Students enjoyed gumbo, mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, pumpkin marshmallow bars, and more at the Black Student Union (BSU) cookout on Nov. 11. The event was free and open for all students. It was a huge success that brought in over 50 students to enjoy food and good company.
Fourth-year Esther Hills is president of BSU, a club on campus that is dedicated to bringing awareness to African-American culture and issues that face the Black community. The club has existed on campus since 1981 and provides a space for students to learn and share their culture. The Executive Board consists of seven students, and there are approximately 15 active club members. “Everyone needs that space that is dedicated for them and people like them,” said Hills. “Whittier is a very diverse campus, but we’re a very small minority. We want to provide support for our students and [make it] so that people can get a real understanding of us from us — not from their perceptions.”
Through her role as president, Hills has learned many new skills. “I’ve gained an appreciation for how difficult leadership is and how difficult planning is,” said Hills. “You’d think putting an event together is super easy, but there are so many components. I’ve definitely gained those skills.”
The club tackles issues like cultural appropriation. “So much of Black culture is appropriated, and they might do it without even realizing it. We want to bring awareness to that. I also think it’s important to talk about stereotypes and how to deal with them and how to best talk about them.”
The club is open to any student, regardless of their race or ethnicity. According to Hills, non-Black students have become an important part of the club because they are very involved. “I’ve learned a lot about Black culture, and what is important to them — especially at the hair symposium. I’ve become more aware and also gained friendships,” said fourth-year and club Treasurer Emily Dobbs.
Hills emphasized that the club is like a family and is always welcoming new members. “We’re always open for everybody. We get a lot of questions like that. We’re for diversity; we’re here for the entire WC Community; and we hope that everyone comes to the events and has fun.”
Other club members agree with Hills and encourage all students to come. “I really think that anybody can join BSU. You don’t have to be Black,” said second-year Camryn Purdom. “You can learn about African- American culture and what we’ve been through and how far we’ve come.”
Purdom also appreciates how the club is very close. “I like the family aspect of it, and how we can sit down and talk about issues relating culturally to us. Having people that look like you helps when you go to a small school when you don’t see many people that look like you in your classes.”
Some events that they have hosted in the past include cookouts, movie screenings, and pop-up shops. Their most popular event, the hair symposium, began last year and is happening this year on Nov. 17 from 12:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Students can get their hair done for free in Club 88 and can make appointments on OrgSync. “We brought stylists on campus for free, especially for those that are African-American, because there is no one in Whittier they can get those services from,” said Hills.
The event was well attended last year and many students are looking forward to this year’s event. “It’s hard to find hair stylists for people of color,” said Purdom. “Having the hair symposium [let] me get my hair done for free. It was really exciting. Everybody should go and get their hair done.”
Food will also be provided from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., and BSU will be screening a documentary by Chris Rock called Good Hair at 6 p.m. The documentary discusses why hair is so important in Black culture and helps to educate people about how Black hair has been styled historically.
This year, the club is planning a new event: a health and wellness series that will happen throughout the Spring semester. It’s a four-part series covering Black beauty, skin care, mental health, and black hair. They also are hoping to partner with the Office of Equity and Inclusion (OEI) to host a dialogue called “Is it just for Black people?”
BSU has also partnered with Uptown Whittier store Shop the Runway for a fundraiser. The owner of the store creates a lace-up neckline on any t-shirt for just $15 and a portion of the proceeds go to the club.
BSU is looking forward to the many events coming up next semester and hopes that the Whittier College community attends to learn more about Black culture.