by, Maddie Johnson and Kyla Guilfoil, Web Editor & Staff Writer
The Black Lives Matter movement has taken the country by storm and has revitalized the Civil Rights movement that has persisted for decades. At Manhattan College, the BLM fight is being represented and pursued by the college’s Black Student Union.
The Black Student Union has been a club at Manhattan College since 2017, but only received formal recognition as a club by the Office of Student Engagement this past summer. According to the club’s treasurer, Diane Yomkil, both the college administration and the student government had to vote this summer to declare BSU as an official college club. Yomkil, as well as the club’s president and vice president, Mamady Ballo and Ashley Baptiste, said that the club’s officiality shouldn’t have been a long time coming.
“I do think it took too long to declare the club as an official club,” Yomkil said. “Manhattan College is composed of people who come from different places, we have diversity. We have people from different countries, and we have African and Black students here. And so, we created the BSU club to create this strong community bond between those African and Black students.”
To Yomkil, the fact that many other clubs were recognized as official and BSU wasn’t – at least for the first three years of its existence – was unusual as BSU is one of the college’s organizations that aims to make the college campus more inclusive. Members thought the club’s official status should have been a no-brainer, and the fact that a vote was needed to officialize the club surprised Yomkil.
“I kind of find it strange that we had to vote, or they had to vote, for BSU to be an official club, because it made it seem like if we didn’t have enough votes, we would have never been an official club, and that’s kind of strange to me,” she said.
On top of being an official club, the BSU executive board is certain the club will look different this year.
“I think we’re changing with the current climate right now,” Baptiste said. “There’s a lot going on, like police brutality and racial justice, and I think we want to shine a light on all of that, as a club.”
The current issues facing the country will impact the club’s activities this semester. Last year, the club dedicated a lot of time to getting to know one another by creating a strong community bond and doing fun activities. This semester, BSU members will address more issues about racial discrimination and plan to invite guest speakers to add to these difficult discussions.
Throughout summer break, many discussions about how the college handles inclusivity began in response to the tragic events that sparked conversations about systematic racism. The BSU became very active on their Instagram account, @mc.bsu, informing followers about their views on decisions that exemplified the college’s efforts to try to make the campus more inclusive.
On June 29, the executive board of BSU met with President O’Donnell to talk about ways the administration could help promote inclusivity on campus. Controversial decisions, such as the name of Raymond W. Kelly ’63 Student Commons Building and the college’s recent partnership with Aramark, were also discussed.
“We did talk about the renaming of Kelly Commons,” Baptiste said. “[O’Donnell] wasn’t willing to adhere to that. He said we would have to discuss further but we also talked about creating inclusivity in classrooms and including more black history classes, and just minority faculty members and stuff like that. He did help up with the recognition of the club and we wanted $10,000 allocated towards the budget and he made sure to get that money for us.”
Some club members also thought they were not heard by MC when expressing concern about working with Aramark. Ballo stressed how she wants the college to start taking action and putting into effect these crucial changes.
“As far as the Aramark deal and the diversity council, I feel like the school has not listened because they have signed a contract with a company that they knew would raise major concerns for the Jasper students and parents,” Ballo said. “As for the diversity council being a student representative for BSU, I really hope this council is ready for change to be made on campus. I want Manhattan College to understand that in order for real substantial change to happen on campus we must all voice our concerns and not just say that we want change rather our actions prove it.”
The immense changes that COVID-19 has brought onto campus life at colleges has made BSU more determined than ever to introduce students to a club that addresses serious social issues and promotes positivity and kindness to its members. Yomkil discussed how the BSU executive board plans on organizing club meetings that do just that even with the downside of not being able to connect with members face-to-face. The club will give students a chance to get to know each other while discussing social issues in an in-depth manner.
BSU members are eager to organize a club that’s fun and focuses on relevant issues in today’s society. They strongly urge all Manhattan College students to come to the meetings and participate in the activities lined up for this semester.
“Although it is called the Black Student Union, you don’t have to be black to be in a club, you don’t have to be a student of color, everyone is invited into BSU,” Yomkil said. “You should join this club because we plan a lot of fun stuff for you guys this semester and I feel like it would just be good for you to kind of know what’s going on around our communities, the structural issues and the struggles that we have.”
The first meeting date for BSU will be on Wednesday, Sept. 16 at 7 p.m. To learn more about BSU, follow the club’s Instagram account, @mc.bsu.