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Empowering voices: Fontbonne’s Black Student Union Legacy

HomeNews StoriesHomepage NewsHomepage NewsEmpowering voices: Fontbonne’s Black Student Union Legacy

When Junior and Fashion Merchandizing major, Ja’Mise Bailey came to Fontbonne University in her freshman year, she was reserved and unsure about being involved in the community. Being a member of a cultural and racial minority, she felt unsure of where she fit in, but she soon joined the Black Student Union (BSU) and made friends.

“It was intimidating at first, as a freshman,” Bailey recounted. “But my friends and I came up with a Spirit Week event in our freshman year, and now it has become an annual BSU event.”

The success of Spirit Week in her freshman year inspired Bailey to work her way up to being president of the Black Student Union at Fontbonne University, a position she holds today.

Bailey is one of five students who make up the executive board of the Black Student Union at Fontbonne University. In addition to Bailey, the board is comprised of Junior and Vice President, Ah’Mirah Spencer; Senior and Treasurer, Josh Rhodes; Junior and Social Media Coordinator, Mikki Edgar; and Fontbonne Student Government Representative, Genia McClure.

“BSU is an organization that prioritizes improving the conditions for Black students [at Fontbonne],” Bailey shared. “We provide a space for voices to be heard in our community.”

Fontbonne’s Black Student Union is an independent student organization at Fontbonne but is reflective of a larger history of Black student involvement in the United States. In 1966, Activist James Garret formed the first ever Black Student Union at San Francisco State College (now University). Garrett had been involved in the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in Mississippi. He was part of a wave of Black student leaders across the country working towards civil rights everywhere.

Black Student Unions across the country played an important role in combating racial discrimination in the 1960s and 1970s. They continue to be spaces for advocacy and a resource for student activism in predominantly white Institutions. They serve as a bridge for cultural understanding, ensuring that Black students and other marginalized groups are brought to the table when decisions are being made.

Today, Fontbonne’s BSU is in the business of advocacy and community building. Over the years the students in the organization have supported multicultural belonging by developing, planning, and executing events and panels.

“When you attend a PWI (Predominantly White Institution), It helps to see people who look like you,” Rhodes explained. “We [BSU] make sure they are welcomed not just as students, but as part of a community.”

Fontbonne’s BSU is part of a history of Black advocacy dating back to 1970, when a group of 8 African American Women, known today as The Fontbonne 8 staged an overnight Lock-in at the Jack C. Taylor Library to peacefully protest the treatment of Black students at the university (then College). The Fontbonne 8 produced a Manifesto that contained a list of demands to bridge the gap in communal and educational treatment between Black students and their white counterparts. BSU continues the Fontbonne 8’s legacy by working towards greater belonging for Black students on the Fontbonne campus.

“We have a lot of events that focus on Black culture and Black community,” Edgar shared, “We have Black professional panel events, that allow students to connect with Black professionals, and to get advice.”

Belonging at Fontbonne BSU extends to the larger community by connecting students to Black professionals and businesses.

“We host Black Creators Expos, which allow Black businesses to connect with students and we try to support our events with food from Black [vendors]” Edgar added.

The board of Fontbonne’s BSU has worked to bring culturally relevant events to the students on campus, including a Fontbonne Wildin’ Out, based on the popular show hosted by comedian Nick Cannon, and ‘Black Jeopardy’ a version of the hit show based on African American culture and history. These events are more than just entertainment. They provide a space for Black students at Fontbonne to connect and feel recognized in their experience. BSU’s representative in the Fontbonne Student Government believes that the advocacy piece.

“It is important to give a voice back to everyone, to make sure everyone can feel heard and seen,” McClure explained.

All board members work towards organizing, planning, and executing events, and getting other students involved with BSU at Fontbonne.

“I think it is important to highlight how much these students do,” said the Director of Multicultural Affairs and advisor to Fontbonne BSU, Sierra McClellon-Hulsey. “They are planning, organizing, and budgeting for every event. They make use of important skills like time management, leadership, and communication.”

The board members believe their experience at Fontbonne’s BSU has helped shape a holistic education at the university.

Bailey, who wants to start a business after graduating from Fontbonne believes her experience as president of BSU is building her resilience.

“I want to own my own company, [in the future], and now, I feel like I am learning the ins and outs of organization” Bailey shared, “[In] my freshman year, I wasn’t looking to get involved, it was intimidating, but now I’m confident in what I do.”

“Watching [bailey’s] leadership has helped me learn to navigate tough situations” BSU Vice President Ah’Mirah Spencer shared “Joining BSU allowed me to be more involved in my community and gain more connections. I want to start a non-profit and being in this leadership role has helped me learn how to get things done and work alongside other people who run things.”

Rhodes shared how working as BSU’s treasure has taught him to be creative with budgetary constraints.

“You get to see how things work from a different point of view” He said about being treasurer, “Sometimes when people go to events, they criticize it. Few people ask how much money the event had to work with. How did they make something culturally significant but still adhere to the University or institution’s policy with money?”

“I would also like to start a non-profit and being on the other side of organizing prepares you to ask how we are going to work with a limited amount of money but still be significant to our community.?” Rhodes added. “You don’t have to be the biggest or the baddest, sometimes you just need to touch people who need it”

In observation of this year’s Black History Month, Fontbonne’s BSU is working to bring the community together with events that celebrate Black culture at its history at Fontbonne. The organization has hosted a Sip and Paint event and will be hosting a Black Professional Panel on February 27. Fontbonne BSU is organized under the Office of Multicultural Affairs at Fontbonne. Members of BSU’s board also serve as interns with MCA putting on such events as Music and a movie and the Black History Month Black Jeopardy which will be held on February 22.


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