Black Student Union Takes a Stand

“Courage is the most important virtue because without it, we cannot enact any of the other virtues,” RaeVen Ridgell said, current Black Student Union (BSU) president. That is what BSU is all about; standing up and breaking the silence for what people believe in.

Before IUPUI was a college, this area was home to an African American community. The community was moved out for the groundbreaking of this college and the classrooms students sit in every day. BSU has been pushing to get their sense of community back for almost half a century.

Ridgell is a political science major and says there are next to no black students in her class. The curriculum doesn’t involve learning from African Americans’ past endeavors. She questions how she is supposed to relate to Aristotle and other historical figures when she has no similarities and shares no common struggles with them.

Currently, the BSU has some short-term and intermediate goals they are striving for. This includes better communication via social media to get the BSU word out and for more members to join. More cultural competence courses, diversity in the curriculum, and more black faculty in the departments.

The overall long-term goal of the BSU is to build a Black Cultural Center. Why is the Multicultural Center (MC) not good enough when there is a black director? Firstly, the MC is home to LGBTQ, Asian Student Union, African Student Association, Filipino Student Association, Latino Student Association, Native American Student Alliance as well as Black Student Union. Khalilah Shabazz is African American and is the director for all of those different organizations, but BSU wants a director that is only concerned with their organization and not the whole Multicultural Center.

There are 2,920 African American students enrolled at IUPUI, with a four-year graduation rate under 25 percent.

“We are asking for a cultural center not to segregate but as a place where we can experience a sense of belonging, seeing that in my particular major I don’t study works by African Americans,” Ridgell said. “To progress, we are seeking space to talk, grieve, renew our spirits because of the overwhelming loss felt in our community due to gun violence and police brutality because whether or not you agree, being Black in America requires a mask that forces us to step beyond our pride and sense of self-worth for the sake of America’s comfort.”

When the BSU first went to the Chancellor Paydar and asked for a cultural center, they were turned away. The argument was that if there was one organization that got their own cultural center, then the school would have to give one to all of the organizations. They have another meeting next week, where the board will come back with strategic plans including budget, space, and resources allocated for the cultural center.

Their hope is that with this plan the Chancellor will have no option but to grant it.

While there are almost three thousand African American students on IUPUI's campus, the BSU needs more members. The more students join the BSU the more likely Chancellor Paydar will grant members their own cultural center. Members only pay $15 for a year, or $20 for a semester, to become voting members. This includes benefits like a skating party and access to discounted events.

A Black Cultural Center wouldn’t just be for the black community to get their sense of identity back. It would be for students of any race to get a better understanding of the culture.

“We were in a multicultural education class and she [white student] was speaking about black people but kept saying ‘colored.’ I pulled her to the side later and told her that it was a derogatory term and that people do not take kindly to its use. She was very apologetic and thankful for that,” Kasha Hayden, the MLK chair, said.

Members of the current BSU don't view it as pushing for a cultural center for themselves, but rather pushing for the generations ahead them, so black students will have a place to learn and educate themselves on their community and culture. As a result more black students will become educators, lawyers or doctors, and the four-year graduation rate will increase.

“We shall have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people,” Martin Luther King Jr. said.