In this story:
- BRUCE DRIVER ’78,
BANTU (Black Alliance Thru Unity)
- CORNELIUS POPE ’99,
B.L.A.C.K.@PLU (Black Leaders Actively Communicating Knowledge at PLU)
- RODRESHIA DUNBAR ’01
- KANISHA KEAL ’10,
Black Student Union
- IDAISHE ZHOU ’11,
Black Student Union
- SHELONDRA HARRIS ’17,
Black Student Union
What was/is the PLU climate?
Bruce Driver ’78: It was the ’70s, after Vietnam and the Civil Rights Movement. It felt mellow and kinda peaceful overall.
Cornelius Pope ’99: Although there wasn’t an air of exclusion, there was no conscious effort to be inclusive.
Idaishe Zhou ’11: When Obama was elected a few months into the school year, people were excited. It also started conversations about a post-racial period because if a black man could be elected president, that was evidence that race did not matter. Because of that, some people questioned why there was a need for a Black Student Union.
Shelondra Harris ’17: The PLU culture is exclusively inclusive. Being one of the few marginalized groups on campus, my experience as a black individual is not celebrated or appreciated by the university on an institutional level. This is evident by the lack of black faculty members, programs and courses on African-American studies and the overall student demographic makeup.
Why was/is the group needed?
Bruce Driver ’78:
BANTU was a chance for the black students to get together and to get to know each other. There weren’t that many black students on campus, more if you counted those who commuted and lived off campus. I remember that there was one Hispanic student who made it to the meetings.
Rodreshia Dunbar ’01: PLU had diversity but it was all over and spread out. It made it hard to get to know each other and it made it hard to find. B.L.A.C.K.@PLU was born out of the need to create community. This became PLU to me. It was my home away from home.
(Photo: PLU)1973-74 BANTU members, seated left to right: Palma Reed, Reggie Pearsall, Judy Williams, Kathye Allen, Sheila Lowery, Stephanie Ferrell, Carolyn Drayden, Rita Pharris. Standing: Ira Hammon, Debra Hammon, Cynthia Wilson, Tom Mitchell, Michelle Ellison, Alfred Parker
Kanisha Keal ’10: Although at the time the group started there was a significant increase in black students, the main reason I wanted to contribute and create the Black Student Union was because on campus you would encounter a lot of students who were white who doubted your merit. You were either an Achiever’s Scholar or the university was filling some sort of quota.
Shelondra Harris ’17: Black Student Union formed (again) in order to unite black students and other ethnicities through organization of events that emphasize the history, culture, existence and influence of such individuals. BSU is a space for my race.
What were/are some of the club’s challenges?
Bruce Driver ’78: Trying to have the meetings and consistently have people come to the meetings.
Rodreshia Dunbar ’01: I don’t think we had challenges in the beginning. There was so much excitement that there didn’t seem to be any. The challenge I saw was keeping the momentum going.
Kanisha Keal ’10: Some challenges we faced were people who didn’t feel there needed to be a BSU or encountering the usual, “If there was a White Student Union, it would be racist” argument. Again, people were in a post-racial fog.
Shelondra Harris ’17: A unique challenge is being responsible to take action in response to racial injustices. This is where the growth of allies, advocates and accomplices becomes significant.
What were/are some of the club’s victories?
Bruce Driver ’78: Working with the Minority Affairs Office, we were able to bring different speakers to campus a few times. I remember, for instance, that we brought Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis. I remember that she signed my yearbook. Occasionally, when I go back through there, I’ll see her autograph and little inscription.
Cornelius Pope ’99: To name a few, there were numerous abstract reading sessions, Women’s History, Black History, and Hispanic-American History events; special guest visits (we hosteda visit by Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, writer, academic and radio host); rallies and support of gay rights; support of efforts to defeat Initiative 200 (Legislation to repeal affirmative action); B.L.A.C.K.@ PLU sponsored and hosted a visit by the Rev. Jesse Jackson to the Tacoma area, which was a huge success.
API and FSU
Three generations of leaders from the Asian Pacific Islander Club and the Feminist Student Union share their stories.
Idaishe Zhou ’11:
I like to believe we managed to create a safe place for black students on campus. The club was also a really welcoming space and we had allies of all races who were active in the group. Through work with the Diversity Center, Women’s Center and other diversity/social justice groups, we created an environment of open dialogue on campus where people could unlearn, learn and relearn important concepts and ideas regarding our campus life and the world as a whole.
Kanisha Keal ’10: Some victories included being able to hold a symposium that discussed politics, family and religion in the African-American community, hosting a viewing of the documentary Souls of Black Girls, both of which were attended by PLU students and the broader community.
Shelondra Harris ’17: Last year, Black Student Union was awarded Social Justice Program of the Year!
How did your PLU experience serve to prepare you for your life ahead?
Cornelius Pope ’99: Attending PLU was one of the greatest experiences in my life! Life lessons learned from my experiences at PLU have served to make me a better father, person and U.S. Army leader in that I feel I make a conscious effort to be aware of others and take into consideration others’ plight.
Rodreshia Dunbar ’01: B.L.A.C.K.@ PLU was my first leadership experience. It gave me confidence to do more. … It prepared me for my future.
Idaishe Zhou ’11: PLU taught me the importance of critical thinking and asking big questions in the midst of large issues that seem insurmountable. These skills have been invaluable when collaborating with others, especially people who have values and beliefs that vary from my own.
Kanisha Keal ’10: I’d say that BSU experience prepared me for the real world. You’ll encounter many different people with different views and learning to reconcile them in order to accomplish goals is important work. The group also helped me to discover my worth and what I have to offer to society in general. I’m not just a number filling some sort of quota and I’ll never be made to feel that way again.
Shelondra Harris ’17: My PLU experience is thickening my skin, preparing me for life ahead.