Club of the Week: The Black Student Union

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Photo Credit: Steven Yoo ’19

The Thacher Black Student Union (BSU) is a group of students led by Zion, Tyler, Brooke and their faculty advisor Mr. Okpalugo, who thrive to make students of color feel more welcome as well as educate the school on issues concerning people of color.

  1. What made you want to become involved in the BSU?

Mr. Okpalugo: As a racial and ethnic minority of African heritage (my parents are both Igbo), I have experienced, firsthand, the importance of having social networks and interactions with people — especially people of color. When I first came to the United States to attend boarding school in Western Massachusetts, I found myself to be a minority in two respects: (1) I was black and (2) I was international. Being a part of Deerfield’s BSU was huge for me. It was so refreshing, as a young black man, to be surrounded by successful people of color. While I wasn’t really cognizant of this at the time, being exposed to images of black men that weren’t criminals, thugs, or degenerates, gave me a purpose and helped build my confidence.  It helped me develop an identity in which I was proud to be black and willing to stand up and claim my heritage. I became a faculty head of Thacher’s BSU because I want the same opportunity to be available for students of African descent at Thacher.

Zion: Well at my last school we had a Black Student Union and it wasn’t very active at all. I was one of the six black kids at my school and we met three times the whole year. I feel as though having a Black Student Union [here] will really bring the students of color together and provide a space for them to feel comfortable.

Brooke: Well personally I think it’s very important for black students to get together and have that time to be together, because it’s very difficult to be a student of color at an institution that is primarily white. So I think it’s just good to have that community and have that support.

Tyler: Although the group (BSU) has its social aspect and that safe space, I think it’s also good for the school, and we’re making the school aware that we have problems. I think just the group getting together and learning about our culture, which we don’t get at Thacher is why we have the BSU.

  1. Are there any events that the BSU will be hosting this year that you know of?

Mr. Okpalugo: We have already hosted some events and discussions. We organized a film night last trimester. I created the Black Writers Series, where I send out one essay from a Black intellectual every two weeks. So far we have read essays from the likes of James Baldwin, Walter Rodney, Ralph Ellison, Cornel West, bell hooks (lowercase is intentional), etc..

If you want to know more about other future events, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with the students that run the BSU (Brooke Porter, Tyler James and Zion Alcindor).

Zion: We kind of make them as we go, we don’t really have set plans but we make them as we go.

Tyler: We have discussions and so far we’ve talked about what it’s like being a student of color at Thacher and how to approach and respond to instances when you feel singled out. We also have social stuff planned, like potentially going to a museum or going to Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles.

Brooke: There are definitely two aspects of BSU events, there are events just for members of the BSU, and then there’s also discussions that we’re hoping to open up to the entire Thacher community.

  1. Is there anything that you’d like to change about the club this year?

Mr. Okpalugo: I wish we had more time to meet. We didn’t really get a chance to meet in the fall as frequently as I would’ve liked, but I get it. We are all super busy and have countless commitments. That being said, it is important for us to meet regularly, even if the scheduling is somewhat ad hoc.

Zion: Definitely more events. We have three leaders this year so it’ll be easier to organize. And [we definitely want to have] more of the school involved, and for them to recognize our community.

Tyler: I know a lot of people don’t know we have a BSU and we’re hoping to make the entire school aware of what we’re talking about.

Brooke: Also we plan to have more regular meetings. Our goal is to have a meeting every two weeks and I think we’ve been pretty consistent about that.

  1. Is there anything that you’d like the school to know about the BSU?

Mr. Okpalugo: Despite integration, civil rights gains and living in an era of supposed diversity and multiculturalism, people still seek to find others like themselves as a means of establishing their identity. Even in a relatively progressive independent school, like Thacher, issues of race, gender, and social status often lie just below the surface of a student’s daily experiences. In the relative security of a group like the Black Student Union, these realities are allowed to come to the fore. The BSU is a place where students can build connections and reflect on difficult moments from their own experience as a minority in an independent school. When I was in boarding school, the BSU was a space for me to talk about the isolation I sometimes felt. The relationships I gained through Deerfield’s BSU and the Office of Black Student Affairs at the Claremont Colleges helped me to feel less alone with my emotions and helped me build a stronger sense of self. I want the same thing for students of color at Thacher. Who could possibly argue with that?

Zion: Some people think that it’s sort of racist to have a Black Student Union, but it’s not racist at all; it’s just providing a space for us where we feel comfortable….we’re not talking bad about any other races, we just talk about issues that we think should be addressed in our community.

Brooke: I think there is this misconception that the BSU is sort of just a time for black students get together and hate on the majority, but it’s definitely not…it’s more of a time for celebration and for us to express ourselves in a safe and inclusive environment.

Tyler: Also try to put this into perspective. Try to be in our shoes…Thacher has great diversity but there is still a very small percent of Thacher students that are students of color. Just living here 24/7, it’s [BSU] a very positive space for us and we don’t want to have a negative reaction. If any of you have questions, please ask one of us, because we want to be open about what we are and what we do.