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Students pose for a photograph inside the Black Excellence Floor at San Diego State University's Campus Plaza South Tower. Students pose for a photograph inside the Black Excellence Floor at San Diego State University's Campus Plaza South Tower.

New Residential Option at SDSU Promotes Community, Learning for Black Students

The thriving 2-year-old Black Excellence Floor connects first-year students searching for shared experiences and support outside of the classroom.
By Aaron Burgin

When Eyllse Brimmo was deciding where she wanted to live during her freshman year at San Diego State University, she said she was looking for a place where she could find a sense of community. 

“I wanted to find my sense of community, and that meant finding my people,” said Brimmo, who is Black and Filipino and graduated from Buchanan High School in Clovis, California. 

She found her community on the Black Excellence Learning Community, a wing on the third floor of Campus Plaza South Tower that was created to provide a safe and affirming environment for African American, African and/or Black first-year students. 

Now in its second year and 42 students strong, the Black Excellence Floor is thriving despite launching during the 2020-21 school year when most students were living off campus during the pandemic. 

“The students love it,” said C'yana Boone-Nelson, a recent SDSU graduate who was the resident adviser on the floor last semester. “When you come to SDSU, being able to surround yourself with people with a shared experience and who can relate to you on a level beyond academics is really important. And the students on the floor really have found that.”

The Black Excellence Learning Community is one of 22 learning communities that support academic persistence and excellence by having students live alongside peers with shared academic or co-curricular interests and are enrolled in a connected set of academic courses. In addition to Black Excellence, SDSU also has floors dedicated to Latinx, Asian, Pacific Islander and Desi-American, and LGBTQIA+ students, as well as various academic disciplines.

Students self-select into the Black Excellence residential learning community through the housing license agreement process. Members of the Housing Administration, Residential Education and Black Resource Center teams work together to place students in the community. Priority is given to students who have applied for or are involved in programs sponsored by the Black Resource Center. 

The students selected to live on the floor live there for up to a year and enroll in an African American History and a university seminar course taught by the Black Resource Center director.  In the university seminar course, the students are supported in their transition to SDSU and learn about the different campus resources and organizations available to Black students.

The Floor’s Long Road 

The process to create the floor goes back nearly two decades, said Kara Bauer, executive director of Residential Education. 

Students initially rebuffed the idea of creating a floor for Black students in the early and mid-2000s. 

“But as time passed, our Black students shared that they did not see a lot of other Black students living in the residence halls and they wanted to live together with others who look like them and support one another in their home space,” Bauer said. 

Starting in 2015, several stakeholders who were involved with the Black student population on campus, including then-residence hall coordinator Rondre Ashford, pushed for — and successfully created — programming that included the creation of the Black Affinity Group, and events such as Being Black at SDSU, the Barber Shop, Black Love and A Night at Sephora, among others. 

In 2019, students approached Ashford, who is now the associate director of the Residential Education office, and expressed interest in creating a learning community for Black students. 

This kicked off a series of meetings, in connection with the Black Resource Center, which led to a forum during the fall of 2019 “Being Black in REO,” one of two focus groups in which students gave housing, residential education and BRC officials feedback about what they wanted to see in the learning community. 

They didn’t want the community to be isolated from the rest of the residential community, but they wanted community building aimed toward the Black experience. They wanted intersectional programming that recognized that Black students weren’t a monolithic group. They wanted Black leaders on campus to be involved with the floor. 

They also were adamant about the name: Black Excellence.

The final of the forums was held March 4, 2020, two weeks before the pandemic forced the majority of students to leave university housing and continue the semester virtually. 

But housing, residential education and BRC officials pushed forward and successfully launched the floor in fall 2020. It went through its growing pains during the first year with virtual programming and limits on in-person activities due to COVID-19, but students and resident advisers alike said that they’ve succeeded in the most important thing: fostering a community.  

“One of the things that was really cool to see was that the students’ friends wished they were on the floor, too,” Boone-Nelson said. “They’ve really succeeded in creating that community, and one that is more than just the floor.”

While COVID-19 restrictions made certain activities untenable, students studied together and got to know each other in more informal settings. Being one of the only student groups living on campus gave the 2020-21 cohort a chance to get to know each other more intimately. 

Both Boone-Nelson and Kaleah Howell, the current resident adviser, said they wished the floor was around when they were first-year students. 

“I didn’t see a lot of people who looked like me, and I missed having that shared experience,” Howell said. “With having a community geared toward Black excellence, it makes the community that much stronger, and by having that shared experience where you rest your head makes the transition onto campus a little easier. 

“When you see how close they all are and how they look out for each other, you know that happens because the floor exists,” Howell said. 

Jalen McBee, a first-year psychology major from Bakersfield, echoed the sentiments of the resident advisers. 

“As I was going through and applying, I thought it would be great to have a sense of community like that and be part of something that I had often missed out on in my life growing up,” McBee said. “The experience has more than lived up to my expectations, and I’ve learned so much about my identity as a Black student.”

Learn more about the Black Excellence Learning Community and SDSU’s other learning communities.
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Black Resource Center’s 4th Birthday
Monday, February 28 | Noon – 2 p.m.
Celebrate the fourth year of the establishment of the Black Resource Center and its impact and contribution to Black students at SDSU. For more information on Black History Month programming, visit the Black Resource Center website and follow the center on Instagram @sdsubrc.