Since receiving its status as a recognized student group at the Sept. 25 meeting of Duke Student Government, the leaders of the Black Men’s Union have been working to solidify their place as leaders on campus. President of external affairs Bradford Ellison, a sophomore, and co-presidents of internal affairs Marcus Montano, a sophomore, and Kwesi Hinson, a junior, hope the organization will serve as a resource to the young black men of the Duke community. The Chronicle’s Carleigh Stiehm sat down with Ellison to discuss the future of the new organization.
The Chronicle: For those students who do not know, what is the Black Men’s Union?
Bradford Ellison: The Black Men’s Union in general is a group that is dedicated to ensuring that black men are an integral part of the Duke University community, and essentially what that means is we want to make sure black men remain involved across campus in a wide variety of activities and organizations. But, we also want to ensure that numbers are up, so Duke doesn’t get complacent with the high diversity that’s here already.
There are no women at this time, but an idea that we are dedicated to and something that’s written in our constitution is that anyone is welcome to be part of the group. Simply that person has to be dedicated to making black men integral community members. We simply want to make sure that we maintain an active member of the community.
Any person dedicated to the means of making black men integral community members are welcome in the group. By no means is this a group that is reactive. We are not founding this group because something bad was going on. In fact, we are all pleased by Duke, and we love our experience here at Duke. But our mission is to make sure Duke is never complacent. And to make sure administration is on its toes to know that it can’t say ‘well we are leading diversity right now’ or ‘we have produced enough successful black men’—then need to continue to find new and dynamic ways to continue producing black men. Duke, you are doing a great job—we just don’t want you to be complacent.
TC: Can you describe the process of how the group was founded?
BE: The idea of the union was brought up last Fall and at that time it was called Black Men at Duke and essentially we were just meeting one or two times a semester to decide what we were going to be and what our mission would be. We sat down and we decided that we want the Black Men’s Union to become more of a force, so we were emailing all summer and working from all over the country corresponding and brainstorming... When we returned in the Fall, we had a general body meeting and following that, we met with SOFC and became a recognized group.
TC: What makes this group different from others—like the Black Student Association?
BE: First, we wanted to make sure that we were independent of BSA, and that was for the simple reason that BSA is essentially an umbrella organization, and because it has such a wide grasp over most things multicultural at Duke, we wanted to be able to have more spontaneous action. Because we are independent, we are able to take action a little quicker. If there was an incident tomorrow in the news, we would be able to just make a meeting.
Because we are independent and because we are focused on black men, we are better able to come up with topics that are more geared towards black men’s issues. Which maintain better attendance because guys will feel like it really matters to them. By narrowing our approach, we are more effective in that way.
There have certainly been many groups focusing on black males in the past at Duke. By no means are we the first. One thing that sets us apart from those groups is that we are recognized by the University. Because of that, they didn’t have the funding to put on events or the proper administrative support to facilitate discussions. We are also extremely dedicated to working with the admissions department. That is a core mission of ours. When BSAI comes around, or just in general when young black men visit Duke University, we want to let them know our university has really worked to make this a diverse community. This is why on our college searches, when we were looking at places like Stanford and Harvard or even the HBCUs like Morehouse and Howard, why the Duke community—specifically the Duke black community—is such a special experience and opportunity for those students. We want to make sure that black students remain an integral part of the Duke community and that the community grows ever more diverse.
TC: What are your goals for the group?
BE: Broadly, what we hope to do in the next semester is host at least two discussions around the black male experience at Duke—that might be anywhere between the realms of academically, socially, what does it mean to be a black Duke student outside of Duke’s walls. These discussions will further connect our members and further promote dialogue. Of course BSAI weekend, we hope to be visible in a way never before seen at a BSAI. We want to make a strong impression on the prospective male students visiting that weekend, and we want to sell that Duke University is the best undergraduate experience that anybody can have, especially for a young black man.
If there is ever an event that happens, in the Duke community or the larger news, we could host discussions about that.