One year after the Black Student Union’s first election in more than three years, executive board leaders said they have ramped up their campus presence to improve Black students’ community at GW.
BSU student leaders said they have bolstered student engagement this past year through increased collaboration with the Student Association and initiatives like the Big Brother, Big Sister Matriculation program and meetings with other Black student groups. Leaders said Black students have come together to form a more united presence on campus this year through social events and advocacy efforts, like a campaign to reconsider several campus building names.
BSU President Devon Bradley, a senior, said the organization completed a “strategic overhaul” this year with “better quality” event flyers, a new logo and a website to increase its presence on and off campus. He said BSU was less “visible” at GW in the past, but this year’s e-board has been active in calling for changes at GW like a University-wide diversity audit and more meetings with administrators.
He said he has noticed BSU mentioned in class discussions, which has been a “major win” for the e-board. He said the nationwide Black Lives Matter protests last summer prompted administrators and students to start listening, engaging in activism and supporting BSU through efforts like fundraisers.
“The summer of 2020 really was a big moment for BSU and Black people everywhere,” Bradley said. “Because, as I said earlier, people started listening. Not just listening, but paying attention and actually granting us the funding that we asked for, granting us the meeting that we asked for, and that was just very new.”
Bradley added that this year’s e-board hosted five “Black Power” meetings with Black student organizations to promote collaboration between students. He said SA and BSU leadership didn’t meet in the past, drawing BSU leaders to establish a “personal connection” with SA leaders last fall to enhance communication between the groups.
“We were connected with the SA finance desk,” he said. “We were in contact with certain senators, so nothing like in the past where they didn’t even know who led BSU. That’s been very powerful for us as well.”
Junior Peyton Wilson, BSU’s executive vice president, said BSU moved its office from the Multicultural Student Services Center to the fourth floor of the Marvin Center earlier this month, completing the effort from the previous year’s e-board. She said securing an office alongside other major student organizations in the Marvin Center was “necessary” to expand BSU’s campus presence outside of the MSSC.
She said the organization hosted a socially distanced office reveal party at the Marvin Center earlier this month after acquiring the space, offering students on campus a chance to meet each other and connect in person.
“That was really fulfilling only because we haven’t really been around each other,” Wilson said. “And that was the first opportunity where students could come by and get some semblance of normalcy amid all the nonsense that’s going on and see other Black students and connect because people made new friends and developed connections.”
Wilson said some of her plans to expand programming to students on the Mount Vernon Campus were not possible this year, but the group hosted more than five Instagram livestreams with topics varying from mental health check-ins to current events discussions. She said student leaders avoided hosting too many events to prevent burnout during the pandemic while still offering programming that would generate a large audience.
“There’s definitely been an increase in engagement,” Wilson said. “A really unique thing about this first-year class is their use of this online stuff. They were dealing with it way before we were in a really unique way. And so I think because of that, they’re more willing to be involved online because they’re like ‘Well, this is all I know about college,’ like ‘This is what college is to me.’”
She said BSU leaders advocated for students this past year through efforts like the organization’s first State of Black GW Report, which included recommendations like hiring more Black faculty members, for officials to support Black students on campus.
Junior Bishop Walton, BSU’s chief of staff, said the BLM protests and general conversation about the Black student experience at GW encouraged the group to hold programming through the summer, which he said members have not done in the past. He said the group hosted events like a “Quarantine Series” during the summer that covered topics like how to engage in local activism and secure student internships.
Walton said BSU’s Instagram has grown from 900 to more than 2,500 followers in the last year. He said continuing large community-building events like the Black Heritage Celebration was necessary to support members at home or on campus who might’ve felt isolated from their peers.
“This summer gave us an opportunity to learn the virtual environment and more because, typically, student orgs don’t operate over the summer or just wait until the start of the year to operate,” he said. “But with the events of last summer, it demanded us to start. And that space and that opportunity to learn without classes, learn how to navigate the space was helpful.”
Walton said he helped create the Rethinking D.C. Policing and Youth Diversion project last summer to research D.C.’s youth diversion tactics and policing. The project will recommend policies to the Metropolitan Police Department, expanding BSU’s advocacy throughout the District.
He said the project was in its “pilot year” and was renewed for the upcoming year. He said students will present their research and recommendations for criminal justice topics, like judicial justice for D.C. youth, next week at the GW Research Showcase.
“The foundation is definitely set for next year so that the executive board can just jump right in,” Walton said. “They’ll enjoy it a lot more because the infrastructure is there.”