One Tribe?: Black Student Organization faces an uphill battle

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REBECCA KLINGER / THE FLAT HAT

Four years ago, when Loni Wright ’21 attended Day for Admitted Students, she read former President Reveley’s statement on his vision of race: “I don’t see color; I just see green and gold.”

Today, Wright serves as the co-president of the Black Student Organization.

The BSO hosts a variety of events in a typical year without COVID-19. In years past, their “Black expo” event has brought several local, Black-owned businesses to Trinkle Hall. The expo is open to the public and features artwork, clothing, food and other goods produced in the local Black community.

This year for Black History Month, the BSO resumed their Black expo festivities in a virtual format due to the COVID-19 pandemic. People will have the opportunity to register for Zoom breakout rooms where they can visit the expo’s artists and vendors in a safe fashion.

Aside from the expo, the BSO also hosts Stomp Fest — a step dance competition where the Divine Nine historically Black Greek organizations compete for $1,000, with $250 going to their charity of choice.

“There is a lot of grassroots work being done for events like this,” Wright said. “We go out and put the posters up in the neighborhoods the people we are targeting live in, so they know we are thinking about them and want them there.”

Each year, around 400 people show up for Stomp Fest, although some members of the College community are notably missing.

“It seems like no one from administration comes to our events, outside of the people within the CSD, the chief officer of diversity and Dean Thomas,” Wright said.  “Stomp Fest is always around 450 people, and none of them have ever really come in the 20 years we have been hosting it. At least in the four years I have been here, I have never seen any of them.”

For Wright and BSO Event Coordinator Victor Adejayan ’23, this is not the only place where Black students feel unsupported by administration.

“I’m definitely not seeing too many of the mental health resources, I am not sure if there are even any for black students, specifically, or for other minority groups at this school,” Adejayan said. “I definitely know that many people at William and Mary in the Black community have expressed that they have been dealing with a lot of mental issues, especially with the pandemic, and a lot of them have been feeling unsupported by the school.”

While the College administration rarely attends and supports BSO students and events, they have noticed high event attendance from a different group.

“When we hold events, especially during non-COVID times, there are a lot of police lurking around the area,” Wright said “[the event] has been school sanctioned and we have permission to be there. Sometimes, they’ll walk up and ask a lot of questions, for no reason. Why?”

Black students continue to see themselves underrepresented on campus.

“We talk about diversity so much, but we don’t see it, especially with the faculty,” Adejayan said. “When we see Black faculty on campus, for the most part, its people in the dining halls, janitorial staff. We don’t see ourselves represented as well among the academic faculty.”

The lack of diversity within the College’s faculty, as well as the student body in general, is only one aspect of the College that makes it unwelcoming to students of color.

A movement has developed in recent years for the College to cut its ties with the Founding Fathers. With respect to this movement, Wright suggested that the administration is not considering the Black community enough in its decision-making. Instead, the administration continues to celebrate the Founding Fathers and their legacies.

While there has been an abundance of performative support, there has been little action. The BSO hopes to continue to tackle these problems in the future and bring the Black community into the spotlight.

“If anything, I at least hope that BSO continues to exist,” Wright said.