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Friday, July 10, 2020

Campus

UH student organizations advocating for the black community on campus


The Black Student Union and the Student Government Association both encourage students to speak out about racism they’ve experienced. | File photo

As protests involving the Black Lives Matter movement remain widespread across the nation, many student organizations on-campus have begun advocating for black students and creating a more inclusive environment.

In light of the movement, both the Student Government Association and the Black Student Union are asking students to use their voices and platforms to bring awareness and demand for change when it comes to racial issues.

“We are in a critical moment in history,” said Black Student Union president John Sowell in an announcement video. “In this moment we need to use our platform, our experiences and our voices to make a change in our community and in our campus.”

BSU is asking for students to reach out to them about racial issues they have experienced at the University. From there, the organization plans to gauge what they can do to help the student body and eliminate common problems students are facing.

“Right now we’re doing our best to get testimonies from students of color about instances where they felt excluded, or felt targeted just for being themselves,” said BSU vice president and finance and accounting major Brian Kirksey.

While listening to what students have to say, BSU hopes to find ways to fix common problems students of color are facing and come up with preventative measures to avoid these problems. 

“We’re looking to just have those as specific instances, and hopefully from there we’ll have dialogues of how can we fix this, or what could have been done to prevent that,” Kirksey said. 

SGA has been taking action by writing formal legislation to be implemented on campus. This includes the “Say Their Names Resolution,” which includes action items SGA promotes to combat racial injustice. These include condemning anti-black and racist sentiments, donating, signing petitions, educating others about racial inequality and more.

The “Resolution in Opposition of Racial Injustice in the United States” is a piece of legislation aiming to hold all government officials accountable for racial equality.

“A lot of people don’t actually take the time out to contact their legislators about issues going on,” said co-author and College of Natural Science and Mathematics senator Chiamaka Chukwu.

The resolution is targeted towards state, federal and local legislators as SGA wants to support black students at each government level.

“I wanted to include state, federal and local legislators in this bill; actually contact them to show that the University of Houston student government is dedicated to improving the outlook for black individuals at this university,” Chukwu said.

A long term goal Chukwu has is for the UH System Board Regents to enact more diversity and additional advocacy for black students and organizations.

“Tilman (Fertitta’s) … chair on the Board of Regents ends in 2021, I would really like to see him off the Board of Regents,” Chukwu said. “He donates to Donald Trump, and I feel like anyone who donates to Donald Trump can’t really be dedicated to affecting change, especially at a university so diverse as UH.”

The removal of Fertitta from the Board of Regents would allow the board to better represent the University and its students, according to Chukwu.

“You can not support someone financially and then try to make people believe that you do not believe his ideology,” Chukwu said. “It’s not how it works.”

Both SGA and BSU discussed the importance of ending the over-policing of black student events on campus. A petition written by the National Pan-Hellenic Council at UH calls for a decrease in the physical and social policing NPHC organizations face on campus. 

 “Black fraternities and black organizations, in general, are over-policed,” Chukwu said. “Even when certain events that are funded by the University (are) overcapacity, they aren’t told to shut down, but that isn’t extended to black organizations on campus.”

Having students work directly with campus police is one solution BSU suggested to approach over-policing at the University.

“(If we) can begin holding UHPD accountable, or having administration work with us and establishing some type of group of student leaders who interact with campus police to assure (over-policing)  doesn’t happen,” Kirksey said.

As BSU moves forward, they want to tackle issues that students deem relevant to their lives. Maintaining communication between the organization and the student body is how BSU plans to advocate. 

“We want to be the voice for students, but if the students aren’t talking to us, then we can’t speak for them,” finance sophomore and BSU secretary Janice Dike said.

Dike emphasizes the importance of BSU representing multiple student perspectives and listening to students other than their organization’s student leaders as well. 

“If we want to be a voice, there has to be a lot of us doing it,” Dike said. “It can’t just be eight or seven of us on the (executive) board speaking for (all) people of color.”

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