A year of activism: Black Student Union’s influence at BGSU

Brionna Scebbi and Brionna Scebbi

A year ago, the Black Student Union started a conversation about a theater on campus that would create a rallying point for BGSU’s Black community.

Months prior, a collaboration between BSU and the Latino Student Union would result in a conversation about racism and cultural appropriation. 

And just this December, BSU once again threw its support behind an issue of student safety and comfort when a computer science instructor advocated for the hanging of a congresswoman

BSU, and its year of activism, brought several other BGSU organizations out to vocalize support for those same issues. College Democrats, SICSIC and Queer/Trans Student Union all backed BSU.

More than conversations and hashtags — like #DitchTheGish and #SaferWithoutSheaffer — came out of this year of action. Tangible changes were enacted in response to the student union’s work:

  • Nov. 28, 2018 – Sanctions were placed on Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity after LSU and BSU members provided input on steps they wanted to see taken by administration following a bias incident. 

  • Feb. 20, 2019 – BGSU President Rodney Rogers announced a task force would discuss the renaming of the then Gish Film Theater.

  • May 3, 2019 – The Board of Trustees approved the removal of the Gish name from the now-renamed BGSU Film Theater.

While BSU has been a promoter and participant of civic engagement over its 50-year history, students like junior marine biology major Bobbie Forté found a quieter student union when she first came to the university. 

“I do remember BSU not being so big at the time. I believe off of their previous exec board things were just kind of slowing down a little bit. And then I remember my sophomore year, things started picking up,” she said. Now, she’s BSU’s external affairs chair.

Kyle Thompson, BSU’s current vice president and former political action chair, has watched the student union grow over the past four years. 

“I think BSU’s always had a good presence on campus; I just think that the focus has changed just to meet the needs of the student body as time goes on,” Thompson said. “We support whatever black students need on campus.”

Participation and membership were on their way up for BSU in the 2018-19 school year, and the student union’s emphasis on creating a unifying and supportive space for its members helped fill the seats.

“Just thinking of meetings that hold interest and value to our community kind of brought people in,” Forté said. “We have a ton of freshmen that we caught their attention, and they got interested and they were coming out to our events. And it just made the community more lively and more attentive to what we were doing and being active on the campus.”

Those freshmen came onto campus asking for the BSU and wondering what was next for the organization.  

Forté made it clear BSU doesn’t go out looking for issues on campus. Instead, the group’s energy is directed toward empowering members to know their voices will be heard should the time to respond arise again. 

This legacy of unity BSU is trying to create comes from the group’s structure as an umbrella organization. BSU encompasses all of the Black groups on campus from Curly Connection and Sister to Sister to BG Kings and Queens of Color. 

Thompson said BSU’s legacy is in its representation and support of those organizations and the students in them. The university’s history may show BSU’s legacy is also in its role as an activist force on campus.

“We’ve worked to go above and beyond what people may necessarily expect from a student org,” Thompson said.