From the outside looking in, Montclair State University’s Black Student Union meeting is buzzing. There is a large assembly of a few dozen Montclair State students, gathered tightly in the Red Hawk Nest. The meeting takes a couple of minutes to begin, with all of the members laughing and talking in the meantime.
The meeting then kicks off with a friendly Guess the Song game, featuring hits like “Love on the Brain” by Rihanna. There is a closeness among the members that is felt immediately and that maintains during their planned debate discussing Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr.
The energy of the meeting feels new, even though the organization itself is rather old. The Black Student Union was founded at Montclair State in 1965. Their mission both then and now is to create a place that is a safe-haven for Black students who are attending a predominantly white institution. The overarching goal is for Black students to feel connected and united among each other.
At this meeting in particular, the debate was led by Kayla Ogoti, a junior biology major, and vice president of the organization. She asked the members questions related to Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, regarding who they felt had a stronger impact on the Black community and whose philosophies they resonated with most. Microphones were passed along the room as members offered their input.
A typical general body meeting focuses on topics that might relate to a surrounding holiday, pop culture or questions relating to identity.
Chioma Umebuani, a senior psychology major and secretary of the Black Student Union, talked about a meeting topic from earlier in the month that she enjoyed.
“Last week, we did have a Valentine’s Day mixer and that was fun,” Umebuani said. “We had a game called ‘The Spicy Seat’ where we were asking members little spicy questions, [and] we had a couple of speed dating [rounds].”
Beyond these meetings, the organization also hosts many events, such as “Welcome to the Blocc,” which is an outdoor barbeque, and the Harvest Ball, which is a more formal end-of-semester celebration. The events serve as a means to celebrate the accomplishments of Black students at Montclair State, as well as provide settings for Black students to come together and enjoy themselves. The Black Student Union also partners with other organizations on campus for events such as “Don’t Touch My Hair 4,” happening on March 4, and “Harlem Renaissance,” happening on April 25.
Eyv Matthews, a sophomore psychology major and president of the organization, expressed how much she enjoys the special events the club holds.
“Our annual Harvest Ball is my favorite,” Matthews said. “It is usually in November. Basically, it’s to close out the semester right before finals and it just allows everybody to come together as a family and celebrate how far we came.”
Creating a sense of family and community is an ideal that is highly valued by members of the Black Student Union. It also appears that reaching a large number of the student body to increase this family is something that the organization sometimes struggles with.
The Black Student Union is an umbrella organization of E3, a collective of Black and brown organizations at Montclair State. While they are widely known by those involved with E3, the leaders of the club feel Black Student Union is not always as visible to the general public.
“I do not feel like enough students are aware [of the Black Student Union] and that’s the whole point,” Matthews said. “Each of our positions’ [responsibilities] include outreach, so if we see an African-American student that is sitting by themselves and may not have friends yet, we try to say, ‘Hey, come to [Black Student Union].’ You can make friends, learn about different things.’’
As the semester continues, the main goal of the Black Student Union is to continue reaching more students. There are plans to collaborate with more organizations and to overall build more visibility on campus.
“Sometimes people don’t come out,” Ogoti said. “We just want people to come out.”
Meetings for the Black Student Union take place weekly on Tuesdays in the Student Center, in the Red Hawk Nest at 4 p.m. To learn more, you can follow them on Instagram at @montclairbsu.