Finding a space where you belong can be challenging for any college student, especially for those who are part of historically marginalized and underrepresented populations. However, the Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) Center strives to foster an environment of inclusivity for student groups through the Coalition for Justice and Diversity (CDSJ). The CDSJ serves as an umbrella organization for the registered cultural and social identity groups on campus. One such organization, the Black Student Union, empowers Black students on campus, acts as a support group, and provides a safe space to come together as a community.

The JEDI Center and the Black Student Union’s advisor, Director of Student Inclusion and Diversity Malissa Ismaila, supports the group by planning and funding the organization’s events and finding opportunities for members to participate in. Recently, seven members of the organization traveled to Texas A&M University in College Station for the Southwestern Black Student Leadership Conference. While in attendance, the students heard from distinguished speakers, participated in creative workshops, and networked with students from other universities.

In preparation for the conference, Ismaila wanted to create unity among the students attending. Of the seven members who attended, many hadn’t met one another yet and ranged from first-year students to seniors. Ismalia hosted pre-conference meetings where the students discussed their resumes, updated LinkedIn profiles, and even created individual business cards to hand out.

“We had so much group cohesion,” Ismaila said. “It was great to see them blossom from some having never met or never attending a conference before to experiencing something with people they can now call lifelong friends.”

In addition to attending conferences with other Black Student Unions and Associations from colleges around the country, Southwestern’s members meet bi-weekly on Tuesdays from 6-7 p.m. in the JEDI Center. They discuss everything from their lives to experiences and happenings on campus. Taylor Bass ’24, the Black Student Union president, says the organization provides her and her peers a place to gather and share what is on their minds.

“There’s just something about being around people who are like you and who have the same experiences as you,” Bass remarked. “Black Americans have a unique experience, and I know a lot of people don’t understand that, so I feel comfort and validation as a member of this group.”

In August 2022, the organization rebranded and changed its name from E.B.O.N.Y. to the Black Student Union. Ismaila spearheaded this change so the organization could be part of the national coalition of black student unions rather than an insular organization on a small college campus. By being part of a national organization, Southwestern’s members are able to attend national conferences, seek out scholarships, and have stronger name recognition.

Going forward, Bass and Ismaila would like to see the Black Student Union grow its membership, invite the campus community and people with other identities to attend and collaborate in educational initiatives, and continue to build campus inclusivity.

In celebration of Black History Month, the JEDI center is hosting a screening of the film Till on February 16 at 7 p.m. in the McCombs Ballroom and a fashion show and gala on February 25 at 7 p.m. in the McCombs Ballroom. If you are interested in becoming a member of the Black Student Union, contact the JEDI Center, Taylor Bass, or Malissa Ismaila for more information.