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‘A Space for Us’: Highlighting UCI’s Black Student Union

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The Black Student Union (BSU) at UCI is a multicultural organization that acts as a representative voice for the school’s Black student population.

Founded in 1971, following the desegregation period in the U.S., its initial purpose was to serve as political outreach and to aid Black students in academic endeavors on campus. Paired with the implementation of the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) statewide, BSU’s mission statement defined its goal and objective as working for “a more humane and culturally relevant college experience for the students on this campus.”

During these initial few years, BSU worked very closely with the African American studies department to help cultivate a healthy learning environment for Black students that were attending UCI. Its modern purpose continues to hold true to these values while also modifying itself to better accommodate the needs of its members. One of the main ways it has done so is through the amplification of student voices. 

From its beginning, BSU has worked to use its resources to better advocate for student needs, a step it takes to establish inclusive spaces for students campuswide. In advocating for these needs and through collaboration with other cultural organizations present at UCI, BSU aided in the creation of the Cross Cultural Center (CCC) in 1974 as well as the Student Outreach and Retention Center (SOAR) in 2011. 

With continued demands for more inclusive spaces and culture-specific resources, BSU was also able to assist in the establishment of key spaces for Black students, including the Center for Black Cultures, Resources & Research (CBCRR) and themed housing for Black students in Arroyo Vista. 

BSU co-event coordinator Nicole Chesnut smiles for the camera at BSU’s ‘90s-themed annual cookout. Photo provided by Arletha Saint-Jean / BSU

The organization has grown in structure, membership size and engagement compared to its founding years. To better understand BSU and their more current standings, The New University spoke with the BSU executive board and discussed what growth they have seen over the past few years.

“Just from my experience with the organization, I’ve seen a lot of growth … My first meeting that [I attended], we had a good portion of maybe 40 students there [whereas] our first meeting of the year this year, it was around 60 to 70,” second-year social policy and public service student and co-chair of the BSU executive board Kareem Wali Muhammad said.

In addition to creating safe and inclusive spaces for students across the UCI student body, BSU has been a key safe space for many Black students seeking community while attending the university. Members noted feeling a sense of familiarity and comfort from engaging with the organization.

“I went to a high school where the BSU was literally non-existent until my senior year, so I didn’t really have any type of support … My first year in BSU was a little rocky [because] a lot of my classes would overlap with the [meeting times], so every time I was there, I was able to engage, really be truly happy and find community on campus,” second-year biological sciences student and co-secretary of the BSU executive board Rekik Fikre said.

Each of the BSU executive members noted their feelings of community, passion and familiarity with the organization. Each with their own reasons for applying and joining the BSU executive board, all agreed that their efforts were about the organization’s members and making sure that no matter how long it took them to find BSU, they would always be there, ready and waiting. They expressed that BSU’s passion and achievements are the result of a collective effort.

“It’s not just an [executive] board effort, it’s a BSU effort,” second-year psychology student and co-secretary of the BSU executive board Darius Simms said. “It’s not hard to get [the general body] to feel how we feel because they too are seeking community.”

BSU has continued to prioritize the community that it cultivates and provides. With Black students occupying less than 10% of the undergraduate student population since 2020, many BSU members expressed that having a community that Black students can come to, rely on and find others that relate to them while navigating higher education is pivotal.

“There is power in numbers,” fourth-year criminology, law and society student and financial chair of the BSU executive board Eeron Wilson II said. “You know ants, by themselves, are incredibly strong, but when they’re together as a collective, they can do anything. And in a collective, as we are together, we can make stands. We can make changes.”

BSU attends the annual Afrikan Black Coalition (ABC) Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada in January. Photo provided by Anthony Smart Jr. / BSU

Though serving a smaller student population has proven itself to be a struggle for BSU, the organization does not view it as something that is an issue, but rather what makes it unique. As BSU continues to mature and their general body continues to change, the organization hopes to continue providing spaces for the UCI community, especially the Black student population, and to make both the history of the organization as well as the cultures it represents accessible and known to all.

When asked what the BSU has in store for the future, in addition to hosting more community gatherings and discussions, the BSU executive members hinted at something bigger that they are excited to share with the student body. Though choosing not to elaborate, they did decide to give The New University one hint.

“Get your suits and your dresses ready,” Simms said.

Makyla McLeod is a Campus News Apprentice for the winter 2023 quarter. She can be reached at