William Jewell College’s Black Student Alliance (BSA) has been renamed and revamped beginning in the 2020-2021 school year. Previously named the Black Student Association, BSA aims to foster racial awareness, critically engage the community and increase its own relevance and usefulness in the community.
The BSA cabinet released an open letter explaining their name change and issuing a challenge to the community to reconsider, evaluate and critique the pervasiveness of Whiteness in society.
“Rather than cultivating a closed circuit of camaraderie within the isolated confines of a ‘Black Student Association’ we will formally move forward as the ‘Black Student Alliance’. To better achieve our goals and forge productive relationships with the levers of power and influence on this campus, the concept of ‘allyship’ ought to be an ever present, primary concern of our activities,” states the open letter.
Tavarus Pennington, president of BSA and junior communications and English major, elaborated that the current cabinet had felt BSA previously failed to feel relevant to their experiences.
“The honest truth is that only one out of the four members of the cabinet now had been to a BSA meeting during our years at Jewell prior to joining the cabinet. So we didn’t have any unique ties to the specific tradition that BSA at Jewell had grown accustomed to. We kind of looked at our collective apathy towards BSA as demonstrating a need to rethink the way that BSA is a useful campus organization,” Pennington said.
The open letter released by BSA calls for more direct engagement with the reality of Blackness and more awareness of racial inequity, with the goal of facilitating consciousness.
“[T]he dislocation of Black consciousness is a natural impediment of White civil society. It seems inarguable that the presence of Black tradition, language, thought and scholarship is at a deficit with the dominant process of learning proffered in a systemically White world. This is not a hopeless situation. Simply one that requires action,” the letter states.
“We, the Black Student Alliance, seek to lean into the heightened awareness for racial inequity that the long-silenced activists, organizers, artists, writers and teachers have been leading,” the letter continues. “We’ll do this by energizing the same passion toward discovery that drives the Nonames, Ta-Nahisi Coateses, Angela Davises and Patrisse Cullorses of our society.”
Pennington described two primary goals BSA has for the year. The first is to create a Black library at Jewell and the second is to engage 80 percent of the Black student population.
“We chose these goals as part of the pillars we have chosen to guide us this semester, those being support, community, and edification. We knew that it would be difficult to execute many of the ideas we had when we started thinking about our goals last March but mainly we chose the ones we did because we felt that they remained achievable even under current [COVID-19] conditions,” said Pennington.
BSA is an inclusive community that emphasizes the role of allyship in pursuing racial justice. Pennington reiterated this commitment in his final comments.
“The only thing I think that people should know about BSA is that absolutely everyone is welcome. The idea and meaning behind our Black Student Alliance is quite simply the opportunity to pursue alliance in a form that doesn’t require concessions and instead motivates understanding. We thought ‘organization’ to have a certain exclusive sense to it that we did not feel was compatible with the direction of our efforts as a productive member of the campus community,” concluded Pennington.
BSA’s ultimate goal is to foster racial consciousness by identifying systematic marginalization and obfuscation of Black experiences in society. The cabinet expressed a commitment to supporting its members and to working toward racial equity. They concluded their open letter by offering a request to the collective Jewell community.
“BSA has a humble request for our campus of learners, educators and administrators: That you engage in an examination, to any extent, of the ubiquity of White culture. We further request that you consider joining our conversation and opening yourself up to truths that compete with your preconceived system of belief,” states the open letter.
The BSA cabinet consists of Pennington; Dre’Shon Tolbert, vice president and sophomore music education and secondary education major; Marcus Jones, treasurer and sophomore nonprofit leadership major; and Daecia Haynes, secretary and sophomore psychological sciences major. BSA can be contacted via email.