Members of the Black Student Union celebrated the organization’s 40th anniversary Friday night in Marvin Center, reflecting on the group’s historic role as a voice for black students at GW.
Although the BSU strives to achieve its founders’ goals, BSU co-President Charles Basden said the organization has changed and grown significantly over its 40 years.
“I think that it’s evolved as America has evolved,” Basden said in an interview after the event. “Whereas in the ’60s, I think the focus was on support and advocacy . the BSU has grown to address global issues. We evolve as the needs evolve.”
Basden, a senior, also explained the important role the BSU plays in GW’s community.
“I think we’re the organization that is empowering its members to have a voice and be able to stand up for issues that are important to them,” he said. “We are the catalyst for positive change here at the George Washington University . We are that safe haven for student ideas to be heard.”
Today’s black students are well-respected by the University, but this was not always the case.
In April 1968, black GW students met with University administrators and asked that the University increase benefits for black professors, create minority recruitment programs and make equality on campus a reality, not just a promise. This group of students became the Black Peoples’ Union, later renamed the Black Student Union, Basden said.
Helen Cannady Saulny, assistant vice president of Student and Academic Support Services, emphasized the importance of student involvement in the BSU during remarks at the event.
“It is your effort that really helps shape what happens here at the University,” Cannady Saulny said. “Thank you all for having an impact on my life.”
BSU members who attended the event also agree that the BSU gives them a voice on campus.
“I feel like the significance of (the BSU) is to create opportunity for all students, particularly minority students,” junior Lynette Flavien said. “It gives us an outlet to see people that look like ourselves within the community.”
Andre Lamar Smith, one of BSU’s two freshman officers, said the BSU has helped him express himself, become more socially involved on campus and learn time management skills, since “it is such a large organization.”
While the BSU may have used its 40th birthday as an opportunity to honor its past, students who participated in the event also applauded the student organization’s current initiatives, as well as its future.
This year the BSU held an issue forum on the Jena 6, sponsored GW Decision 08 – an initiative that provided students with information on the Student Association elections – and organized Black Heritage Celebration, which was based on the theme, “E Pluribus Unum, Out of many, One.”
To compliment its large-scale programming, the BSU frequently hosts small academic lectures and supports smaller minority organizations, such as the Black Men’s Initiative.
“We try to hit on the spiritual, physical and intellectual fronts,” Basden said.
Still, the BSU wants to continue to expand its influence and continue its role as a platform to voice student concerns.
“In the future, we hope to continue to grow our membership,” Basden said. “We’d like to set up a political action committee as well as an a capella group. We would also like to continue to work with other multicultural student organizations, and all student organizations in general, to assist them with their needs and advocate on their behalf.”