BSU: where are Y-O-U?


Lenita Marie Johnson, Staff Writer

The history of the Black Student Union (BSU) on campus is a story of ups and downs.

In the past few years, the group was active with a very significant presence among black students. Now there is only a mere handful of members and very few activities.

This leaves me wondering, why is this so?

I’ve begun asking black students I see on campus if they are members. If they say no – which I already know is the case – I ask them why not? More often than not they have what I feel is a lame excuse like they don’t have time, or they didn’t know the club exists.

The Associated Student Body rejected the proposed BSU during the 1960s. According to school records and ASB minutes, the ASB leadership had a fear that the group would become a segregated club. The BSU was opposed time and again by hundreds of students according to minutes from past meetings.

According to past yearbooks, it wasn’t until the mid-’60s that the BSU came into existence as a formal Santa Rosa Junior College club. It’s been reported by former students who were active, that some meetings received support by the Bay Area chapter of the Black Panther Party based out of Oakland. The club organized events and activities open to all students and the public.

Fast forward to today.

When you attend a meeting three students is considered a full room.

Damien Square was a recent former BSU president. The club held fundraisers to take a trip to Africa and had a significant number of active members under his leadership, which was often considered extremely radical by some members.

Today the group is making an effort to have a presence on campus by helping feed football players during home games, as well as assisting in food distribution for all SRJC students on Wednesdays at Bertolini Hall. The club’s mission includes bringing together black students at SRJC. “We want to get the word out that any conflicts are in the past,” club President Dyonna Johnson said.

BSU does hold special events open to the public during February highlighting black history – sometimes in conjunction with Feminists United and MeChA. In the ‘70s and ‘80s, the BSU hosted dances, parties and events, according to Dr. Michael Hale, who is among the current faculty advisors. Dr. Andre Larue and Jessica Loggins of the UMOJA (Swahili for unity) program also assist in facilitating the club.

Batel Silimon, a past BSU president, says the club is committed to “connecting with like-minded folks.” Silimon became president after Damion Square, who was extremely active last year as president in attracting new members and having a black presence. Silimon adds it is important to stay connected to BSU groups at other schools like Sonoma State University.

“Having a leadership position also looks good on a resume,” she said. “BSU needs to be an open space for folks to build a community that is dynamic while being a safe space for students.”

Elias Hinit is a former BSU president and recently became the first black commencement speaker at SRJC. He now attends UC Berkeley where he is active in its BSU. “In order to grow, it depends on individuals being passionate about the group. Hosting a party or barbeque, anything to bring folks together. Sometimes you have to start small to grow and get connected with the community on campus and in Sonoma County,” Hinit said.

It goes without saying that if the group is to witness a growth in membership and be an active and vital student organization, more student members are needed.

That could include a massive public relations effort on the part of current members to get the word out on campus and in the community that BSU is active. A membership drive would help. Encourage all students – part-time and full-time – to join the group.

It’s that simple…it’s not rocket science.

BSU meets on Tuesdays at noon in Emeritus Hall, room 1692.

Lenita Marie Johnson is the BSU Inter-Club Council liaison.