Celebration was in the air as past and present members of the Black Student Union celebrated 50 years on Indiana State’s campus on Feb. 21, 2018. The event featured a full spread of soul food and cake and allowed members across generations to share their experiences with the organization.
“We met past presidents and members who created the organization and we talked about how far we’ve come,” said A’via Owensby, a sophomore communication major. Owensby is the public relations officer for BSU. Professors, administrators and staff were present at the event as well
“The Black Student Union has achieved much at ISU. … We are one of the oldest Black Student Unions in the country,” said Crystal Reynolds, a researcher for the Office of the President and a graduate of Indiana State. “We were fortunate to partner with Incorporated Gathering, an ISU black alumni group … to host the event.” Student Affairs and ISU’s Alumni Office helped to sponsor the event, which included historical presentations and alumni speakers.
Organized in 1967 as the Negro Student Forum and recognized as an official university organization in 1968, the group underwent a couple of name changes before it became the Black Student Union in 1969.
Reynolds said the goal of the union was to provide opportunities to people of color for socialization, creativity, and the promotion of Afrocentric speakers and events. The group advocated for changes in the terms used to identify black people on campus, worked to promote black awareness, and created a sense of pride associated with being black, both on and off ISU’s campus.
The early group led many social movements on campus, including presenting a list of demands to the president after a campus race riot, a takeover of the administration building, and leading the “Confrontation Year.”
The late 1960s and early ’70s were active years for black students and faculty at Indiana State and resulted in the creation of the Afro Studies Program and the African American Cultural Center. The activist roots continued throughout the 1980s and 1990s with marches in support of making MLK a state holiday and the call for more minority professors, Reynolds said. The group continues to have activist roots today.
“The BSU has allowed me to get involved,” Owensby. “We network, meet new people and make friends. We do this while we learn more about Black students and black history, both on and off ISU’s campus. We also host activities for students.”
Like those before her, Owensby embraces being black on ISU’s campus and has learned to appreciate her ethnicity even more. Many programs that were established in the early years of BSU continue to thrive today. The Essence of a Man scholarship pageant continues to demonstrate black excellence and scholarship on ISU’s campus.
The BSU’s presence has been impactful for its first 50 years. There are a multitude of reasons to believe the future remains bright for the organization at ISU for the next 50 years.