April 12, 2023

AMPLIFY! | Recentering

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“As the last students who… [insert pre-COVID-19 shutdown anecdote].” 

You’ve probably heard this story more than a few times by now. As you know, we are officially three years removed from the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown, and yet, we’ve only begun to put the pieces back together. This is true also for Black Students United. Our organization, which we believe to be vital for the wellbeing of Black students on Cornell’s campus, has come a long way in the past year, and yet, must redirect and forge a new path.  

In my experience, the spring semester has always hit Cornell’s Black community fast. February is Black History Month, and, for better or worse, student organizations serving the Black community are arguably most active during this first full month of the semester: Organizations within the BSU umbrella hosted over 20 events in February 2023. BSU’s theme for this past Black History Month was  “Black 2 The Future,” as a nod to the aesthetic and philosophy of Afrofuturism. We’ve done a lot of thinking about the future of our organization, and the ramifications that it might have for Black people at Cornell and beyond. 

In addition to the game nights, movie nights and retreats, BSU has tried to foster deeper conversations within our community. Three events this spring stand out: Black History Month’s Opening Ceremony, which was hosted by the Africana Studies and Research Center, asked “what we owe each other as a Black community at Cornell, and as an African Diaspora at large.” Sankofa (SAHN-ko-fa), our annual historical and educational event, showed a screening of Agents of Change, a film directed by Cornell alumnus Frank Dawson ‘72, which documents protests on university campuses, including Cornell’s, that led to the launch of Black studies programs across the country. Finally, we reinstated our “State of the Union” event, where we discussed inclusivity and representation of ethnic groups within the Black diaspora. It’s definitely been a reflective period for BSU. 

We believe that the next step is action. There seems to be a marked reduction in political discourse and organization within the Black community, and especially on the part of Black Students United. The importance of educating the Black conscience on Cornell’s campus through thoughtful programming cannot be overstated, especially not now. With the persistent threat of systemic racism and oppression, the attempted erasure of Black studies from curricula and the ever-rising influence of technology and moneyed interests on our information ecosystem, Black students must educate themselves and continue the work set out by previous generations of student activists. 

Recognizing this gap in our programming is one thing, but correcting it will take hard work. We’re hoping to realign our agenda to the work of Black liberation and future-proof the organization for these purposes. Divesting from individualism and leaning into solidarity will be foremost on this agenda. We hope to achieve this solidarity by identifying common interests and working together despite differences within BSU, the Black community and the larger student body. It is important that we recognize the injustices existing across communities as equally dangerous to those directly affecting Black Students at Cornell. Black Students United is at a critical juncture, and we’ll need to exhaust all possibilities to make sure we leave the organization better than we found it.

Obioha Chijioke is a co-president of Black Students United and a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. Comments can be sent to associate-editor@cornellsun.com. BSU can be reached at [email protected]. Amplify! runs alternate Wednesdays this semester.