Column: On predominantly white campuses, black student organizations are necessary

My experience at the Big XII Conference on black student government helped me to not only better understand why black-oriented spaces are necessary, but it made me proud to be part of one.

Roshae Hemmings is a first year journalism major at MU. She is an opinion columnist who writes about civil rights.

“Change-makers, creators and pioneers is what defines the Black student leaders at University of Missouri. Leadership has always been our foundation. We are excited to host in 2019 and to exercise as visionaries in working towards the purpose of all Black students, near and far.”

This statement, released in a series of tweets in Sept. 2018, announced the Big XII Conference on Black Student Government’s return to MU’s campus for its 2019 iteration titled “Leadership Reloaded.” During Big XII, which took place Feb. 21-24 2019, schools such as Baylor, the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Central Missouri participated in workshops and listened to keynote speakers like MU alumni Payton Head and CNN political commentator Symone Sanders.

The speakers and workshops were phenomenal. I learned a great deal and left each session inspired and a bit more knowledgeable. However, the most impactful part of the conference was meeting, interacting with and learning from black students from other schools. Through my Big XII experience, I learned 3 things:

One, leading while black is hard.

I feel like this is kind of obvious, as well as a grave understatement. We’ve seen this on a larger scale, most prominently with former president Barack Obama and on a smaller scale with student leaders. From the incessant microaggressions, scrutiny and exclusion to important conversations lead by other campus organizations, being a black student leader is no easy task.

The difficulty increases for black women and queer black people, as they are often ostracized and not supported in both black, queer and feminist spaces, respectively. Not to mention that student leaders often deal with intense bigotry, such as the circulation of a video featuring Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity members saying a racist chant at the University of Oklahoma in 2015, that can be triggering when having to combat them on a consistent basis. Despite this, the young, passionate leaders at Big XII and across the country continue to resist, persist and effect change in the face of adversity. This is to be applauded.

Second, black student government is important.

Big XII helped me to further examine exactly why black student governments, associations and unions are vital on predominantly white campuses. Often times, those whose needs and concerns do not fall within the majority are given the smallest amount of attention or are overlooked all together.

This is something that black students are prone to, prompting them to create alcoves where their voices, cultures and stories are heard and appreciated. In talking with students from other colleges and universities, I was able to hear stories and share experiences that further validated the need for black-centric organizations. Furthermore, several students spoke about the lack, and subsequent need, for intersectionality within their respective schools’ social justice centers.

In the LGBTQ workshop I had the opportunity to attend, many queer students expressed their discontent with events and spaces that highlighted the blackness as well as their inclusion under the LGBTQ umbrella. For many black students, their Black Student Unions and Black Student Associations are where they find comfort and a sense of belonging on their campuses.

Lastly, there is a wealth of knowledge to be shared among young, black leaders.

One of the coolest things to see throughout Big XII was the collaboration and camaraderie that came along with along with the weekend. No matter where we came from, what school we went to or how long we’ve been a part of our respective organizations, we all had the desire to learn from each other and bring the knowledge we acquired back to our campuses and students. There was an overwhelming push to see one another succeed, and genuine happiness when a student or school was celebrated for their achievements. Not only did this make me proud to be part of The Legion of Black Collegians, it also helped me to see that the hardships we face as Black students and the work that we do isn’t for nothing.

“Change-makers, creators and pioneers” defines the black student leaders at MU, as well as those within Big XII and beyond. We are fierce, persistent and dedicated to making our campuses, respective cities and country better for those after us.

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