Black Student Union — A Bridge to Better Understanding
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Black Student Union — A Bridge to Better Understanding

During the protests in response to the racial injustice events in the first part of 2020 that included the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, Breonna Taylor in Kentucky and George Floyd in Minnesota, a group of Black Salus University students wanted their voices heard more frequently on the issues of the day.

After a University-sponsored roundtable discussion in May 2020 which allowed Salus community members to air their views, and a consultation with Ruth Shoge, OD ‘06, Resident ‘07, director of the University’s Summer Enrichment Program (SEP), the students decided to form the Black Student Union (BSU).

Tavii El and Johana Fortune“We wanted all the minorities to connect, particularly Black people and other people of color,” said Tavii El, ‘21MSOT, president of the BSU. “And, we wanted to have a platform where we could discuss issues and current events in a safe space.”

According to the group’s constitution, participating students will not only actively learn about each other’s professions, but will also promote all professions to the youth in surrounding communities through outreach and regular community service events to provide insight, guidance, and education for all members of the community to be allies. 

In addition to El serving as the BSU’s inaugural president, the slate of officers includes Brandon Garces, ‘23OD, as vice president; Johana Fortune, ‘21MSOT, as secretary; and Camille Menns, ‘21MSOT, as treasurer. The group has 15 to 20 active general members and meets virtually every other Thursday.

Forming a new group is difficult under normal circumstances, but for a group that’s mission includes being out in the community and advocating for the various professions in which Salus students are trained, the challenges have become even more complicated for a group formed in the shadow of a nationwide pandemic. That prevents a physical “being together,” and an actual in-person sense of unity, according to El.

Still, being virtual hasn’t stopped the group from forging ahead. At its regular meetings, members usually address one specific topic, then open the meeting for frank discussions. Some meetings are open to non-members as well. 

Meeting topics have included cultural appropriation and what that means; “colorism,” something within the Black culture where people are treated differently if they have light-colored skin as opposed to dark-colored skin; and current events, like the January 2021 insurrection at the Capitol in Washington, D.C.

BSU has also reached out and had exchanges with the University’s Center for Personal and Professional Development (CPPD) to talk about mental health issues facing the Black student population, and with Juliana Mosley-Williams, PhD, the University’s Special Assistant to the President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) for ways on which to collaborate in initiatives. 

Black Student Union officersEl and her fellow BSU members have high hopes for the group, among them to provide insight into cultural issues for people to better understand and be more respectful to others; and to serve as a bridge to better understanding. 

“I hope we can eventually do outreach have events where we can educate the rest of the University,” El said which is hard to do virtually. “I’m hoping we have a voice to where if something is going on, people know that the issue is going to be talked about appropriately and that it’s coming from people who understand.”

She added that among the goal is to have more togetherness where BSU can have an event on campus in which people can learn and celebrate where they can freely ask questions and have discussions.

“Hopefully, BSU can help people beyond the surface and dive deeper into issues,” she said.