You would be hard-pressed to find a U.S. college without a black student union. These on-campus clubs provide a voice for African-American students.
Inspired by the civil rights movement, black students at San Francisco State University formed one in 1966. Hundreds more then emerged on campuses nationwide.
Over the ensuing decades, members have organized protests and otherwise lobbied their schools to hire more black faculty members and take action on other campus issues.
Their activism has reshaped the academic landscape, encouraged more blacks to enroll in college and inspired more schools to add African-American Studies programs.
A renewed voice
In recent years, black student unions have focused more on service and social events. Members put on talent shows, attend film screenings and sign up to do community service projects to help the homeless or mentor students applying to college.
But for some clubs, recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York sparked political activism, linking them more closely to the black student unions of the past.
“Students have much more of an activist mindset now than I’ve seen before,” said Jazmyn White, president of the University of Maryland’s Black Student Union. “People realize that we’re not at a point where we can sit down. It’s been a wake-up call.”
After the events in Ferguson, Maryland students staged a sit-in protest to raise awareness about community-police relations, White observed. “People have a lot of passion for these issues. … They’re making things happen at the grass-roots level like before — not just waiting for things to happen.”