By Tyler Howell
Last semester, a small group of men paid a visit to the business office with one concern: there were not enough activities for them on campus. With only two official events completed, the Black Student Union has generated discussions and activities for dozens of students, regardless of their skin color.
Shaun Cooper, sophomore sport management major and president of the Black Student Union, transferred to Malone from Alderson Broaddus University, where he remembers an active organization for black students on campus. The discussion in the business office led to a meeting in Student Development where students presented an idea to bring people together to talk about ways to improve Malone’s campus.
Brenda Students, director of multicultural services, mentioned that in the past there was a organization on campus known as Black Men United. Unfortunately, the organization never took off. Cooper presented an idea for an organization that brought black students and others together. In that meeting, the Black Student Union was created. This spring, the Black Student Union has already had its first two official events with more to come.
The first event caught the students’ attention first because of its name, an invite to an open discussion entitled Raw Dawg Sunday.
“A lot of people see flyers, they look at them and they just keep walking. I feel like Raw Dog is the kind of name you look at and you’re not going to just walk by,” said Cooper.
Vincent Leonne, a senior communications student, said he too was caught by surprise.
“I saw some of the images on the flyer,” said Leone. “I noticed that it wasn’t approved the typical ways that signs need to be approved, so that made me laugh. But that got me talking and got me thinking.”
Students came up with the name as more than just an attention grabber.
“What it really means is that whatever we talk about is going be raw. I don’t want people to hold back. Whatever is said is going to be said. We want people to ask questions about race, gender, culture, religion, whatever you want to ask,” Cooper said.
One situation that affected some black students on campus was the recent decision to eliminate the football program. Natasha Perry, a junior communications major, as well as Cooper, both mentioned that Raw Dawg Sunday became a place for black students and football players to share their thoughts and initial reactions to the decision.
“It was a place for football players to show up and express their feelings,” Perry said. “They were moments where we had to say ‘No, there are people who care, and it’s not just a race thing.’”
Leonne credits the leadership for creating an environment that makes students feel comfortable.
“The leaders on board were very thoughtful,” said Leone. “There was just a really high level of respect. When people had something to say, you heard a couple people shushing and within five seconds the person had the floor to speak, white or black, male or female.”
Although the organization was created with the goal of creating a space for black students, the Black Student Union is not designed for exclusivity. In light of Raw Dawg Sundays especially, the organization is built so that students across campus can understand each other more deeply, regardless of their background.
“I don’t want people to think that just because it’s the Black Student Union, ‘why should I come, I’m not black,’” said Cooper. “It’s not just for [black students], it’s literally for everyone.” Athletic coaches, alumni, and students of various races have been in attendance at every meeting. Both students and others expressed to Cooper that they are looking forward to future events. Some possible future events include cookouts, basketball, dodgeball and volleyball tournaments.
“We want to do stuff to involve everybody on campus,” Cooper said. “Because there’s three words in black student union. Black. Student. Union. And I want people other than black students to focus on the ‘student’ part. If you worry about the ‘Student Union’ part, you’re going to worry about all the students being unified.”
Leonne and Perry are excited for how the organization will continue to encourage open discussions and a more united Malone community.
“I think that gathering in this way is important and helpful for the people who participate,” said Leone. “And I would encourage the people who are skeptical to attend.” Leone also said that he would encourage both white and black students to attend ready to listen and confident that their voices will be heard.
Perry expressed an interest in leadership in the future and maintaining the relationships that have already developed.
“I’m excited to see where it goes,” said Perry. “I’m really excited to keep it going and see where it can build and what it can build.”
Cooper and others said that they would continue to do events as long as people wanted. As its members grow, the organization continues to plan events to give Malone students a place to express their opinions respectfully and gain a better understanding of each other’s experiences.