In response to a summer rife with racial tension and violence, the DVHS Black Student Union (BSU) is starting the 2016 school year with a renewed sense of direction and purpose.
BSU, which has been a well-established club at Dougherty for a number of years, has been deeply affected by several of the events that occurred over the summer— specifically, the shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. According to club co-presidents, juniors Nia Dorsey and Collin Fisher, these incidents have had a large impact on their outlook and goals for this year.
“We built our planning and our themes around these tragedies. They have definitely impacted the way we will structure the club,” said Fisher.
Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were killed by law enforcement officers in early July. Their deaths sparked protests in several major U.S. cities, as well as requests for full-scale civil rights investigations. Protests were marred with violence in Dallas, Texas, when five police officers were shot and killed just days later.
Many people, among them Dorsey and Fisher, see the deaths of African Americans at the hands of law enforcement as a disturbing sign of racism at an institutional level.
“Black people are dying left and right by the actions of the police,” said Dorsey. When asked about what effect the shootings had on her personally, she answered, “I felt unsafe, even in the safest community.”
This view has factored heavily into BSU’s vision, one that seems to both build on and differ from previous years.
“I felt weak [that nothing was being done],” said Fisher. For him, the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, which occurred just a day apart, were a “tipping point.”
“BSU was where I wanted to start making a change,” he added.
When the two co-presidents joined the club their freshman year, they felt that more needed to be done to bring attention to relevant issues facing the black community. They said that it was a more private club that kept to itself and was not well-known by students on campus.
This year, they want to change that by raising awareness and making Black Student Union more visible to the wider student body. They also wanted to promote inclusion within the club, emphasizing that one does not have to be Black to take part.
Specifically, they changed the frequency of meetings from sporadic to biweekly to separate committed members from the resume-boosting ones, and have planned community outreach and club bonding events. Among these include performing a traditional dance at Culture Fest, volunteering with special-needs students, attending a Stanford leadership seminar and striving to “represent” the Black population. In addition to this, the officers have planned monthly themes— for example, celebrating Black History Month in February. They hope these efforts will bring attention to BSU, and by extension to the wider issues relevant to the Black community.
They also hope to address problems impacting other minorities and people of color, not just African Americans.
“We can further the club by incorporating other minorities,” said Fisher. These efforts will “spread awareness and participation.”
They stressed that Black Student Union and its members will combat racism “on an individual level … to make a large difference in the community.”
Dorsey added, “We need political standing [in solidarity] with the Black Lives Matter movement.” The pair criticized #AllLivesMatter for erasing the struggles African Americans face, saying, “While all lives matter, we need to stress the Black lives because clearly, they are not being valued.”
Black Lives Matter is an international activist organization founded in the aftermath of the shooting of Trayvon Martin in 2012. The #AllLivesMatter, although not an actual organization, is a common response to BLM.
The pair re-emphasized the invitation to join BSU extends to students who are not of African-American descent.
“You don’t have to be Black to join,” stressed Dorsey. “These issues affect all of us, at the end of the day.”