Continuing community traditions, building connections with the GW community and increasing professional events will be among the Black Student Union’s top priorities as a newly elected executive board prepares for a new year of leadership ahead.
BSU re-elected junior Gianna Cook as president and appointed five students to additional e-board positions as the student organization transitioned to new leadership late last month. The newly elected student leaders said they will place more focus on fostering relationships with the current administration, incoming students and university communities outside of Foggy Bottom like chapters at other universities to continue developing BSU’s campus presence.
The new board appointments follow a year in which leaders celebrated the Black community’s return to campus following GW’s reopening during the COVID-19 pandemic and stuck to the theme “Elevation Amplified,” which focused on raising Black student voices in the GW community.
Cook, a junior studying English, worked over the past year leading the organization to start new traditions and “firsts” for the BSU, like a kickball game with chapters from American and Georgetown universities and a State of the Union Gala to initiate the new board.
She said she was “proud” of her work over the past year to create an open discussion with officials and a “consistency of communication” concerning issues affecting Black students. Cook decided to run for re-election after noticing some unfinished goals, like remaining progress to build relationships with the non-Black community after the organization grew closer with the GW Police Department and GW Hillel this past year.
She said she wants to build on connections with the administration and the entire GW community through continuous meetings with officials and partnerships with the Office of Student Life.
“Honestly, I just have a passion for this work and this community,” Cook said. “I think what made me really want to run was just knowing that the work that we started wasn’t finished and just wanting to continue upon the ideals of the things that we’ve built upon.”
In light of racist incidents in the past year, like when a GWTeach professor used the N-word in an anti-racism course, Cook said BSU is drafting language guidelines for professors, which will detail harmful language to avoid in various course subjects and be implemented in the next academic year. She said Sydney McArthur, the BSU’s director of advocacy, is working with e-board members to finalize the guidelines, and BSU will collaborate with the Faculty Association to implement them into courses.
“Since those incidents had arisen, we realized that even though BSU always supports and we put out statements, we need something on a University and institutional foundational level,” Cook said of the BSU’s response to recent racist incidents on campus.
Cook said BSU collaborated with Campus Living and Residential Education this past year to host events in residence halls like game nights and karaoke, and she hopes to continue with similar events in the upcoming school year. She said BSU leaders are planning on collaborating with GW Hillel to create a women’s cohort for women of color to discuss the intersection of religion and race.
“We’re working to do more things with other orgs just to broaden that horizon of BSU because Black is not monolithic,” she said. “There are so many ways in which our identities intersect and how we show up and present.”
Cook said she wants to continue traditions like BSU’s monthly community fellowship nights – a social event with games and food – the newly annual BSU kickball game with other D.C.-area schools, the State of the Union Gala and the BSU solidarity conference that features talks from student speakers centered around social activism, Black knowledge and difficult conversations involving the Black community.
“I think that as GW students, we get so caught up, and we know we’re doing things for our future, but we never really know how amazing your peers are once you hear them in their field,” Cook said. “So it was something so amazing to kind of pull together people’s interests and passions and learn from them in a Black solidarity conference of just empowerment, learning and all those things.”
Joanna Destil, a freshman and BSU’s new vice president of marketing, said she wants BSU to offer more fundraising and community outreach opportunities outside of the GW community in the next year. She said she hopes students recognize the importance of the Black community on campus going forward.
“BSU is trying to reach out to everybody, so it’s a place where they can feel comfortable,” Destil said.
Ryan Titus, a freshman and the new historian for BSU, said she hopes to better educate the GW community about Black heritage through her new role on the executive board. She said she hopes students know they can turn to BSU if they are in need of support because of its “family” dynamic.
“We are all here for you together, especially through hard times,” Titus said.
Telease Bowen, a junior and the Black Heritage Celebration co-chair, said two of her biggest goals for the upcoming year are to provide a safe space for Black students on campus and leave an impactful legacy.
“I hope to continue fostering community in a way that reflects the progressive movement of our society,” she said. “I hope to create as many authentic Black spaces as possible and continue to collaborate and impact.”