Incoming Black Student Union leaders seek to increase student engagement, they say

Updated: April 23, 2020 at 3:39 a.m.

Members of the incoming Black Student Union executive board said they hope to increase the organization’s presence on campus through social and professional events this fall. 

Junior Devon Bradley and sophomore Peyton Wilson were selected as BSU’s president and executive vice president-elect, respectively, in the organization’s first election in three years. The incoming leaders said they plan to strengthen support for black students on campus by boosting outreach through “dedicated” programming efforts outside of general body meetings.

Bradley said he wants to generate more pride and involvement in the black student community through events like a freshman convocation, modeled after Harvard University’s Black Student Association own convocation, and a BSU-sponsored spring brunch. He said in past years, BSU has operated in “closed-door” meetings, and more open programming could help bolster a sense of community and incentivize members to suggest new event ideas.

“In the previous years, we’ve had the first meetings and they have been packed in Funger or wherever they’ve been held, and they’re really productive conversations,” Bradley said. “But then we see none of those things ever come to light. We’re not seeing action being done.”

Bradley added that he wants BSU to work with the Student Association to ensure their voices are included in advocacy efforts and push for an office space on the Marvin Center third floor, where most other student organizations are located. BSU currently operates out of the Multicultural Student Services Center, he said.

“That has not been done previously,” Bradley said. “There’s been no collaboration between BSU and SA, which I find to be mind-blowing. How are we representing students if we aren’t on the Student Association at those meetings, just ensuring more transparency, bringing more tradition to our community?”

The contests for BSU’s top two posts were unopposed this year, the first election in three years. For the past two years, the former board members have appointed the E-board in place of an election, which often sparked “distrust” between members and the board, making campaigning valuable for members to engage in the process, Bradley said.

“Campaigning hasn’t been done in the past,” Bradley said. “These have been closed-door meetings that call you up the next day and say, ‘OK, this is the E-board.’ ‘Like OK, well, who picked these people?’ It’s showing progress.”

Bradley said his campaign needed to adapt to an entirely virtual forum to communicate by calling students personally and using online platforms like Instagram. He said he wanted to establish a standard of “respect” and “leadership” to hold him accountable to actively communicating with members about ideas.

Wilson, a junior majoring in political communication and the new vice president, said she announced her candidacy March 4 and spoke to students in person before transitioning entirely to social media. Wilson said she used Instagram and Facebook posts to alert students of her platform points, like creating programming for black residents on the Mount Vernon campus, and answer any questions they had for her via Instagram Live.

“I posted my ideas and goals on Insta and Facebook, then I had an Instagram Live a few days before voting to really make sure I had a feel for people’s goals and expectations,” Wilson said. 

Wilson said her leadership positions with BSU and its branches like ACE magazine – BSU’s publication for multicultural student-related news –  and the GW Association of Black Journalists have given her the necessary experience to serve on the E-board by getting her involved with the student body. She said she decided to run for vice president after listening to her black peers who felt out of place on campus to create a community “intentionally” supporting students.

She said she wants to expand the number of opportunities for students to get directly involved in programming past the Black Heritage Committee’s annual Black Heritage Celebration in February.

“I really wanted to run for vice president because I wanted to help foster community more and make sure that we’re really putting on programming and coming and each other there and having opportunities for fellowship beyond just February for BHC,” Wilson said.

She said she wants to create more “dedicated programming” for BSU members to familiarize themselves with black students and with new events like career fairs or inter-university BSU kickball games inviting Georgetown and American to socialize. She said these events would expose students to a greater number of social and professional opportunities that can benefit them in their careers.

“Something that’s really important to me and Devon is making sure that BSU has a presence outside of our community, so partnering with our professional black organizations as well,” Wilson said. 

Owen Manning, a junior majoring in business administration and BSU’s former president, said he has been involved in BSU for the past three years and is “thrilled” to see what the newly elected members have planned. He said he will transition elected members through regular Zoom calls answering questions and going over procedures, before they officially enter their roles in August.

“I think that the elected officials have made promises that they intend to keep, and I believe that they can,” Manning said. “I have no doubt that the people who are elected will be able to fulfill their duties and really make something special happen next year.”

Manning said students in the past have been unaware of available safe spaces on campus like the Multicultural Student Services Center. He said he hopes the E-board will continue to grow BSU’s presence among students and make sure all organizations feel “represented” under the organization like the African Student Association or Alianza, a new Afro-Latinx organization. 

“I’m very happy and proud of the work that we’ve done,” Manning said. “And I’m excited to help the next group as much as I can, without stepping on their toes, because I think that giving them creative rein and they’re giving them an opportunity to create their own dreams is important for the future as well.

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