believes this will bridge the gap in minorities succeeding in college. “It’s all about re-dignifying ourselves and then going back to our communities and building our communities up,” he said.
The purpose of the Black Student Union is to promote activities of common interest, as well as cultural and educational benefits for the African American/African student body and other students. In addition, the BSU provides a forum for them to voice their differences, goals and ideas.
The BSU meets Monday 5-6 p.m. and Tuesdays 1:30 p.m., Mondays in Senate Chambers and Tuesdays in Center for Student Leadership, Bertolini Student Center.
Contact the club by visiting facebook.com/SrjcBlackStudentUnion.