Black Student Union strives for university support

design by Gary HatchReading Time: 3 minutes

Four members of UVU’s Black Students Union will take on new leadership positions and organize the upcoming events for the fall 2017 semester.

Ever since the BSU started at UVU in 2013, members of BSU have experienced difficulties gaining representation because their marketing strategies failed. Despite that, the current president of BSU Madison Hanks, has taken the club to greater heights. In 2016, she helped launch the African-American Initiative, a mentorship program for African-American undergraduate students.

Abdul Kalumbi, who will be president of BSU in the fall, said that BSU will organize a discussion on the Trump administration and how African-Americans feel about the new president’s policies during Ethics Week, which will occur later this year. He also talked about organizing an open dialogue on the diversity of sensitivities within the black community in order to illustrate a variety of personalities while holding a commonality.

“I think that the BSU wants an open discussion about black issues and secondly, BSU is open to anyone, any race. It’s created to support and celebrate the black community, but it’s open to any race and we’re welcoming like that,” Kalumbi said.

Utah is a unique state because it’s not very diverse, compared to other states. Therefore people who are from the state have less exposure to differences, according to Kalumbi.

The 2016 Fact Book is a yearly publication of collected data from the office of Institutional Research & Information. The ethnic categories of student demographics federally determined during the fall and spring semesters of 2016 show that the percentage of students who identify as black is as low as .08%. 277 UVU students identified as black in fall 2016, 11 more than the 267 students in 2012.

Matthew Holland stated in his presidential address in February 2016 that there has been a 108 percent increase in students of color at UVU since 2009.

According to the the Race/Ethnicity Survey from the office of Institutional Research & Information, the graph illustrates the lack of exponential growth in regards to diverse student demographics over the past nine years.

Kalumbi acknowledged the experiences that black students face with subtle and ignorant comments that show Utah’s cultural isolation.

“Sometimes what they say, even innocently, just comes off wrong, disrespectful or insensitive. That being said, I’ve had those experiences. I’ve learned to just understand where it’s coming from, which is people being under informed,” he said.

Hanks said that she hopes BSU continues to discuss difficult topics surrounding police brutality, Mormonism, and the Black Lives Matter movement. She also talked about how black students at UVU can feel supported by joining BSU. “When discussing concepts surrounding cultural isolation, I think that black students at UVU have had similar experiences. Many times, students and faculty alike, make ignorant comments about our culture, hair, music, etc. which can be quite hurtful and damaging. As a whole, there are very few black students in Utah and even fewer in Utah County,” Hanks said.

The three members who will be the new vice presidents of the BSU are Stormey Nielsen, Hannah Bruce and Andrew Holmes.

Nielsen, a social work major who joined the BSU a month ago, said that as a black girl who was adopted and raised in a white community, she has thought about connecting to her black culture.

Nielsen said that she’s glad to see UVU as a diverse campus, but that there is still work to be done. She also talked about how she was approached by a man the day after the recent presidential election. While she was carrying a bag full of clothes for a donation to refugees, the man asked her what was in her bag.

“It was that moment that I was more aware of how black I was,” she said. Nielsen said BSU is open to everyone.

“Making it so it’s not the BSU separating ourselves from everybody else, but trying to make it an inclusive thing. We’re here, this is us, but we’re all doing this together,” Nielsen said.

Hannah Bruce, a psychology major, just moved from Canada last year. She joined BSU to contribute to the school community and more specifically the black community. She also talked about her experience in Utah County. “I have not experienced any discrimination or racism here at UVU. I have actually had a really good first year when it comes to my soccer team and athletics, my professors and academics,” she said.

Drew Holmes, a business hospitality major, moved to Utah from Florida. He said that his first black teacher Thomas Mgonja encouraged him to join UVU’s BSU in 2009. Holmes talked about how he struggled to fit it. He said that he had to talk slower and cut his hair, but that he didn’t change his religion which is Southern Baptist. Able-bodied in a wheelchair, Holmes said that even though he often felt alienated, his goal as vice president of BSU is to make others feel welcome.