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Black COLA

Anti-Blackness, Housing, and the University

Part of why the fight for COLA is so important is that this overlaps in important ways with the struggle against anti-blackness and racial discrimination. Ever since World War II, home ownership has been one of the central mechanisms for wealth accumulation among white people; in which home loans were used to build equity (and thus wealth) in their homes.

In contrast, people of color (POC) and Black folks, in particular, are much more likely to be renters; exposing them to significant housing discrimination and increased precarity. This uncertainty with housing has only increased as rents have risen and affordable housing options have stayed stagnant. So housing matters, for reasons both economic and racial.

Nearby Sacramento Redlining

A redlining map of Sacramento, CA.

I can already imagine the protestations at the image above, "But Davis isn't like Sacramento!" To explore more about the racial breakdown in Davis itself, you can check out the Washington Post's "Segregation in U.S. Cities" map, which shows the estimated distribution of different racial groups in Davis. The unequal distributions of particular populations doesn't simply happen - it has to be accomplished by social and economic forces - meaning that the consistent racial dominance of whiteness in Davis isn't happenstance. These forces are deeply implicated with the development of redlining in places like Sacramento, and not only do they affect places like our Med Center, but they spill over into Davis itself. The only way Davis can be as idyllic and pastoral as it imagines itself is through the systematic displacement of Black and Brown people to other locations. There is a reason why I (a Black student) overheard students on their way to Picnic Day remark on "how many n*gg*rs there were in Davis," as if that was unusual. And it was unusual, enough that even the casual observer noticed the difference in the makeup of the city when folks from outside were visiting.

It's this "outsider" quality that our Davis race map doesn't fully encompass - the role of surrounding neighborhood segregation on keeping Davis predominantly white. Policies focused on "keeping Davis small" establish clear geographical boundaries from places like Woodland and Dixon and keep housing prices high while allowing for low-wage workers from these towns to work in Davis. They also preserve wealth that has accumulated in the housing market of Davis while only dog-whistling* at the racial order these kinds of arguments support.

The consistent rise in the cost of living in Davis has made it incredibly difficult for graduate students, particularly poor and POC grad students, to make the transition to UC Davis. One grad student shared that they more than doubled their cost of living just by moving to California (from $350 for a two bedroom single home in Indiana to $600 for a studio in 2012). Our average rent in Davis ($2,154) is nearly on par with cities like San Diego ($2,223) and Long Beach ($2,124). Yet the University has closed down one student housing complex, and continues to displace the cost of housing onto students in hope that they shoulder the increasing cost of housing. The debt burden we experience is connected directly to the University's decision not to provide accessible, affordable housing.

And this isn't just a problem for graduate students. Undergraduate students, particularly Black students, have been advocating for a Black student house for over a decade to help offset the artificially-induced housing scarcity. As recent as 2016 during the #BlackUnderAttack campaign which followed the attack on a young Black woman in the West Village complex, students have been demanding solutions for the extreme cost of living in Davis. Places like UC Berkeley have already instituted some of these housing suggestions on their own campus.

Black Housing at UC Berkeley

The Berkeley "African-American Theme House"

But having organizing and housing spaces for Black folks isn't enough. Having the money, the pay, to retain ourselves is just as important to the Black struggle on our campuses. As a Black student at UCD a COLA means not having to hope that the one place I can afford happens to like Black people.

Endnotes (I'm a grad student, don't judge)

[1] Robert K. Nelson, LaDale Winling, Richard Marciano, Nathan Connolly, et al., “Mapping Inequality,” American Panorama, ed. Robert K. Nelson and Edward L. Ayers, accessed February 27, 2020,

*Dog-whistle is a term used to describe political messaging that is only meant to be understood by a particular constituency. A common example is the use of the word "urban" or "criminal" to signal to white audiences that the speaker is talking about Black communities. For more on this see Ian Haney López' "Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class."