Black Solidarity Conference attendees discuss ways to be active on campus

A group of five Colby students celebrated the culmination of Black History Month by attending the 20th annual Black Solidarity Conference (BSC) at Yale University from Feb. 19 to Feb. 22. Members of Students Organized for Black and Hispanic Unity (SOBHU) Tionna Haynes ’15, Joe Whitfield ’15, Kalu Kalu ’15, Briana Guillory ’16 and Kadish Hagley ’17, attended a series of panel discussions and workshops where “most of the conversations were very black centered,” Hagley said.

In terms of attendance, “there were a lot of people from PWI institutions–predominantly white institutions–and NESCACs [at the conference]. Some [Ivy League] schools were there and so were a lot of big universities…from all over the country….There were a couple of Latinos and white students, but the vast majority were black,” Hagley said.

Hagley, who is a second-year SOBHU member and  two-time BSC attendee, discussed the way the BSC played into SOBHU’s missions and goals: “[It allowed] us, as black students on campus, to go to this conference and engage with other black students at different schools and learn about what they’re doing with their black student union clubs, and to recognize that ‘oh, we go through similar problems every day on these campuses.’ [It allowed us] to talk about what we can do in terms of our institutions, our clubs, and our power on campus to change some things.”

After talking with students from other schools, Hagley said that a topic that frequently came up was the ways in which students and organizations on various campuses reacted to the recent news surrounding police violence against black men. “We recognize that with all the turmoil that happened last year with the police and blacks, that a lot of different schools did hold protests, like we tried to do. But, it’s a little harder on Colby’s campus—I mean, we’re isolated on a hill, so we can’t do too much as a community. Like, other schools got out there and involved people in the city and outside the college,” he said.

While Hagley recognizes that comparatively, Colby is more limited in terms of numbers of activists, he says that at the conference, he was able to converse with other students about his experience as a black student on campus. “I think I’m coming back [to campus] with a renewed sense of how confident I can be. I go to BSC for selfish reasons, like, ‘I need to get off campus. I need a break.’ I need to freshen myself up and be around all those people that look like me and are dealing with some of the issues that I deal with, because it’s hard to come to a campus like this and not see…many people that look like you,” Hagley said.

“[BSC] helped me out with navigating experiences and spaces and knowing how to talk to people in a more direct way if they ever cross boundaries….I know I have BSC as a backbone, almost like a shell, and I can say, ‘Listen, I don’t appreciate that. Either you change your behavior or I’m just going to move away from you and not have to deal with you.’ I’m not afraid to say that. I think BSC is powerful in that way.” Hagley added, “I still see microaggressions [on campus] every now and then, but now I just approach it with confidence.”

During the two primary activity days, Hagley and other conference participants attended panel discussions, workshops, a career fair, a keynote dinner, and an open mic. Hagley discussed the activities that were most meaningful to him: “There was this one [discussion] called Impolite Conversations, in other words, how to talk about…different topics like race, gender, class, sexuality and how to make them impolite, because usually people try so hard to make those conversations polite, but we recognize it’s obviously not getting us a lot of places. We also went to a talk on mental illness which specifically [focused on] how it affects the black community….There was this black man who graduated from Harvard, got diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and told us about his story, about how he got treatment, about how he came to grips with it, and now he’s teaching students about mental illness….”

“We went to a panel about black experiences in higher education. So [the panel] answered questions like, ‘After you get your B.A., what are you going to do? Get your master’s or Ph.D? How do you fund that and how do you survive it? How do you make sure that [you’re taking] care of yourself?’” Hagley added.

“This year’s BSC brought back the same flare of talent and potential. The atmosphere was of determined college students from all over the country. These bright students truly were some of the best student leaders their campuses had to offer. The workshops and keynote speakers served as motivation for many of the students to realize that we were the keys to change at our universities. On college campuses where the notion of blackness is tied to incapability or handouts, it becomes necessary for students to realize our influence on the very systems that often exclude us,” Whitfield added.

This year, the planners of BSC also encouraged conference attendees to make use of the iPhone application, “Whova,” which allowed people to easily connect with each other, save each other’s contact information, view schedules, and share photos of the event. “It’s kind of hard [for the BSC community] to stay close. There was over 700 students there this year. [The use of Whova] kind of started up the community aspect of the BSC,” Hagley said.

Comparing last year’s conference with this year’s, Hagley said, “I think it was better because I’m older, and I got to experience more. I wasn’t afraid to engage with other people and meet different people….I feel like how everyone else was, particularly the women there, was just amazing. The gender make up was like 80 percent women and 20 percent men. The [women there] were just so present and powerful. They weren’t afraid to speak their mind or engage you in a conversation.” Hagley added, “Honestly, I just think BSC was so perfect.”

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