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Black student leaders foster community at FSU

Group of people standing in front of Black History Month Banner
Izayah Morgan / THE GATEPOST

By Raena Doty

Arts & Features Editor

Black History Month, celebrated in February every year, is a chance to educate people about and honor the cultural contributions and advancements of Black people around the world.

And thanks to the contributions of student affinity group leaders, there are constant celebrations of Blackness going on around the school, during February and beyond.

Anyone who finds themselves in the Center for Inclusive Excellence (CIE) on Mondays may stumble upon a MISS Monday - the weekly meeting for Motivation. Intersectionality. Solidarity. Sisterhood., an affinity group for women of color on campus.

Led by President Tiffany Jerome, a senior management major, the group fosters education, connection, and empowerment for women of color, who may be left behind when they don’t have support and solidarity from one another.

Jerome has been president of MISS for two years now and said when she took on the role, there were very few active participants in the club.

“I was the only eBoard member for about eight, maybe nine months, and it was very, very hard,” she said.

At that time, MISS had no funding because it was inactive for a semester, she said, and added the main challenge to getting new students was finding members who wanted to be actively involved.

“Sometimes I spent two, three weeks in a row where it was just myself sitting in a room,” she said.

Jerome added that after a lot of work, MISS began to accumulate membership, and today, the club has a full eBoard.

She said a typical meeting takes a lot of thought from the eBoard, because they want the subject of meetings to be inclusive of all women of color and relevant to people’s lives.

During Black History Month, MISS has done some work in promoting and educating specifically for Black women on campus, like holding a discussion about what it means to be Black at a predominantly white institution (PWI) and partnering with the CIE for the Taste of Culture event held Feb. 20.

Jerome said MISS was founded by Black women on campus who felt like they didn’t have a space specifically for them.

“Black History Month - it’s a time to think about that,” she said. “About how those girls that first put MISS together were thinking about making a space for Black women to feel safe.”

She added MISS is also looking forward to Women’s History Month in March, and is planning on hosting several events to highlight how important women of color are in FSU and the world.

Jerome said she thinks affinity groups are important because they give students a feeling of community and belonging at FSU.

“To have a club where a student feels like they can go and enjoy themself makes a world of difference when it comes to someone’s college experience,” she added.

Even though Jerome is graduating in May, she said MISS is in a strong place, and the organization will continue to flourish at FSU.

“After all the hard work you put into a club, it’s really really a warm feeling to know that people are actually enjoying themselves,” she said. “What we want FSU to know is that from here on out, we’re only going up, and we’re only going to continue to grow and get better.”

Someone doing homework in the CIE on a Tuesday may find a meeting for the Black Student Union (BSU), a student organization dedicated to celebrating Black culture and creating outreach for Black students on campus, as well as generally supporting the community through programs like clothing and food drives and hosting events.

Kenzler Joseph, BSU president and a senior management major, said community outreach like this serves to make the University a more welcoming space for all types of students.

Joseph said he took on the role of president for the current school year after serving in the role of treasurer.

“Both of our presidents graduated, and there was really no one looking at the presidential position, so I figured I wanted to step up,” he said.

As president, Joseph is in charge of generally overseeing the organization and making sure it runs smoothly.

He added he also does a lot of committee work, including acting as a student representative on the Advisory Council for the Advancement of Representation in Education.

This Massachusetts committee, created by the governor and lieutenant governor, was formed in response to the Supreme Court’s decision to ban affirmative action, and serves to help make sure equity in higher education is maintained, according to the Massachusetts Career & Technical Educators website.

Joseph said BSU creates a space on campus for Black students to feel comfortable.

“If you look outside in the world today, things like lack of third places, community spaces, where people can go online and relax - a lot of that has been decreasing, going down in recent years,” he said.

“Especially when you talk about places like a PWI - like here - it’s important that students in college, especially Black students, have a place where they can feel safe, where they can feel heard, where they can relax,” he added.

Joseph said Black History Month is important because “Black history as a whole is never really properly highlighted or educated, even in school today.”

He said this has been a problem for him at FSU personally when he wanted to do a minor in Black studies, but every time he registered for a class, it ended up being canceled due to lack of students signing up.

“Realistically, every month should be Black History Month,” he said, but added having a month to highlight the achievements and contributions of Black people in history helps work toward equity.

He said one challenge BSU faces in its goal to create a more inclusive community is lack of transparency about racist incidents on campus.

“It tells us about underlying issues, and we can smile and sit here and talk about ‘fRAMily’ all day, but at the end of the day, if we still don’t feel truly safe, if we still don’t feel heard and respected among this campus just like everybody else, what is all the talk really for?” he asked.

A student passing by the CIE after finishing up an office hours appointment with a professor in O’Connor Hall on a Wednesday night may find themselves at a meeting for the African Student Association (ASA).

Newly formed last semester, the group was founded by Jude Ejiofor, club president and junior accounting major.

He said his parents were born in Nigeria, and he wanted to form a space on campus for students from Africa or of African descent to come together.

Because ASA is new, it has not received any allocated funding from the school, which Ejiofor said was a challenge. He added the group has a lot of big plans that they want to execute next year, when they have more funding.

Ejiofor said he wants to throw a gala for students to come and spend time together - where they’d be able to wear either traditional African clothing or formal American clothes.

He said he’s been in contact with people at Worcester State University about potentially inviting multiple schools to the gala, and he wants to reach out to more schools around here so the event can include even more people.

“We want to interact with other people, right? Really get to know people, whether they’re here or far,” he said.

He added affinity groups create interest on campus and give students a space for self expression.

“If we didn’t have these groups, I don’t feel like any people would feel welcome at all on this campus, to be honest,” he said.

Ejiofor said as a group of African students, ASA’s work during February, no matter what it is, helps to highlight Black History Month.

“It is the shortest month of the year, but I really do feel like it’s a focused time where we can really appreciate our Blackness and everything that comes with it,” he said.

Evelyn Campbell, president of the Student Government Association and acting diversity and inclusion officer due to the current absence in the position, said affinity groups are a great way for students to find places of belonging and related that to how she’s part of the GenerationOne affinity group.

She added compared to other schools, FSU has a lot of great communities for people to join, and hopes all students will seek out their place on campus.

Campbell said working with the presidents of the affinity groups has been a very positive experience.

Jerome Burke, director of the CIE, said Black History Month creates a time for people to recognize the contribution of Black people across history.

“We always say that Black history should be something that is celebrated all year long. For the Black community, this is our lived experience,” he said. “I think what February does is really bring to the focus all the contributions of the Black community.

“The [Black, Indigenous students of color] are very much aware of that, and they very much want to share that with the wider community,” he added.

Burke said it’s incredibly important to see Black students in positions of leadership around the school, both for the sake of allowing Black students to develop their professional skills in contexts out of the classroom, and because it allows students to see people like themselves represented among their peers.

“When we look at faculty and staff, students oftentimes struggle to find persons in leadership positions who look like them, who sound like them, who have a similar accent, who are going through everyday experiences that they can relate to,” he said.

“It’s going to be even more important that they can find it among their peers, so having Black students in leadership positions - at least it fills that gap.

“It’s always important to have Black leaders,” Burke said.

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