Black Student Union creates space for black students on predominantly white campus

Members of the Black Student Union attend the National Black Student Union Conference on behalf of Westminster College. Students of color make up 20 percent of Westminster’s student body and black students make up 1 percent of the student population, according to data from the college’s AVP-DEI recruitment portfolio document. Photo by Rachel Terran

Members of the Black Student Union attend the National Black Student Union Conference on behalf of Westminster College. Students of color make up 20 percent of Westminster’s student body and black students make up 1 percent of the student population, according to data from the college’s AVP-DEI recruitment portfolio document. Photo by Rachel Terran

White students make up 76 percent of Westminster College’s student body, and students of color make up 20 percent, according to data from the college's AVP-DEI recruitment portfolio document. Of the 20 percent students of color, African American students make up 1 percent of the student population.

National issues around race impact Westminster students, which led to the creation of Westminster’s Black Student Union (BSU). BSU is a campus club that is open to all students and meets Fridays at 1 p.m. in the Diversity and Inclusion Center, located in the Bassis Student Center.

Westminster is one of many schools with a Black Student Union, including the University of Utah and Salt Lake Community College.

Ebony Tyler, BSU’s president and a sophomore justice studies and special education custom major, said the club promotes conversations surrounding national issues and is a safe space for students to exist as they are.

Sean Distance, BSU’s vice president, said visibility is important to BSU’s success. To create more visibility for students of color on campus, BSU is doing a dramatic reading called “For Colored Girls” in November and December, according to Distance.

Tyler and Distance sat down with The Forum to talk about BSU’s goals and the racial climate on Westminster’s campus.

The Forum: What’s it like to be a part of a campus where 1 percent of students are black?

Tyler: To be on a campus where the majority of the students are white is not something that is new to me. I've spent my whole life in predominantly white spaces, but I do find it to be racially fatiguing. I can't say that all students of color feel the racial fatigue because I can only speak for myself, but it does become burdensome to have to carry that weight around. Sometimes in order to relieve some of that weight, I have to find spaces that are predominantly people of color—where I am allowed to decompress with other people who may understand what I am feeling. It is not to say that I need that validation, but sometimes I need that validation to work through whatever it is that is weighing on my person at the moment.

The Forum: What are the goals of BSU?

Tyler: We are really just trying to get ourselves out there on campus and in the community. We are about having a space for black students, students of color and other students to come learn about issues that affect us and have that solidarity between us.

The Forum: What does a typical meeting look like?

Tyler: It is usually pretty chill. We usually do check-ins and see how everyone is doing. Whatever the topic is we need or want to talk about, that is what we address. We usually meet for an hour or and hour and a half.

The Forum: Can you describe a particular BSU meeting?

Distance: Last year we were heavily talking about Ferguson and police brutality.

The Forum: What has the focus of BSU been this year?

Distance: We want to be more visible on campus so students from high school can see we exist here. A lot of people say there are no black people at Westminster, so it looks like there is no space for them.

The Forum: Where do you see a lack of visibility for students of color of campus?

Tyler: In our theatre department, we don’t see ourselves represented and it is important that we do because representation matters. In the theater department I see very few people who look like me and when I do they are portrayed in [an] almost demeaning way. I also do not like the way I have seen people of color used as props, like with the poster they had up last year. There was a black man with a noose around his neck used to advertise a show they were doing. Because we do not see ourselves, we have taken it upon us to make sure that we are given representation. We are putting [on] Ntozake Shange's For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide [and] When the Rainbow is Enuf sometime in March.

The Forum: What do you want fellow students on campus to know about BSU?

Tyler: I would like my fellow classmates to know that BSU is an open space. I want them to know it is welcoming and we will support them.