Events

The Importance of Joining my BSU While Studying at a PWI

What my BSU gave me at my PWI: Five Essential C’s

Attending the University of Washington, a predominantly white institution (PWI) can be a draining experience, especially socially which can affect us academically,

emotionally and even physically. I’d always dreamed of graduating high school and going to Spelman College, but my father (footing the bill for my degree) decided investing in a BSU was not in our best interests to he required me to attend the University of Washington for his support. I didn’t say no, but the culture shock was intense. For two years I was the only Black student in all of my classes, I had not gotten any black professors and the desperately low black population was more evident than ever.

 

 

I was invited to my first BSU meeting Fall of 2015 and I had no idea we even had such a group. I later learned that the club had only been organized the previous year and word was finally getting out about regular meetings. When I walked into my first BSU meeting I was initially shocked by seeing a room full of brown faces. I couldn’t believe it. Being from Detroit, I grew up seeing Black people everywhere: where I went to school, shopped, ate, and it was never difficult for me to find someone who looked like me. At that time, after living in Washington for two years, the culture shock and lack of community had drained me. I began to get used to being the only Black person everywhere I went, especially in my classes. At that point I had not even had a Black professor so I was invited to the meeting by a friend and I’d only expected a black few people and maybe a bunch of allies but to see a room full of Black faces greatly exceeded my expectations. The meeting was held in a small room (seating about 25 people) in the Activists and Recreation center on our campus, the long tables with chairs had been arranged in a circle so that everyone could see everyone. This was the first meeting being held during the school year and it looked like 40 people were squeezed into the space and I wouldn’t have been surprised if these were all the Blacks on campus. I didn’t know what to expect but I was welcomed with smiles. There was a good mix of girls and guys, all with different hairstyles, traditional student aged, some wearing African patterns. I felt like I’d found home.

Another important product that my BSU provided me with was a feeling of commitment. I knew that every single Wednesday evening regardless of what I was going through, I would be able to attend a BSU meeting. Wednesday became my sanctuary day, a time to recuperate so that I could make it through the rest of the week. I knew that if I was stressed and there were finals I could meet up with Black students dealing with the same stresses at the BSU meeting or if there was something happening politically that frustrated me, I would have a chance to share my frustrations with like-minded students at the upcoming BSU meeting. I knew that no matter what was going on in the world outside I could decompress while attending the next BSU meeting. I quickly became a regular member and a consistent contributor to our though provoking conversations.

Conversation was a regular part of our meetings, we designated a large part of the meeting time towards discussing current events. We talked about the Flint Water Crisis, we also followed the presidential campaign and the Black Lives Matter movement. We mourned together  after the loss of Black lives to state forces and brainstormed ways to raise  awareness on a local level in our university community. The conversations we had created a space where I was able to ask the hard questions that I was too afraid to bring up to my non-black friends. At the time I was dating an South Asian guy who’d legitimized police murders saying, “Maybe you all should be more calm” That was the end of that relationship and I realized that not every person that claims to care about me actually cared about the well being of Black life or understood Black History in the United States. There is a complex relationship between Blacks and the police and I realized that these complex conversations could only be productive in a safe space and my BSU gave me that space. There is one discussion that I’ll always remember that resulted in a practice that I do to this day. Another BSU member who had been a member of student government at that time said she’d seen an image of Disney Princesses “Blackifyied”. A lot of us had not heard of the concept so she used the projector in the room to show us the original Disney Princesses drawn as Black people, and surprisingly the images were refreshing. As Black people living in a white world we are constantly bombarded with images and standards that are unobtainable and conflict with who we are. When we watch TV the commercials throw beauty standards at us that damage our self image and the characters that look like us in the shows are one-dimensional or die off in the beginning. She explained how the conflict is unhealthy and shared that she looks up cartoon characters Blackified all the time to relax. Try it!

This point leads me into one of the most essential reasons why we need BSU’s in every PWI, Comfort. A PWI can be a very uncomfortable place especially for a fist generation, out of state, student of color. BSU meetings were the only place where I was never afraid to say what was on my mind because I knew that there would be someone in the room that understood me. Even if it meant that no one fully supported my opinion at least they knew where I was coming from. There would be moments where member’s would disagree but there’s nothing like a fellow family member putting you in your place, or validating your point of view. I could go to a meeting as myself, without having to explain my perspective. Members remembered my name and my face, we connected through intersectional identities and respected each other’s differences. The fact that we identified with and respected each other allowed us to be vulnerable to the point where members could counsel and support each other. I knew I could pour out my frustrations and someone else would be able to relate, there would be another student of staff member (There was a Black campus safety officer that regularly attended our meeting, he no longer works on campus) that could say supportive words or share advice. There were a few moments where I’d wished that I’d brought a notebook to the meeting because our members said some powerful things. This was the first time that I’d ever spent a substantial time with a community of intelligent, active, young like-minded Black people and those moments completely reshaped my college experience.

One of the tricks of this world is to make us feel alone because when we feel alone then we are more likely to feel weak and powerless. When we feel weak and powerless we are less likely to try to fight our oppression. BSU groups gives our community a place to come together so that we do not feel alone. These groups give us an opportunity to share our thoughts in a safe space where we’re encouraged to speak our minds freely without fear of being judged or condemned. While speaking during a meeting I always knew that the people listening to me and responding to my concerns were caring and confident in their words because they shared my perspective as a person of color at a PWI.