The Black Student Alliance, one of the oldest student groups on campus, is refocusing its goals this year to concentrate on internal improvement, development and growth—breaking away from the past years focus on-campus visibility.
For several years, BSA has aimed to improve its visibility, said junior Marcus Benning, the group’s president. This year, however, the organization is turning the focus inward to provide more resources for BSA students and make the organization an integral part of their Duke experience.
“BSA exists to serve the undergraduate population and to assist and encourage success academically, socially and culturally,” Benning noted. “We want to focus inward on students’ lives and make BSA relevant in their lives.”
In order to accomplish internal growth and development, BSA has implemented four major additions to the organization this year, he added. The Princeton Review has partnered with BSA to administer strategy sessions and mock tests for the MCAT, GMAT, GRE and LSAT. The alliance has also turned its office into a student lounge space to foster interaction and camaraderie.
A new peer-to-peer mentoring system has been implemented in which upperclassmen lead “BSA families” of underclassmen to provide guidance in both academic and personal pursuits. Finally, BSA has established an alumni mentoring program in conjunction with the Duke University Black Alumni Connection.
“Over the past six months or so, we’ve worked closely with the Office of Student Affairs, the Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture and the Alumni Association to create a platform for black alumni to give to causes that impact primarily black students. We’ve gotten rave reviews from students about what we’ve done for development,” Benning said, noting that both alumni-student and upperclassmen-underclassmen interactions have increased, alongside volume in and utilization of the BSA office.
Junior Floyd Wilks, director of finances on the BSA executive board, said there are noticeable changes in the organization and its role in students’ lives this year. BSA has traditionally struggled to retain upperclassmen members in the past, Wilks noted.
Usually, BSA—both the executive board and the organization as a whole—has been comprised of mostly sophomores. Despite that trend, upperclassmen make up the majority of the organization this year, he said.
“We wanted black students from all four classes to be a part of [BSA], not just freshman and sophomores,” he added. “That’s why we wanted to focus on the growth of the organization. I can definitely tell that more upperclassmen are paying attention to BSA... than in years past.”
Much of this increased upperclassmen involvement can be attributed to the new programs BSA established this year, Wilks noted. The peer-to-peer mentoring program and the Princeton Review sessions have worked to cater to upperclassmen needs and make BSA relevant in their lives.
Freshman Jamal Edwards said BSA has been integral part of his Duke experience so far, noting that he has had a great experience with his upperclassman mentor via the newly established peer-to-peer mentoring program.
“[BSA wants] to make this a smooth transition year for freshman,” Edwards said. “[My mentor] is much more than my upperclassmen pal—there’s a huge level of respect, and he definitely takes it seriously…. I know that if I need something my mentor is there…. [BSA] is a resource, a home, a network.”
Benning noted that BSA changed its focus this year because he thought there were “voids in the organization that needed to be filled.”
“A lot of BSA’s efforts have been towards the campus knowing we’re here, but I think it is important that we focus on improving the academic performance and social well-being of our students,” he said. “I view visibility as a secondary concern.”
Former BSA President Nana Asante, Trinity ’12, who led BSA’s ‘call to action’ presentation to senior administrators last year, said BSA’s ongoing external development must continue to be a priority, alongside internal focus.
“Internal improvement, development and growth will always be the core and foundation of any well-established and well-functioning entity,” she wrote in an email Tuesday. “Without this foundation, BSA would be a discombobulated organization. At the same time, I believe that these are goals that will always be a work in process and must be just as strongly accompanied by goals that strive for progress and excellence externally as well.”
Benning noted that the internal improvements are in addition to activism—not in lieu of it—and that the students should be BSA’s main focus.
“Once the voids are filled, then we’re in the best position to focus on visibility,” he said. “It’s best that we showcase our successes when they’ve reached their pinnacle, which is where I think we’re headed.”