Every Thursday afternoon, members of the Black Student Union gather for their club meeting. Up the stairs of the Viking Union, about 50 members meet in the Ethnic Student Center to discuss a variety of subjects surrounding the Black experience.
Tekhia Jones, the Black Student Union president, works alongside multiple members of the BSU board, including Aryam Tamene, the union’s vice president. The student-run club spends up to four hours a week collaborating and sifting through potential event ideas.
“Community is definitely something that we’ve been focusing on as a board,” Jones said. “We’re trying to bridge that gap this year and actually form connections and build these interpersonal relationships.”
Some club days consist of carefully planned activities such as game nights, trivia nights or a presentation on a particular topic. On other days, the members will host movie or study nights in collaboration with Western’s Tutoring Center.
“Aside from being Black, which that’s our shared trait, everyone’s just so passionate about being Black [in] a PWI,” Tamene said. “It’s so motivating.”
A predominately white institution is a space of higher education with a large population of white students, typically over 50%. At Western, 28.6% of students enrolled are students of color, and more specifically, Black students make up 1.86% of the university’s enrollment. The largest percentage of students at Western, 68.2%, are white.
The Black Student Union, alongside other clubs that are under the Ethnic Student Center umbrella, will be hosting a Heritage Night on Saturday, May 4, 2024. Heritage dinners were halted due to COVID-19 but were originally yearly dinners that were widely attended in order to gather and celebrate Black culture.
“A lot of Black student clubs haven’t had a heritage dinner in a really long time,” Jones said. “It’s important for people to not only have something to look forward to but also us as a board to be able to collectively plan something of that magnitude.”
The Black Student Union wants students to be on the lookout for Black History Month events. Jones said that the Ethnic Student Center clubs will be hosting a roller skating event, a tradition in collaboration with the African Caribbean Club.
Nia Gipson, the Black Student Coalition coordinator, is a voice of guidance for the BSU board. She is there for professional input but loves to see the club thrive and create in its own independent way, she said.
“Our clubs are very student-led and student-centered,” Gipson said. “All of the ideas are generated through the board.”
The importance of clubs like the Black Student Union on college campuses does not go unnoticed by Gipson. Paris Coleman, a care specialist for Western Washington University Residences, said the same.
“Clubs like the BSU are significant because they provide space for community, just like any other club on campus,” said Coleman. “They provide space for people with like-minded interests and like experiences to come together and be present.”
Coleman has had students report that they feel disconnected when they don’t find a community of their own. He said it’s vital that students surround themselves with people who have similar identities.
Reyhana Hassan, a third-year Western student majoring in data science, has been a member of the Black Student Union for the last three years. For Hassan, the BSU brought her newfound confidence and was where she met two of her now closest friends.
“I wanted that sense of community of other people like me,” Hassan said. “That’s what drove me towards BSU.”
Hassan said that being forced to socialize may be uncomfortable at first, but being pushed out of her comfort zone and into a community has helped her feel safer on Western’s campus.
“Embrace that nervousness. Embrace that excitement,” Coleman said, talking about clubs. “I gained so much from stepping outside of my comfort zone. The risk was well worth the reward.”
The Black Student Union hosted a fundraising event to celebrate and kick off Native American Heritage Month on Nov. 2, 2023 . They gave out pizza and participated in the Indigenous Walk from The Viking Union to Sam Carver Gymnasium, where Western’s volleyball team played against Montana State University Billings.
To keep up with the Black Student Union and its future events, you can follow their Instagram here.
Neisha Gaskins (she/her) is a campus life reporter for The Front. She is a second-year student studying environmental journalism. When she isn’t writing, Neisha spends her time reading, making jewelry and sorting her recycling. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.