Current Black Student Union president Bat-el Silimon, an 18-year-old first-year student, is ready to meet people who share the same goal to strive for a better society, starting with black students on the campus of Santa Rosa Junior College.
The BSU was founded by former student Damion Square, who was determined to start the club because of the lack of black culture and awareness at SRJC. Now Silimon is dedicated to coordinating events for the SRJC and organizing meetings, all while studying for a philosophy major. Her goal in the program is to encourage African Americans not to feel ashamed of their culture, background or skin color.
BSU currently has only a few members, including international students from France, Africa, the Bahamas, Eritrea, Pakistan and a small island near Madagascar. “Between us we speak 7 different languages and have accounts of the black experience from all over the world,” Silimon said.
Silimon stresses that black people should feel comfortable in their own skin. “They put themselves down so much,” she said. They shouldn’t have to conform to a certain ideal or feel like they are less than others, especially on campus.
“I want them to all be able to listen to their own types of music anywhere,” Silimon said.
In the BSU, Silimon and the other active members want black students to come together and feel comfortable. She wants more black students to feel excited about joining BSU, though she knows it’s hard to reach out. Silimon believes many leave their studies at SRJC because there aren’t enough African Americans who attend the school.
According to the Community College League of California, 4.4 percent of California Community College students identified as African American. In addition, another 3.5 percent identified as multi-ethnic. The numbers are even lower at SRJC, where African-Americans are just 2.3 percent of the student body.
It is hard to reach out to this population, not only because there are small numbers, but because as Silimon said, “Unfortunately, we tend to carry discomfort and try our best to forget we are black and blend into Santa Rosa. Apathy- it’s the reason the BSU lacks momentum as a union now.”
At BSU, students engage in conversation about ways to reach out to the community, although it is difficult to connect with the entire campus. Silimon said, “Numbers speak,” and it’s as simple as that.
Times are changing quickly under our new president and it is so important now for everyone to come together.
“Under the new leadership and with the members in the club, there are so many opportunities, things we can do for the community, and there is just so much potential,” Silimon said.
The BSU hopes to gather more members, for they have many exciting event ideas and discussions planned such as a possible performance by Alia Sharrief, a black Muslim rapper. Silimon managed to meet with her after her performance at a 50th Black Panther Anniversary and hopes Sharrief can make it to the school.
Recently, the BSU got together for an alternative Valentine’s Day event, “For the Love of Black History,” to celebrate the deeper roots of black culture with a talent show that promoted art, music and love.
“We are a part of a predominantly white county and in order for those young black people to become inspired to defy odds and boundaries that we usually bend to, we have to get involved in extracurricular practices like participating in the BSU. We are strictly a voluntary social network of all types of marginalized populations and that is exactly why we are separate from Umoja,” Silimon said.
The BSU is more of a social club in contrast to Umoja, the college’s learning community that stresses academic success.
“Umoja is a learning community geared towards facilitating higher education and general success rates through mentorship and a curriculum that forces us to become aware of our condition and history as black people in order to add some context to our heritage that we otherwise miss being a part of,” she said.
As a student coming from a different area, Bat-el Silimon dreaded the thought of coming to “white-washed SRJC,” as she said, until she came across the Umoja program. The program made her eager to get involved with black history and activism.
“I wish I could get black students to have the same type of concern for our community,” Silimon said, “I am hoping that involvement in student government, the ICC and school media outlets will help us get the support we need this semester to really improve the function of the BSU.”