By Jack Margaros
The newly established Black Student Union (BSU) at Springfield College enjoyed a successful fall semester in its inaugural year.
Collaborating with other student organizations such as Men of Excellence (MOE), Women of Power (WOP) and Student Society for Bridging Diversity (SSBD), the BSU was able to build a lot of momentum towards several initiatives related to anti-racism, diversity and inclusion.
“Our actions lined up perfectly with our expectations,” senior Suraji Omoru, President of the Black Student Union said. “I do have to say our expectations were definitely achieved, but it was with the help of all the other clubs as well, and that took us way past what we expected to happen.”
In wake of the social justice protests that occurred last summer, the four clubs organized a March for Action on Alden Street. Students, faculty and administration marched in support of the equal treatment of Black students on campus. It’s something that hadn’t happened on Springfield College’s campus in nearly 50 years.
“The March (for Action) gave me chills,” Omoru said. “All the chants that we were saying and having (the students) chant it right back at us, it’s just something I never thought would’ve happened on Springfield College’s campus.”
The March came shortly after the four diversity groups met with Springfield College President Mary-Beth Cooper with a list of demands back in September: a mandatory, one-credit Anti-Black racism course; to develop an explicit no tolerance policy around hate speech; the hiring of a Black counselor in the counseling center; more funding for the Office of Multicultural Affairs; a method to honor protestors of the later 1960s and 1970s; and lastly, a high-profile speaker for SEAT at the Table.
The demands, if met, were to serve as evidence of tangible change on campus, as opposed to just talk that seemed to lead to a dead end in the past. After an initial disconnect, President Cooper started putting these demands into motion.
Five months later, the College has delivered on all accounts. In November, the Office of General Counsel sent out a statement addressing hate speech. The Multicultural Fund was created to “support and further engage the campus community on issues of difference and belonging with the hope of enriching the cultural life on campus.”
Deconstructing Racism, SPCO 102, was implemented as the one credit, anti-racism course that started in the spring of 2021. Heshima Moja was the keynote speaker that kicked off SEAT at the Table week. Moja has composed music for television stations such as Nickelodeon and PBS, in addition to several films.
Ways to permanently honor the protestors of the 60s and 70s are still being finalized, although a plaque has been brought up as an option. Lastly, Springfield College moved swiftly to hire a Black counselor, as Tiffany Benford occupies the position.
“I applaud the institution for making things move so quickly,” Omoru said. “(Hiring a Black counselor) to me was a goal that I really wanted to accomplish.”
Looking ahead to the spring, Omoru says the BSU is mostly focused on implementing a new plan of financial aid for scholarships, and creating more donor scholarships.
“We feel like Springfield should be a lot more affordable, or at least have the funds available to make it more affordable for students to apply, or even get on merit.”
Additionally, further steps are being taken to address the relationship between Public Safety and Black students on campus. One of the BSU’s goals in the fall was to create some type of public safety reform.
In December, Springfield announced the Public Safety Diversity Implementation Task Force to identify areas of improvement and suggest actions that will promote equity and safety among the Springfield community.
This semester, Omoru is looking to build from that momentum.
“We’re pushing more for the Public Safety task force to have actual implementation instead of just talks,” Omoru said. “There was a new Senate bill that was passed that relates to public safety forces and making sure that task forces are having them go through the proper training, having them go through diversity and certain levels of training, so their awareness and cultural humility can be better.”
Omoru said that President Cooper has continued to be outspoken in her support of BSU’s initiatives, and plans to take action.
“We have so much interaction with (Mary-Beth Cooper). She’s stepping up and saying we need to address this.”
The Black Student Union is hosting events related to Dialogue Across Differences on February 18, 19 and 25. Otherwise, the push for more scholarships and proper training for Public Safety officers will be the bulk of their work in the spring semester.
Photo Courtesy of Black Student Union