15:46 PM

Black History Month: Black student orgs play vital role in UHCL campus life

Briana Allison
Briana Allison said that being active in the Black Student Association helps students develop needed leadership and networking skills.

Student organizations on college campuses that target the social and academic needs of African American students can do a great deal to support their development of identity and confidence. At University of Houston-Clear Lake, the Black Student Association has been an active organization with a history spanning nearly two decades.

Joyce Taylor, lecturer of behavioral science and director of internships for the Office of the President, said she was in the organization herself back in 2003. “That year, there was a call for black students interested in leadership, and I attended a meeting to help revitalize the organization, which had become inactive,” she said. “Its original name was ‘ESSENCE,’ but the men didn’t like it. In 2004, after we researched how other universities named their black student organizations, we changed our name to Black Students Association.”

Taylor was vice president, then became the organization’s president in 2006. “One year, we decided to adopt an at-risk school in Channelview and brought 300 students to UH-Clear Lake for a Black History program,” she said. “(UHCL President Emeritus) William A. Staples was the speaker. The kids received a tote bag with gifts and a certificate that said, ‘I Have Been to College.’ It was great for the kids, teachers and assistant principals who came.”

The goal of the organization, Taylor said, was to recognize the contributions of black students and black faculty on campus. “Our intent was always to acknowledge people of color, and show them there’s an organization on our campus for them,” she said. “Students didn’t always feel they saw others who looked like them. At the time, only about 10% of students were nonwhite. We did a lot of community outreach to find black students and bring them here because it’s possible they never considered the possibility of college.”

Today, the BSA continues to work to become more active and more visible on campus. Third-year student Briana Allison, who is the BSA’s current president, said that the group plans general meetings, educational and social events, and community service. “We are currently having a school supplies drive for a school in Houston Independent School District, and we have invited some black alumni to return and speak to our group about their experiences at UHCL and in the working world,” she said. “Our mission is to support the black community at UHCL, with the support of our allies to stimulate our social, intellectual, political and economic growth. I hope that people feel welcome, find others to talk to, grow personally, and take what they’ve learned and hold on to it.”

Lisa Jatta, a junior studying cellular and molecular biology, said that it was important to her to be an active member of the BSA. “It provides a community to come to, and the opportunity to be with people from my background,” she said. “I feel that UHCL is diverse, and it’s a comfort to have people from the same background as me. We have monthly functions for members to associate and talk, including parties and going to movies. We are raising awareness at our university about who we are and what we do.”

She added that recently, the organization had a panel discussion entitled Black Card Revoked. “We talked about the fact that we are all black, but we don’t all have the same kinds of experiences,” she said. Additionally, every Friday during Black History Month, the group plans to show a film focusing on a various decades in which African Americans played a significant role. “It’s important for students on our campus to know we have a presence,” she said.

Taylor said that a highlight in the BSA’s history had been in 2008, when the organization contacted President Barack Obama’s office inviting him to an event called Bring Your Child to College. “His office actually called us back,” she said. “They acknowledged the invitation, the university and the program, but did not accept the invitation. We were still elated that we had received a reply.”

Taylor became the faculty adviser for the BSA, but these days, she was available to them for consultation and guidance. “We want to partner with as many outside organizations as we can,” she said. “Our focus is always to give back.”

Learn more about the Black Student Association in a video interview online.