At a university that boasts one of the most diverse campuses in the nation and promotes a communal sense of pride about this achievement, some Temple students still feel disenfranchised. Some are more than willing to do something to end this feeling. During the past two months, a group of 10 students formed a committee to create a black student union and make it a registered student organization.
The group, unofficially calling themselves the Black Student Union Organizing Committee, said they will host a mass meeting this Wednesday where students can learn the definition and purpose of a BSU.
The meeting will also provide an opportunity for students to voice their opinions on whether the union is needed on campus.By passing out flyers and talking to students face-to-face, the committee is attempting to probe discussion on the issue.
It has made this discussion its main approach to informing students about the BSU.
“Our No. 1 [way of] advertising is by word of mouth. We’re trying to get students
more or less talking about it,” said Ibram Rogers, a committee member and graduate student in the African American Studies department. Discussion about the inception of a black student union began last year during a program called “Bridging the Gap”, which was hosted by Black Millennium, a student organization, said Carly King, another committee member. The program aimed to discuss the separation among black student organizations on campus and ways to ease the division.
“There was a lot of initiative taken then, but because it was the end of the semester,
the idea fell off and was no longer discussed,” King, a junior psychology and African American Studies major, said. But this school year, connected by mutual friends, colleagues and classmates,
students began to work together to form the union.
“It was kismet that it came together,” said Heather Thomas, a committee member and a junior secondary education and African American Studies double major.
The group met between one to three times a week to put together a constitution, a detailed process of operation and submit their registration application to the Office of Student Activities, said King. The group also contacted about 35 “relevant organizations” that they believed could be influential in implementing the union and would benefit from the organization.
But this is not the first time students have attempted to develop a black student union at Temple.
From 1966 to 2001, Temple had a similar student organization by the name of the African Student Union. Yero Okite, who served as the ASU’s community advisor, said it was a progressive organization that “kept Temple on its toes.”
During its 35 years of existence, through annual Kwanzaa festivals, demonstrations and city-wide candlelight vigils honoring African ancestors, the ASU worked with other black student organizations to address issues relevant to black students at Temple.
Because of a lack of recruitment, the ASU dissolved in 2001 and the relationship between existing organizations diminished, Okite said. Rogers outlined that the new BSU would be a four-fold organization that addresses the political, cultural, social and academic concerns of black students on campus.
The union would also assist the university in improving what the committee considered the four critical areas for black students: recruitment, retention, academic performance and graduation rates.
“First of all, [the committee] want[s] every black student that goes to Temple at this meeting,” Rogers said. “To me any black student that chooses not to go is doing themselves a great disservice because this meeting is for the [uplifting] of the black student.”
With the slogan of “4,000 Strong”, the committee hopes to draw support and participation from students and serve as an informational and vocal resource for various student organizations.
“We strongly believe that there is strength in numbers and that a lot can get accomplished if everybody could get together,” King said.
The BSU also plans to create a database containing the information and interests of every student in the union from which other organizations can access the information,
“We want the BSU to be the circle that connects all of the black student organizations,” he said. The union would also like to take a more politically active stance, which the committee said it feels is lacking from other black student groups.
One way the committee is taking a politically active approach is by compiling a list of demands that will be presented to the administration upon the creation of the union. This, according to Rogers, is historically characteristic of BSUs in the past.
The union would like the following major concerns of black students addressed: campus racism, the under-funding of the African American Studies department and strengthening the relations between students and the North Philadelphia community, which is predominantly African American. According to the committee, the overall reaction to the idea of a black student union has been positive.
“We have met a lot of people who are just really passionate and willing to help in any way that they can,” Thomas said.
There are students who are “down for it,” as Rogers put it, and students who have questions and students who feel as though their existing organizations serve as a black student union, said Rogers. But once questions are answered about what a black student union is, then students will realize that no organization on campus is a BSU, he said.
Tchet Dorman, director of Student Support for the Office of Multicultural Affairs, said he has offered his support
to the BSU Organizing Committee.
“From a perspective of the office we want to create a campus climate where students are affirmed by the institution,” Dorman said, adding that there has been a recent need for some students of certain ethnicities to unify and become a collective on campus.
“We want, from the office perspective, to try to support those initiatives that bring about harmony and support and unity within our student body at large,” said Dorman.
“We’re actually in the process of … trying to support the African, African American, [and] Black Caribbean student through this effort of [the] creation of a black student union,” Dorman said. “My understanding from talking to students is that they want to be more unified as people of African descent.”
Grace Obando, the president of the Asociacion de Estudiantes Latinos, an umbrella organization for various Latino organizations on campus, looks forward to possibly being active with the BSU and has encouraged members of the organization to come to Wednesday’s meeting.
“We are all intertwined,” said Obando. “I think it’s always really good to have a base where all those organizations can come together as one.”
But some students are curious as to whether the BSU can accomplish the tasks it has put forward, especially if some of those tasks are already effectively being carried out by existing organizations.
Megan Duncan, president of Temple’s chapter of the Progressive NAACP, said she has some apprehensions about the union and its goals. She said she feels as though a BSU could be a good idea and would provide another valuable resource to Temple students, but there is more to the creation of an organization of this nature.
“To me the whole situation is complicated. Yes, I think it is a good idea but I don’t think it is something that can be thrown together,” Duncan, a senior biochemistry major, said. “It’s a little shaky to me … I’m not necessarily for it and I’m not necessarily against it.”
Duncan said she does not believe a BSU would work on campus because of the failure to maintain one in the past. For the past year, the NAACP has served as a black student union, reaching out and unifying various minority organizations, Duncan said. But in her experience the student body is not very responsive.
“I feel like the black unity on this campus right now anyway is divided and I don’t know if a black student union would aid in helping that or not,” she said. “I hope so, I really hope it would do that.”
Vice President of the Haitian Student Organization Jonathon Coicou said his organization is not completely sure how involved they will be in the BSU since they do not know the full proposal or goal of the organization.
“I don’t think it makes too much of a difference in our organization. [Because] regardless of whether we’re under them or not under them, we’re still going to run the way we run,” said Coicou, a junior biology major. “We’re going to see what they’re offering.”
Thomas said the committee acknowledges that there are other black student organizations that do wonderful work on campus but “there’s still some problems that we as black students face and our organization wouldn’t necessarily undermine the things that [these organizations] do, we would just want to work with them.”
Rogers contended that “there is no way that someone who is interested in the livelihood of the black student will oppose the formation of the BSU.” He went on to say that “anyone to me who opposes the formation of the BSU is against the livelihood of the black student.”
Through the formation of a BSU, the administration has the chance to show the Temple community that it does care about the black student, Rogers said. The application to register the union as an official student organization has been accepted by the Office of Student Activities, according to Gina D’Annunzio, the interim director of Student Activities.
But the OSA has asked the committee to replace the word “union” with “alliance” or “collective” in order to comply with laws concerning labor unions in Philadelphia and to reinforce the Office of Student Activities’ openness to all students, D’Annunzio said. Other student organizations have been asked to do the same in the past, she said.
When asked whether non-black Temple students would be encouraged to join and benefit from the resources of the BSU, King said “anybody that is down for the cause … they’re welcome.
We wouldn’t turn away anybody that has a sincere heart.”
Chesney Davis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.