SMC Black Student Union looks back at first year, plans for future

Published 9:24 am Friday, March 29, 2019

DOWAGIAC — On Wednesday afternoon in the Briegel Upper Commons of Southwestern Michigan College’s main campus, about a dozen students gathered to discuss decisions for an upcoming formal dance and officer changes of their organization.

The general meeting of the student club was one in its first year of existence. The meeting was of SMC’s Black Student Union, a club started in fall of 2018 and the first of its kind on an SMC campus.

The Black Student Union was started by Jarel Mills and Ray Bell, two black students at SMC, in an effort to provide SMC’s black and minority students a campus outlet where they can get connected, talk about their experiences as minorities in a college setting and ultimately be themselves openly.

“Basically, the goal of the BSU is to provide a safe space on campus for black students to be themselves because a lot of the time, as black students, we walk out of our dorm rooms, put on this face and assimilate into what is expected of us,” Mills said. “Being part of BSU allows us to be black students without the feeling of being judged all the time and to talk about stuff we go through.”

Cydney Robinson was another student looking to start a student organization. When she discovered Mills and Bell were starting an SMC BSU, she combined her efforts with theirs.

“I was actually trying to figure out if I wanted to start a club myself. Then we started BSU” Robinson said.

Mills became the president of the club, and Robinson became the vice president after Bell stepped down. Since the inception of the club as an official SMC approved campus organization, BSU has hosted several events, outings and regular meetings. The club made a trip to the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, has organized club game nights and sponsored campus events and is planning a formal dance for SMC students.

Danielle Lucas, a financial aid systems analyst and Dowagiac City councilwoman, took over the role of BSU’s advisor during the spring semester. She sees the club as a new way for black students and other minorities to fit into campus life and society.

“I think [BSU] thought there wasn’t an organization that represented them on campus,” Lucas said. “[BSU] brings awareness to minorities on campus, and is an opportunity for them to come together as one and represent themselves on campus.”

Lucas also sees BSU as a way for students to learn about the teamwork and responsibilities required for running an organization, as well as the importance of interclub coordination.

“They went through the correct steps to begin an organization on campus,” Lucas said. “They have other social events and partner with other clubs mainly to get more people involved and have more participation with the combination of the club and the bigger events.”

For the club leadership, the primary purpose of BSU is connection and education. While the name “Black Student Union” may imply to some that only black students are welcome, BSU is open to anyone who desires to join. Mills believes the task of BSU is to not only connect black students and minorities, but to allow white students the opportunity to learn about black American culture.

“We don’t market SBU just for black students,” Mills said. “We try our best to be as inclusive as possible. We have a lot of white students come to learn about black culture.”

Vice President Robinson shared Mills’ sentiment.

“Just because it’s called Black Student Union does not make it a closed group,” she said. “We are open to everyone of all races and anyone can come to general meetings. We’re a very open organization. Anyone can be there.”

At Wednesday evening’s general meeting, BSU members discussed the election of 2019-2020 club officers, which is expected to take place before the end of the spring semester. In the future, BSU hopes to organize panel discussions, become part of the national network of Black Student Unions and grow its membership at SMC.