10th annual Black Arts Festival

Libby Darrell and Sara Wilkerson

Diversity on Campus

At any institution of exclusiveness and privilege, the question of diversity — experiential, intellectual and racial — is raised. According to its 2019-2020 Fact Book, the University has a mere 16.9% of students of color and 9.8% of first-generation students enrolled; despite these rates, the University supports several programs to promote diversity, inclusion, perspective and integration across all facets of campus. In addition to resources in the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Office — including accessibility, international student, multicultural, Title IX, GenFirst, LGBTQ, women’s resource center and religious and spiritual resources — the University’s student clubs and organizations sponsor various events aimed at illustrating diverse and cultural traditions to the greater campus community.

Some of these events include: Common Ground, a five-day student-led retreat that discusses topics of race, ethnicity, sexuality and gender; the Civil Rights Alternative spring break trip, which explores civil rights history and pairs students with community-based, national or civic organizations; the T.E.A.M. (Together Everyone Achieves More) Peer Mentor Program, which partners students of underrepresented backgrounds with older peer mentors at the University when they enter campus; and finally, the Office of Civic Engagement offers students opportunities to interact with diverse local and global community members.

In addition to various programs, specific academic institutions at the University contribute to the community’s sense of inclusion. These institutions include the Griot Institute for the Study of Black Lives & Culture, which hosts a lecture series among other events that celebrate African American culture, and the Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity & Gender, which utilizes faculty involvement and events to support the learning of interdisciplinary exchanges of race, ethnicity and gender, according to the University’s website.

Black Student Union (BSU)

One of the most exciting cultural events at the University is the annual Black Arts Festival, sponsored by the Black Student Union (BSU). Aiming to “provide and maintain the best conditions in which Black students may receive a complete education,” BSU works towards the unification and community-building of Black students, the promotion of Black awareness through cultural activities, the drawing of attention to the relevancy of Africana Studies programs to faculty and administrators, the maintenance of communication avenues with the Black Alumni Association and the collaboration with Multicultural Student Services, according to their website. 

Black Arts Festival 

Coinciding with the Black Alumni Association’s second Annual Black Alumni Weekend, this year’s Black Arts Festival was BSU’s 10th anniversary of hosting the festival on campus. The Festival took place over a period of two days, featuring events sponsored by both the Black Alumni Association and BSU.

The festival kicked off with the BSU Fashion Show on Friday, Feb. 28, followed by a full day’s worth of events on Saturday. Starting the day was the President’s networking brunch, which featured University President John Bravman as its guest speaker. After the networking brunch was an afternoon pre-game reception for the Bison women’s basketball team as the team faced off against Boston University. Later in the afternoon, a showcase of artwork from artists inside and outside the University was on display in a walk-through gallery at the 7th Street House. Capping off the weekend was the Stomp Out Classic, featuring performances from University students and alum, as well as students and artist groups from other universities in Pennsylvania and New York.

BSU Fashion Show

The BSU Fashion Show was held in Larison Dining Hall at 8 p.m. The show was kicked off by BSU President Eden Elam ’20, who presented the Festival’s theme “We Built This” in her introductory remarks. According to BSU’s Instagram, the intent of the theme is meant to be a nod to “the tremendous contributions Black Americans have made to the economic, political and cultural developments of this nation. Black history is the history of America.”

When asked about her thoughts on the Festival’s theme, Jessica Henson ’20, a Creative Writing and Film/Media Studies double major, said, “I love the theme. I think African Americans are under-recognized. This past weekend felt powerful, present, and bold. We matter and this was a celebration for us.”

Justin Guzman ’19 also chimed in with his input on the Festival’s theme. “I think it was well chosen,” he said. “Considering how much work gets put into the Black Arts Festival in general, taking that further and using ‘We Built This’ in a broader sense created a sense of pride that I think is really important for students here. It’s a powerful statement that deserves to be heard.”

The Fashion Show featured eight fashion scenes curated by the show’s coordinators: Hallie Robin ’22, Jailyn Forde ’22, Jerra Holdip ’23 and Effiem Obasi ’20. Among the crowd favorites were Obasi’s scenes “Black Wall Street” and “The Marathon Continues: Nipsey Hussle Tribute.” Obasi’s scenes won an audience voted poll via colored glow sticks at the conclusion of the event. Intermittently throughout the show, artist J Rock ’22 and alums Mansa K and Yung Miles performed on stage in duets and solos featuring their latest music.

Stomp Out

BSU’s Stomp Out Classic was held at the Weis Center for the Performing Arts at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 29. The two-hour show opened with a lively and interactive performance from the Players Club Steppers, a stepping group based in the Bronx. In the middle of their performance, members of the Players Club asked audience members to come on stage to learn how to step in synchronization in groups.

Following the Players Club Steppers was the University’s own Bisonettes dance team, who performed a variety of choreographed dances in their energetic routine. Throughout their performance, the Bisonettes led the crowd into chants of the phrase “Where there’s a woman, there’s magic.” After the Bisonettes, the step fraternity Alpha Phi Alpha from Pittsburgh University, as well as students and alum from Bloomsburg and Dickinson, embraced the stage.

Following Stomp Out, an after-party at Uptown occurred. The after-party served as a celebration of not just the BSU’s 10th anniversary of hosting the Black Arts Festival, but also as a celebration of what students at the University were able to build, bringing the theme “We Built This” full circle as Black History Month comes to a close. 

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