About 60 students packed into the Eckles Library Auditorium last month to discuss “How to Survive Being Black on the Vern” at an event by the same name.
For some, it was the first time they shared the same space as other black students on the campus they called home. For about two hours, the group discussed topics like having racially insensitive roommates and finding a group of black peers on a campus that houses cohorts like the Honors Program and the Women’s Leadership Program.
The gathering was part of a larger effort by four resident advisers on the Mount Vernon Campus to improve the black student experience through open forums and the newly formed Black Resident Assembly, which reserves a space every other week for black students to eat meals together or study. Resident advisers said new programming and the group will help an underrepresented population find community on an isolated campus.
“When you live on the Vern, you just miss a lot of stuff,” Shelby Singleton, a resident adviser in Merriweather Hall who lived in Somers Hall her freshman year, said. “It’s hard to keep up with what’s happening. It’s hard to meet people.”
Singleton said the assembly, which launched earlier this semester, will convene every other Sunday from 8 to 10 p.m. in West Hall. The group, which received funding from the Center for Student Engagement to purchase food, may register as a student organization later this semester depending on the turnout for each gathering, she said.
“They can just talk, do whatever they want to do,” Singleton said. “Homework, make friends, talk about being black – they can do whatever they want.”
The group convened to watch the Super Bowl last week, and members plan to attend a step show on March 3 hosted by the recently restarted National Pan-Hellenic Council, which oversees six historically black Greek-letter organizations. Students will also eat dinner together on the Sunday after spring break and celebrate the end of the academic year on April 28.
Junior Oscar Barrios, a resident adviser in Cole Hall, said when he was a freshman living in Thurston Hall, he did not see any representation of the black community aside from his visits to the Multicultural Student Services Center. The assembly serves as a substitute for the MSSC on the Vern, he said.
“As soon as I started seeing more brown faces, colored faces, I felt happier,” Barrios said. “Because I knew if I was having a problem, there’s somebody I can talk to.”
Dulani Northover, a resident adviser in Hensley Hall, said moving to the Vern as a black student can be “very jarring” because many black student organizations have their meetings and social gatherings on the Foggy Bottom Campus.
“You’re used to being surrounded by black faces, and all of the sudden, you’re not only just put in a spot where you don’t see black faces, but the few black faces that you do meet, they’re usually on this other campus,” Northover said. “It’s very hard to integrate and get involved.”
Lex Constantinides, a resident adviser in Somers Hall, said there should have always been a space for black students on the Vern to feel less “disconnected” from the Foggy Bottom Campus. Constantinides will be a resident adviser on the Foggy Bottom Campus next year but said she will meet with resident advisers next year to discuss continuing the group formed this semester.
“I care about my residents, and I care about other residents on the Vern,” she said. “I know that living on the Vern can already be isolating for many, many people.”
The new event series and group come as other black student organizations also work to extend their reach to the Vern. The National Council for Negro Women held a “pancake and pajamas” Jan. 30 in the Eckles Library Auditorium, and the Black Student Union will partner with the Black Graduate Student Association to host a cookout on the Vern, BSU President Michael Ferrier said.
Ferrier said the organization will also book the Vern’s music studio this semester to host a 10-hourlong music jam and will invite black student artists, singers and producers.
“We just want to do more community events, more fun stuff on the Vern,” Ferrier said. “We just want to make our presence more known.”