Black student center continues to grow

Trisha Valdez

More stories from Trisha Valdez


Photo courtesy of Professor Jermaine Cathcart. Cathcart (left) and some of the Black Student Success Center’s students and staff.

The center itself has given me great opportunities, which have catapulted my college success in many ways

— David Keesee, a philosophy major at COD.

College of the Desert opened the Black Student Success Center BSSC for all African American students who wish to be mentored in academic success.

COD Professors Jermaine Cathcart, Mzilikazi Kone and Angel Meraz are the founders of the center. They are thrilled to see their hard work benefit the Black student body. “We are very excited,” said Cathcart. “It took us nearly four years to get this off the ground.”

Cathcart added, “We started with a small group of young Black males and now we have a center with various types of activities geared to the development of our Black students’ intellectual and academic progress. We have various workshops and activities that affirm the Black experience.”

From the beginning, this small group has committed to the Black community by creating this success center.

As mentioned, the BSSC technically started four years ago. Instead of being called the Black Student Success Center, it was known as the African-American Education Network and Development (A2mend).

However, A2mend was only intended for Black male students to expand their community college system’s success. As the center grew, administrators and educators thought it would be best to include Black females. The transition led to the creation of the Black Student Success Center.

Cathcart admits there have been some struggles with getting the center off the ground. For one, in the second year of A2mends existence, the co-advisor for the group left to work at Riverside City College. After the co-advisor left, there were only two students from the previous year.

“We decided to paint the empty room, recruit students, and we were beginning to have a lively center for our Black students. In March, the advisors and seven students attended the 13th Annual African-American Male Summit in Los Angeles. The students were super excited to come back to campus and get to work,” said Cathcart.

Unfortunately, in March for the organizers and students, COVID-19 changed everything. The center has not physically met with students on campus, but they still managed to serve the students’ needs by holding bi-weekly meetings and offering various workshops.

Despite these struggles, the center has prevailed. The leaders believe this should help improve the students’ lives because they feel that they’ve helped put something together that is bigger than themselves. It also helps students develop a positive Black identity when being Black is not always valued. This center aims to put all divisions aside and focus on supporting and helping the Black community.

Private tutoring is offered for students struggling with classes. The center is an advocate for those who may be experiencing microaggressions in the classroom. It also provides scholarships and a series of events for Black History Month.

The center’s workshops and programs are geared towards students’ success. It also has a financial aid workshop. Organizers say these workshops have been proven to be very helpful for their students.

David Keesee, a philosophy major at COD, is also a regular attendee. He shares what the success center has already done to help him in his life.

“I have gained experience at COD. I think a few students get to be part of it. The center itself has given me great opportunities, which have catapulted my college success in many ways—for instance, priority registration. I’m guaranteed the first pick of the classes I need. Anything that solidifies my chances of becoming a successful graduate of COD makes me extremely happy indeed,” said Keesee.

COD student Michiko Khem is also happy the center has opened. “Happy is only the tip of the iceberg about how I feel that the BSSC is opening up.”

Keesee hopes to utilize the resources offered to him by the center to his advantage. He feels much more comfortable taking essential steps for his future with the tools the center provides.

“I hope to be part of something bigger than myself. To help build a community on campus that will thrive long after I graduate. I hope to gain something I can come back to, visit, inspire, motivate and relate to,” said Keesee.

Khem hopes to gain continuous support from COD for the advancement, success and support for all Black students on campus.

Student, Sacha Hudson, hopes to gain and provide support for her Black peers and allies of the Black community and develop friendships beyond COD.

If you would like to be part of the Black Student Success Center, sign up here.