ASU Downtown's first Black Student Union creates a space for Black and African students to come together
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ASU Downtown's first Black Student Union creates a space for Black and African students to come together

"I wasn't trying to create a community. The black community downtown already exists. But they don't exist together — our goal is to create that sense of togetherness"

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In its first semester as a club, the Black Student Union on Arizona State University's Downtown Phoenix campus already has created unity and inclusivity throughout the community.

The organization was founded by Maykayla Higgs, a French theater major and senior, who noticed the Downtown Phoenix Campus did not have a space for Black and African students to come together.

Higgs thought about starting a downtown BSU after taking an intercultural communication class with Dr. Kermit Brown, who is now the club's advisor.

The class introduced Higgs to ASU's Black African Coalition — an umbrella organization that focuses on creating inclusive spaces for Black and African students.

Higgs quickly realized there were no clubs with the same focus on the downtown campus and decided to start one.

"I wasn't trying to create a community. The black community downtown already exists. But they don't exist together — our goal is to create that sense of togetherness," Higgs said.

The process took over two years to complete, but in March 2019, the BSU finally had its inaugural meeting. Higgs and Brown gathered with 10 other students to discuss the future of the club.

"Of the 10 that came, six now are on our E-board. (executive board) It showed me that there was an audience for it [the club] and gave me hope for the coming year," Higgs said.

Selena Teran, a sophomore nursing student, was one of those first six students to join. Teran said she attended the first meeting because she was interested in what the club would bring to the downtown Phoenix community and herself as an individual.

Little did she know, she would play an active role in the group that brings cultural understanding to this campus.

"The union has allowed me to see that I am able to create a difference between my peers," Teran said. She is now the marketing coordinator for the BSU.

Teran said the club has helped her network with more students on all four of ASU's campuses as well as help her to develop leadership skills.

Since the beginning of the Fall semester, the club already has held a handful of events and meetings ranging from discussions about cultural appropriation with the downtown campus Dean of Students Dr. Sharon Smith, to hosting a movie night where students could watch the film "Get Out."

At their next meeting, they will be discussing mental health in the Black community.

"When wanted to dedicate a meeting to it because it's something we often don't talk about as a community even though it affects us greatly," said Loza Brook, a senior studying journalism.

Brook said there will be ASU counselors present, and the club also will provide other resources for students with the hope of beginning a conversation that often is ignored.

"Everyone is welcome to chime in and talk about their own experience because we want it to be a very safe, comfortable space for people to discuss something that can feel awkward to discuss in the community," Brook said.

General meetings and events are open to everyone of all races and genders, but they often focus on topics that impact the Black community.

Brook, who also attended the first meeting in March, feels the club already has made a significant difference.

"Being a part of Black Student Downtown (or Union?) has been super fulfilling for me," Brook said, "Getting to talk to students around campus and seeing them say hi and interact because they have that commonality that BSU has created just makes me so happy. It's all we really wanted to do with this club."

Higgs, hopes the BSU continues to do just that.

"It seems obvious but I want it to keep going. I want the club to be sustainable. Most clubs start and often only stay active for a few semesters, but my hope for this club is that the community keeps it alive for years to come," Higgs said.

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