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Empowering Black Voices

A stained glass window in the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. RU students and staff visited this church on an intercultural trip in 2023. — photo by Alyxander LaBranche

by Alyxander LaBranche

The rise of a new Black Student Union

Rochester University has witnessed a growing momentum in advocating for diversity, equity and inclusion on what was a historically traditional and conservative campus. Students can see this through the establishment of the Black Student Union, an organization dedicated to fostering a sense of belonging among Black students, celebrating Black culture and advocating for the Black community at a predominantly white institution.

In 2023, 28 students and seven employees went on an intercultural life trip to Chicago. Here they take a group photo while visiting the Trinity United Church of Christ.

Origins and Purpose

BSUs originate from Black students’ collective desire for a space to amplify Black voices, celebrate Black heritage, and address community concerns.

Evan Green, staff adviser for the BSU and dean of students, said the inspiration to establish the union was “a desire to have something that exclusively focused on the needs of Black students and the opportunity to center Black history, heritage and culture.”

The BSU has been foundational in creating meaningful experiences for its members and the broader campus community. The club provides a platform for Black students to express their voices, share experiences, engage in dialogue and develop relationships, Green said.

BSUs serve as a beacon of empowerment, resilience and unity, fostering a sense of community that enriches the student experience.

Singers perform during the Lift Every Voice and Sing Gospel Music Celebration in February 2023. — photo by Noah Peterson

Challenges and Opportunities

While the BSU has garnered support from students, faculty and administration, it still faces challenges, particularly in funding. Monetary support is needed to enable the BSU to expand its programs and initiatives, Green said.

Through its members, the growing recognition of its importance and the RU community, the BSU strives to overcome its challenges and seize opportunities for growth and collaboration with other student initiatives.

The rise of a new BSU at a predominately white institution is a testament to Black students’ resilience, passion, and determination to create spaces where their experiences are valued and they can be unapologetically themselves.

As the RU community celebrates the achievements and contributions of the BSU, it also reaffirms its mission to build a more inclusive and equitable campus community where every student can thrive.

Celebrating Achievements

The BSU has organized various activities and initiatives, from intercultural events, such as the annual MLK Celebration and the Lift Every Voice and Sing Gospel Music Celebration, to chapel services and game nights. The BSU has been foundational in creating meaningful experiences for its members and the broader campus community.

Most significantly, the 2023 Intercultural Life Spring Break trip to Chicago, although an initiative for BSU, received participation from a diverse group of students and staff, reflecting the inclusive purpose of the organization.

As the organization continues to evolve and flourish, there is a sense of optimism regarding the emergence of new student leaders who will bring fresh ideas and perspectives to engage Black students further and advance the BSU’s mission.


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