Widener’s Black Student Union Marks 50 Years
In 1969, on the heels of the Civil Rights Movement, a group of then-PMC Colleges students started the Black Student Union.
It brought together students of shared culture, interests, and experiences.
Fifty years later, the BSU is still going strong, and is one of the oldest, continuously-running recognized student organizations at what is now Widener University.
All year, the BSU has been pausing to reflect on its golden anniversary.
During Homecoming, current and former members gathered to celebrate, reminisce, and make connections across the generations. And the BSU launched a 50th anniversary commemorative T-shirt fundraiser in support of Widener’s African American Alumni Scholarship Fund.
To be here 50 years later is a huge milestone, and I carry it with pride.” — Inesha Ellis ’20, BSU president
Over the decades, Widener’s BSU has changed and evolved with the times; its programs and focus shifting to meet current students’ needs and desires.
But the heart of its mission remains the same – sponsoring activities of common interest for black and multicultural students, providing a “home away from home,” building a sense of comradery and community, promoting academic success and leadership, and offering a support system.
“I have been blessed to cross paths with many students who found a community within the BSU and as a result became leaders in honor societies, student government, other recognized student organizations, and throughout the university,” said Michelle Meekins-Davis, Widener’s Chief Diversity Officer and a longtime BSU advisor.
The sense of comradery drew Nathalie Carril-King ’12 to the BSU her freshman year.
“Being introduced to the Black Student Union, there was a feeling of belonging knowing there was an organization that consisted of students that shared my beliefs and invested in my development, not only as a student, but as a leader,” said Carril-King, who served as the organization’s president during her time on campus.
“BSU programs and meetings created a safe space for black and multicultural students that attracted me to want to become more involved in the organization's efforts and make a difference on campus, as well as within the City of Chester,” added Carril-King.
Committed to diversity and inclusion, the BSU welcomes members of all backgrounds, and frequently collaborates with and supports other recognized student groups. The BSU has also served as the springboard for the creation of other multicultural student organizations.
“The organization strives to uplift community, educate others, and cultivate change through its programming and service,” said Kortne Smith, current BSU advisor and program coordinator for Widener’s office of Multicultural Student Affairs. “It’s an important space for black students and an important organization for all students.”
Recent BSU programs have addressed a wide range of topics, from mental health to Black Lives Matter. A recent event called “Am I Still Black If…” looked at stereotypes outside and within the black community. There are also annual Kwanzaa celebrations, programming around Martin Luther King, Jr. Day., service projects in Chester, and more.
The Widener BSU has fostered strong leadership through the decades, and its members have gone on to accomplished careers. One of its founding members is Pulitzer Prize winner Brent Staples ’73, a New York Times editorial writer.
“We had great leaders and that got handed down,” said alumnus John Linder, who joined the BSU when he arrived on campus in 1970.
Linder is a former mayor of Chester and a college professor, and still meets and communicates regularly with fellow BSU alumni.
“I’m proud to have been part of the BSU,” he said. “We count it as significant to our experience at Widener.”
Today’s organization is also committed to providing networking opportunities for members, connecting current students with alumni and other professionals.
“BSU allowed you to network with alumni from previous years to help you build your foundation and to hear their stories of what Widener looked like when they attended the university,” said immediate past president Destiny Saunders ’19. “Hearing about life after college and knowing that not everything happens at once is relief we've obtained from connecting with alumni as well.”
To mark the 50th anniversary, BSU members past and present took to the organization’s Instagram account (@bsuwideneruniversity) to share 50 different reasons (one per day) of why the group is important to them and the community at large. Here are just a few entries:
Reason 1: “ BSU is important because it brings awareness and attention to diversity & inclusion. Everyone is welcomed to join the conversation. The conversation is much deeper than color it brings attention and awareness to race, sex, religion, sexuality and so much more. This is why BSU is important.” - Widener Alumni, Former President Rasheed Douyon