Students, Faculty Form First Black Student Union

Dr.+Rebecca+Steinberger%2C+Professor+of+English%2C+and+Beth+Cote%2C+junior+English+secondary+education+major%2C+take+free+stickers+and+bracelets+from+the+Black+Student+Union+table+in+the+Banks+Student+Life+Center+on+Wednesday%2C+Oct.+28.+The+club%2C+which+is+the+first+of+its+kind+at+the+university%2C+was+formed+during+the+fall+2020+semester.+

Megan Oldak

Dr. Rebecca Steinberger, Professor of English, and Beth Cote, junior English secondary education major, take free stickers and bracelets from the Black Student Union table in the Banks Student Life Center on Wednesday, Oct. 28. The club, which is the first of its kind at the university, was formed during the fall 2020 semester.

Rinae Cotton, Reporter

Students and faculty from multiple departments have joined forces to form a Black Student Union.

Maureen Pascal, Associate Professor of Physical Therapy and one of the club’s advisers, said this is the first club of its kind at the university despite their existence at colleges and universities around the country.

She has been thinking about forming a Black Student Union since last year when she read an anonymous student comment about what might happen with the Payne Building, located across campus on Lake Street.

“The student said they thought there should be a space in that building that would be a place for Black students to meet. This student said something along the lines of ‘you bring us here to play sports, but you don’t support us.’  That really stuck with me.”

She said other people were quick to support this the idea, especially with the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and the protests that followed.

“In response to the many deaths of Black people this year, and the resulting protests, a group of people at Misericordia wrote an Open Letter to Address Racism at Misericordia. The letter has been signed by 167 people so far, and we are still collecting signatures,” Pascal said.

Some of the pledges in the letter have already come to pass. One was to provide a day off to recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which has not been officially approved by the administration and added to the campus calendar. The other was to form the Black Student Union, a project that is well underway.

Pascal said the main purpose of the BSU is to facilitate a way for black students to have the ability to meet, organize and support each other.

“The mission of the Black Student Union at Misericordia University is to foster a community of unity, to motivate, encourage and support students that identify within the Black and/or African-American population. Our goal is to promote a spirit of unity and cultural awareness while addressing issues pertinent to Black and/or African American students,” she said.

According to statistics provided by Glenn Bozinski, Vice President of Enrollment Management, 12% of all enrolled students in 2020 are from underrepresented minority groups, a 3% increase from 2016’s enrollment numbers. 66 people of that percent identified with the Black, non-Hispanic group in both 2016 and 2020.

Pascal said she believes a BSU had not been formed because many people thought it wasn’t necessary with a Multicultural Club. However, she said the main difference between the BSU and the Multicultural Club is that the club was for students of all underrepresented racial and cultural minority groups.

Pascal believes Black students need a space that will specifically address the issues they face and said leaders plan to collaborate with the Multicultural Club in the future.

The purpose of the BSU is to encourage unity in a respectful environment. Members’ goals are to provide opportunities for unity and enlightenment and a space that allows for challenging dialogues and open perspectives among Black students and between Black students and their allies.

“Our plan is to create a space that will allow Black students to discuss issues important to them, and to allow allies to enter the conversation with ground rules,” Pascal said. “The open dialogues need to be spaces where Black students can feel free to express themselves, and to have their voices recognized and heard.”

Officers held an information table in the Banks Student Life Center Oct. 28 to introduce the BSU to more students and provide further information. Members have held weekly planning meetings that led up to the first open meeting Nov. 6.

Pascal said that while the fall 2020 semester is mostly centered around planning and organization, an array of activities are planned for the spring semester. These include discussion sessions on topics such as how Black students feel included and excluded on campus and even virtual watch parties for club members, the first of which is planned for the end of the fall semester.

Stacy Mccarter, junior early education major and vice president of the BSU, said she is looking forward to meetings so she and other students can get to know one another. She also welcomes the dialogue, which will take place between members.

“We expect to foster a welcoming environment of unity inclusion and hope where students can share, learn, and support, one another. We expect change,” said Mccarter.

Mccarter said the work she has done for the BSU has helped her feel more connected to the university because she feels as though her voice is being heard. She is also grateful for the students who are joining and want to become allies.

Pascal said there are many ways for people who don’t identify within the Black community to help, the most important of which is education.

“The campus community can support Black students by asking for, and then listening to, the feedback they receive from Black students,” she said. “People on campus need to work to educate themselves. It is important for people to be aware of the news and to seek out resources on their own.”

Mccarter said her personal goal is to utilize her skills, talents and vision in the best way she can to build a community of knowledge, hope, unity and change and to inspire others to do the same.

“I hope that Black students will begin to feel like they have a place where they can voice their concerns, gain knowledge, be supported, develop hope and make a change in the areas they feel need it. I hope that students of all races can come together in the BSU and learn together, support each other, develop long-lasting trustworthy relationships and make a change in the MU community and beyond,” said Mccarter.

Students interested in joining BSU should contact Pascal at [email protected]