NINA COSDON, Editor-in-Chief—This semester, Black Student Union (BSU) meetings might look a little different. Their mission, however, remains the same.
Heaven Wade ‘21, a biochemistry major from Chicago and the Chief Minister of Denison’s Black Student Union, is confident that the BSU will continue to be a tight-knit community despite COVID restrictions.

BSU meetings will still be Fridays from 5:30-6:30 p.m. EST, but they will be on Zoom this semester. Wade said she thought these Zoom meetings could help cultivate relationships even more, because it will ensure that BSU members who are not on campus can still be included.

At BSU meetings pre-COVID, you could expect to see 80-100 students crowding the BSU space behind Smith Hall. Now, no more than 12 people can be in the space.
Wade said that the BSU still hopes to be a supportive community, “but now we’re leaning more toward our subcommittees to do that.”

The BSU has always used their subcommittees to build connections within such a large organization, and they hope to add even more this semester. These subcommittees are about 20-30 students, and run by volunteers from the BSU community, giving members even more opportunities to get involved.

Some of the subcommittees are arts-oriented, like Black Rhythms, which features Black artists in a variety of performance arts events during Black History Month. Another subcommittee is Culture Jam, which organizes a week of activities ending with a guest musician. There’s even a social committee to organize events outside of the weekly meeting time. This semester, the BSU hopes to plan more weekend activities like movie nights and dance classes, since students’ weekends have been significantly changed by COVID.

Mentoring is a key aspect of the BSU, and the sister-to-sister and brother-to-brother subcommittees are a big part of that. In these subcommittees, Wade said, students meet to talk about anything they want. The BSU also has a freshmen foundation, with positions that mirror the BSU’s executive board. Wade said that the main exec board mentors the freshmen exec board, which encourages them to join the main exec board the following year.

Wade said that the BSU’s main focus this semester is voting, and outlined their three-step plan: “We want to make sure that as many of our members who are eligible to vote, register to vote, and then we want to make sure they know who’s on their ballot…after that, we’re going to make sure that their ballot gets turned in and counted.”
Following the police murder of George Floyd and the subsequent protests, the BSU held programs, such as a virtual Juneteeth event, to talk about everything that was going on around the country. When asked if the myriad instances of police brutality over the summer changed things for the BSU, Wade said that while it brought to light some issues that need to be societally addressed, the BSU’s mission remained the same: “The BSU has always been around to protect our Black and brown students on Denison’s campus, [even] while they’re outside of Denison’s campus…We’ve always been here as a support system. It really hasn’t changed that much, but now we’re just making sure people know when things like this happen that the BSU is handling it and trying to make sure that their sanity is still intact.”

Wade said that the BSU appreciated all the campus organizations that reached out to show support over the summer, and emphasized that the BSU is open to collaboration with other organizations. She added that org leaders are welcome to talk to the BSU about ways to include more students of color.

The first step, Wade said, is reaching out to the BSU. Wade emphasized that all students are welcome at BSU meetings, adding, “I definitely think talking to members of the BSU is very important.” That being said, “The BSU is not the voice of ‘what do Black people think?’”

White students who attend BSU meetings are encouraged to “come with an agenda” and be ready to learn and support.

Students who want to get involved with the BSU should follow their Instagram page @denisonbsu or email them at [email protected] You can also check out the BSU’s involvement fair video on CLIC’s website.

BSU Executive Board members Victoria Heard ‘21, Heaven Wade ‘21, Aniaha Ortiz ‘23, Yaz Simpson ‘23, Gigi Jones ‘21, Ray Walker ‘22 and Austin Davis ‘23 during BLM Blackout on Friday, August 21, where students wore all black to commemorate Black lives lost to police brutality. Students posted photos of themselves on social media wearing all black with #BLMBLACKOUT. Photo courtesy of Heaven Wade
Students attend the first meeting of Sister to Sister last year. The group is a place for anyone who identifies as women of color to get together and unwind after a long week by chatting and participating in group activities. Photo courtesy of Heaven Wade
The executive board of 2019-20 Freshman Foundation, left to right: Kwaku Akuffo, Austin Davis, Yazmine Simpson, Serina Dweh and Aniaha Ortiz. Photo courtesy of Heaven Wade
Similar to Sister to Sister, Brother to Brother serves as a support group for those identifying as men of color men to gather and talk about social life, school and anything between. Photo courtesy of Heaven Wade
The Black Student Union space can be found behind Smith Hall on East Quad, through the arch between Smith and Shorney Hall. The BSU was foundeed in 1969 at Denison, and has endured over 50 years on the Hill. Photo courtesy of Heaven Wade
Members gather and listen to a presentation at the BSU space behind Smith. Photo courtesy of Heaven Wade
Students attend a meeting in the BSU room. Meetings typically saw 80-100 attendees in past years, but this semester, the space has a maximum capacity of 12, and officers must find ways to conform to campus-wide guidelines. Photo courtesy of Heaven Wade