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Black Student Union members voice the importance of ‘unity,’ their experiences with discrimination

A Q&A with BSU members on how they provide a discussion space for the black community

Black+Student+Union+history+director+Mariam+Oke.+Kevin+Carver+%7C+Contributing+Photographer
Black Student Union history director Mariam Oke. Kevin Carver | Contributing Photographer

Black Student Union history director Mariam Oke. Kevin Carver | Contributing Photographer

Black Student Union history director Mariam Oke. Kevin Carver | Contributing Photographer

Devin Perry, Contributing Writer

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*The following Q&A has been edited for clarity. Several members chose to withhold their names due to the subject matters discussed.*

The University Press spoke with several Black Student Union members on their upcoming Black History Month events, diversity at FAU, and racial tension in the U.S.

What is your role at the Black Student Union?

Mariam Oke: I am the black history director and I am partners with Marie, who is the co-director and we basically create events throughout the whole month of February to show the culture of the black community and Black History Month.

Can you tell me about the history of the Black Student Union on campus?

Sean: I can’t speak on the history of how it got started, but I would say that we’re not a HBCU [historically black college university], so it’s just a place for the people of the black community to feel safe, to be somewhere that they can talk about things that happen in the community, [hear] what goes on in the national news, any discrimination. It’s basically a safe place for anyone to speak in the black community.

We’re the bridge that connects the gaps between all the different communities. Our mission is to promote unity between different cultural backgrounds portrayed on campus, it’s not just about black [people], but it’s about unity in general.

How do you feel about the diversity at FAU?

Sean: I actually came to FAU because of the diversity. I actually like people of different races. I’m more comfortable around everyone instead of being very inclusive.

How do you feel about race relations in the U.S.?

Anonymous student 1: I feel that it’s something that should have already been talked about, and it’s really something that’s been hidden and just come to light. Now that it’s come to light and we can talk about it, we can really reach a mutual understanding now. That’s basically what social media is doing now.

Anonymous student 2: On how each race gets along, that’s very divisive in today’s time. And in some communities, for instance the black community, at times we do come apart in certain ways, and it would be nice if we could all come together. But we [can sometimes disagree] on certain topics that bring us away from our goals.

Are there any personal experiences with race relations/discrimination that you’d feel comfortable sharing?

Anonymous student 3: In New York, we used to have a program called “Stop and Frisk.” A bunch of cops would stop you and frisk you just because you look the part/look suspicious. I used to play baseball, so I used to get stopped and frisked at least three times a week just because I had my baseball gear coming home from a game, or practice, everything, just because I looked the part, you know?

So yeah, definitely some tension. It tends to be the same cops, from caucasian descent, stuff like that. Growing up, historically, blacks and hispanic societies and environments in Bronx, New York, everyone’s pretty much targeted. It sucked, but that was the reality of it.

Naiya: For me, I played tennis, and it’s a predominantly white sport, like I would go to tournaments and you could count the black people there on one hand. When I’d show up, they’d look at me differently and, I guess feel entitled, and you’d think “Why?”

Anonymous student 4: I live in Plantation, and [was] one of the only black people in the entire neighborhood. So my whole life, I’ve been harassed for just stepping outside. There’s been tiny, minor incidents, like having a party at our house, if a car happens to block part of the sidewalk by an inch, a police officer is at our door. If we are making noise past 10 p.m., even at 10:05 p.m., there’s an officer at our door.

Officers would have huge fits about cars on different areas of the lawn, even after getting permission from neighbors, they’d make a huge issue out of it, and we had to have our neighbors come out and tell the officers that we could have our cars out here.

The officers stated that it was a huge deal because of complaints from people that cars were blocking sidewalks. If you’re walking outside at 10 p.m., you can just walk around the car.

There [have] been times where my brother has tried to get into his house to be stopped and harassed for identification just to get into his own home. I’ve been outside my house when officers have been like “get inside.”

Anonymous student 5: I had [an] experience in Pembroke Pines dealing with police officers, where they pulled me over and told me to get out of the car. They put me in handcuffs, sat me down and told me, “I smell weed in your car, is there weed in your car?”

I don’t smoke weed, and at the time I was driving my mom’s car. So they say, “Here’s the deal. We see weed in your car, we’re going to search your car, and if we find anything, you’re going to jail.”

I know they’re not going to find anything, so I said, “Go ahead,” and they started tearing up my mom’s car, and they get back in the car and drive me around the corner and ask, “So how much weed did you smoke tonight?” I said, “None.”

They asked me how much I wanted to smoke. I said “None.” They said, “You’re coming from a friend’s house, how much did he smoke?” And I said, “None, sir.”

They gave me a ticket for reckless driving, for driving too slow, and they “let me off with a warning.”

Throughout the month of February, the BSU will hold the following events:

  • Feb. 1: A cake cutting ceremony
  • Feb. 6: A general body meeting
  • Feb. 18: A talent show called, “For The Culture”
  • Feb. 18: A barbecue/family reunion on the Housing Lawn from 2-5 p.m.
  • Feb. 24: A pool party at the IVA pool from 1-6 p.m.

For more information on the organization and its upcoming events, visit its Owl Central page.

Devin Perry is a contributing writer with the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or tweet him @DevinTPerry

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