DeKALB — The Black Student Union declares in its mission statement that it seeks to recognize and pursue social and cultural heritage awareness. It aims to represent black students at NIU — a predominantly white institution with white non-Hispanic students making up about 53% of Fall 2018’s enrolled undergraduate students.
The Black Student Union was established in 1970, and Derrick Smith, current staff adviser of BSU, joined the fall of 1972.
“It felt like it was my obligation to join a powerful club on campus because it wasn’t just for Greek [life],” he said. “It’s imperative for BSU to keep Black-conscious and make sure history is told by us.”
Shantez Branch, director of public relations of the BSU, joined as a first-year student because it was the first organization she looked into. Her interest in public relations helped as well.
“NIU is a diverse campus but sometimes you can feel divided,” Branch said. “The Black Student Union brings black students together and allows us to openly express ourselves to the campus so they can understand us.”
The goals of BSU are to support, guide and bring educational assistance to black students. This includes providing tutoring and counseling resources for students.
“The importance of being in a club like BSU is to give yourself an identity and a placement on campus surrounded by the majority of white people,” Branch said.
Smith said the BSU has faced many challenges since it started, and that the biggest challenge was dealing with racism. Smith said the majority of the NIU community thought the purpose of BSU was to promote segregation on campus in the ‘70s amidst the Black Power and civil rights movements.
He stressed that racism and injustice still need to be addressed today.
“If we have justice and equality, we would not need BSU or Black Studies,” Smith said.
He said racially-motivated incidents on campus led to the start of the NAACP at NIU in 1978, which sought to solve the problems happening on campus.
“[The NAACP chapter] was started because we ran into problems fighting racial incidents,” Smith said.“We needed an outside entity of power in the court system, so we started the NAACP to be our outside source.”
Smith said BSU has also faced financial problems in the past. About 10 years ago, the BSU budget was cut from $20,000 to $2,000. Smith said it wasn’t the amount BSU had expected.
“They thought we were going to spend the money for our organization and other black organizations when that wasn’t the case,” Smith said. “All I want to know is: where did the money go?”
During first-year orientation, students learn about what NIU’s campus has to offer.
“Previously, the Center for Black Studies wasn’t on the school tour for incoming students,” BSU president Elexus Hughes-Wood said.
NIU has resource centers like the Latino Center, the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center and the Center for Black Studies.
“The Gender and Sexuality Resource Center and the Center for Black Studies are on the edge of campus,” Hughes-Woods said. “[A lot] of the time students don’t know how to get there. They don’t even know it exists, and the bus doesn’t even stop over there.”
BSU addressed this issue by informing students on Move-in Day of these resources. Move-in Day happens at the beginning of the fall semester and is for incoming students.
Hughes-Woods said BSU wants students to know they can come to the BSU with any problems they may be facing.
“We are the umbrella organization, meaning if something happens, students can come to us for anything,” Hughes-Woods said.
Hughes-Wood joined BSU last year as the assistant of civil disobedience.
Now there are workshops hosted by Student Involvement for student organizations to voice their concerns.
Hughes-Woods said the purpose of these workshops is to help improve each organization for the upcoming year.
She said the Black Student Union acts as a watchdog for the NIU community, keeping an eye out for questionable practices when it comes to issues of race or equality. She said members of BSU also attend City Council meetings to ensure resources are available for students.
Hughes-Woods said BSU partners with high schools and NIU’s community outreach committee to volunteer at Hope Haven and mentor high school students