Club Spotlight: The Black Student Union

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The Black Student Union at NYU has been active for over 50 years and has more than 700 members

Black Student Union members sit on the front steps of a brownstone.

There are over 300 student-led clubs and organizations at NYU. That means that no matter who you are, there’s a place for you. Here, you’ll build lifelong friendships, find support, and rally around causes. For this edition of the Club Spotlight, we’re focusing on the Black Student Union and its efforts to connect and empower black students and their allies at NYU.

The Black Student Union traces its roots to 1968—the year President Johnson signed the Fair Housing Act, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, and New York native Shirley Chisholm became the first African American woman elected to Congress. Against this backdrop of upheaval and change, NYU students formed the African-American Students’ Organization, which eventually became the Black Student Union. The club has been a constant and active presence on campus ever since. Now numbering over 700 students, the group hosts biweekly meetings and a variety of annual events.

“Unite, Honor, and Empower”

“The Black Student Union on campus is so important. It provides a space and community for black students to get to know each other, share resources, and discuss our experiences at NYU,” says Kayla Merriweather, Class of 2021. She is a student in the Gallatin School of Individualized Study and serves as the group’s secretary. To her, the essence of the club is encapsulated in the verbs of its mission statement: unite, honor, and empower. “The activities we do and promote are directly related to the unification of black students and their allies on campus. We are also honoring those who have come before us by emphasizing history and educational programming. And we’re empowering the black community on campus through service projects, political action, and leadership development.”

An auditorium full of students attending Black Graduation.
The Black Graduation Ceremony for the Class of 2019.

Celebration and Reflection

The Black Student Union hosts events such as the Black Solidarity Conference, the Black Tie Gala, discussion panels, and dance parties. One of Kayla’s favorite events to help host is Black Homecoming Week. The event takes place over a full week each October. “We host a combination of informational and fun events for all students, but especially Black students, on campus,” says Kayla. This year’s events included an Afrobeat dance class, a black generational wealth workshop, and a 1990s/2000s karaoke night. “It involves a lot of coordination and logistical planning within our executive board and with our clubs and organizations. But I feel like the end result is always overwhelmingly positive.”

At the end of the academic year, the Black Student Union celebrates graduating students’ accomplishments by hosting Black Graduation. “Each incoming class of students gets more diverse, so each Black Graduation is larger than the last,” says Kayla. The 2019 ceremony featured a commencement speech from Iddris Sandu, the tech whiz and activist behind the algorithms for Instagram and Snapchat. He praised the students as “black leaders that the world has never seen before.” He also encouraged them to acknowledge “the reflection of our skin, our melanin, our unapologetic nature…the problems we faced and the solutions we gave.” It was a moving and joyful ceremony. And one that recognized the challenges unique to NYU’s black students as well as the strong bonds of the community they have formed to face them together.