Courtesy of Black Students United

Black Students United hosted the first annual Black Welcome Weekend on Sept. 15 and 16 to introduce new students to the Black community at Cornell.

September 21, 2023

Black Students United Hosts Inaugural Black Welcome Weekend

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Black Students United held its inaugural Black Welcome Weekend, consisting of Black Convocation and Black Life on the Hill, on Friday, Sept. 15 and Saturday, Sept. 16. The event aimed to introduce Black students to affinity organizations and the overall Black community on campus. 

This year marks the first time the two events were held jointly on one weekend. This was changed to “make it easier for incoming students to immerse themselves in our community,” explained BSU co-president Lemachi Enweremadu ‘25.

Fellow co-president of BSU Gracelynn Osei-Bosompem ’25 added Black Welcome Weekend empowers incoming students by introducing them to opportunities within the community.

“The Black community at Cornell has a really long history, and it’s completely student-led [and] student driven,” Osei-Bosompem said. “We want to [inspire students] to become involved and to become engaged in the community… as well as follow in the steps of others.” 

Rachel Richards ’24 is one student who expressed a need for this type of event on campus.

“I feel like I wish we could have had this when I was a freshman,” said Richards, who is president of Fusion dance team at Cornell.

Black Convocation

Black Convocation — a formal assembly of club members and Black students — was held in the Africana Center on Friday. Black Convocation included speeches from notable members of Cornell’s Black community and a performance of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” by Baraka Kwa Wimbo, an all-female gospel a cappella ensemble.

The convocation’s keynote came from Associate Dean of Students Renee Alexander ’74, who thanked BSU leaders for “receiving the mantle of leadership, which has been handed down from class to class, from year to year and from generation to generation here.”

Alexander spoke on her undergraduate experience at Cornell in the early seventies, with her first year at Cornell being less than a full year after the takeover of Willard Straight Hall beginning on April 18, 1969.

“When I got here, the campus climate was hostile, it was chilly, and it made me feel very uncomfortable. I knew something was not the way it was supposed to be,” Alexander said. “It was my theory that the Willard Straight occupation had everything to do with that.”

Alexander then described the historical context for the takeover.

“People did not adapt very well to Black students on campus, a lot of people didn’t. There were racial incidents [like] staff members making inappropriate comments about Black people in class,” Alexander said. “There were a lot of reasons for the Afro-Community to plan a response. The coup de grace, the trump card, was when a cross was burned on Wari House’s lawn.”

Alexander also highlighted that the Africana Center currently holding the convocation was the second Africana Center. 

“I came here to visit as a high school senior, it was March of 1970, Black student’s weekend, and it was jumpin’ up here,” Alexander said. “I had such a good time, I told my mom, ‘I’m going to Cornell if I can get in.’ The house where everything took place was 320 Wait Avenue, that was then the Africana Studies Center. But on April 1st, 1970, it was incinerated… It took Cornell decades to say that that was arson.” 

Alexander urged first-year students to participate in their community and continue the legacy of Black advocacy at Cornell.

“One day, sooner than you think, first-year students, someone is going to be standing on your shoulders as well,” Alexander said.

Julien Woodley ’27 said the convocation provided a sense of community in a new environment.

“It’s a lot to acclimate to because it’s very different from high school,” Woodley said. “I feel like having community is one of the most integral parts of feeling secure in your new environment, and I feel that Black Students United will help with that.”

Black Life on the Hill

On Saturday, BSU hosted Black Life on the Hill, an event similar to the annual Cornell ClubFest with an emphasis on affinity organizations for Black students. BLOTH was held in Corson Mudd Hall.

BLOTH hosted 23 organizations, including those from the National Pan-Hellenic Council — typically referred to as Divine Nine fraternities and sororities. The NPHC is comprised of historically Black Greek life organizations including Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc. and Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc. The event also showcased academic organizations including the Black Ivy Pre-Law Society and the National Society of Black Engineers

The Caribbean Students’ Association Dance Ensemble, the African Dance Repertoire and the PHENOMENON Step Team had featured performances at BLOTH. The singing group Baraka Kwa Wimbo performed a cover of “Full Time Love” by Latocha and “More” by Lawrence Flowers & Intercession. 

Keenbelynn Bellande ’26, a PHENOMENON performer, said that the artform empowers the Black community at Cornell.

“I feel like we have a space on campus where we are truly able to do something special for the Black community,” Bellande said.

After the weekend’s events, Osei-Bosompem reflected on the Welcome Weekend’s importance to the Black community at Cornell.

“Every time we come together there’s just something different in the air, you know? People enjoy each other, we’re dancing, we’re having a good time, we’re enjoying music,” Osei-Bosompem said. “We’re supporting our friends who are performing, so everyone had an enjoyable time. I think the event went really well.” 

Henry Fernandez is a Sun contributor and can be reached at [email protected].