BSA: CGC’s ‘closet space’ not enough

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BSA: CGC’s ‘closet space’ not enough

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Fellow Black students of Saint Louis University, take a moment and visit Busch Student Center, Suite 236.

Many will never know why the suite dubbed as the Student Government Association (SGA) commons was special for black students. At present, one will see rooms for peer student leaders, cushy couches forming a waiting area and more rooms used by student organizations for gathering. Imagining the hard conversations, long meetings and strong communities that utilize this suite, one may conclude that this space is special because of the role it plays in the SLU community under the guise of SGA. However, for many black students, this space was special because it was a home. The commons was a safe space for Black Student Alliance (BSA) and Muslim Student Association (MSA) before their move to the Center for Global Citizenship (CGC). Located within one of the busier centers on campus, it was a Cross Cultural Center (CCC) that provided communal space for cultural students. This has since changed and has had various communal impacts.

Black students are limited in their ability to build in three areas of capacity without communal space: social, multicultural engagement and academic. First, in the area of social capacity, black students are unable to engage each other without herculean effort. BSA events that allow black students to come together are powerful but periodic. SGA’s budget cuts to the organization lower its chances to intersect blackness onto campus and with the wider St. Louis city community. This lack of space means a significant portion of black commuter students are challenged to attend these events, given their schedules. Second,  in the area of multicultural engagement capacity, black students are unable to unapologetically engage the SLU community with black culture. Many black students struggling to express their culture are forced into silence or choose to leave SLU. Either way, they remain ill equipped to respond to a sometimes hostile environment where anti-black bias incidents, micro-aggressions and other challenges are ever present. Third, in the area of academic capacity, black students are unable to have face-to-face conversation surrounding intellectual resources. While BSA has one of the strongest listservs available for sharing information, this does not replace in-person peer interaction around scholarship, fundraising, and various intellectual-related resources. The CCC officials were resources. A communal space is paramount to the success of the black student community.

The multiculturalist project cannot afford to provide communal space for black students. Black students need a space that is culturally specific to the ‘black’ community for all members of SLU to embrace black student language, rich history, and lifestyle. The offices within the CGC’s 70,000 square feet, million-dollar facility, currently housing multicultural student organizations, fails to be that space. Informally nicknamed “closet spaces,” the tiny rooms cannot foster any of the aforementioned communal activities. In contrast to these suffocating rooms, there exists a larger commons available throughout the CGC. However, these rooms are shared spaces for all SLU students at a majority white school for studying, events and any other imaginable activity. Under the guise of multiculturalism and with the assistance of black staff, black students are uprooted and kept from their black communal space without those responsible being viewed as being racist or having anti-black student interests. So much harm is done to black students under the banner of diversity, social justice, and moderate-liberal thought that it should stir confusion.

The decision to move black students to the CGC centered principally on a class of white people using white dollars for white interests at the expense of black students. The BSA president at the time, Monica Frazier, appealed to the Cross Cultural Center to no avail. The publicly advertised concept behind the suite was that it would be used for student writing services— a campus resource that all students help pay for. While opposing this would seem absurd since black students use the resource and help pay for it, the services would later move its operations out to make room for SGA. (Unfortunately, we drank the Kool-Aid.) Keep in mind that SGA is the same organization that expressed desire to get rid of BSA’s senate seats in the name of multiculturalism. The decision to oust MSA and BSA was systemic.

SLU has a duty to provide resources, spaces and assistance to students who come from marginalized backgrounds to lift their voices up. There can be no meaningful education around black culture without space for black students to build before engaging the larger university community. Moving forward, there needs to be more conversation about giving BSA a new space in ways that center black voice, acknowledge the unique needs of black students without filter, and re-define what social justice means to SLU.