Seattle University Black Student Union (BSU) leaders are amplifying their call for diversity, equity and inclusion through the university’s first student-led, Black-serving scholarship initiative. With Black students currently comprising just five percent of Seattle U’s student population, the scholarship aims to help recruit and retain Black and African-American students with demonstrated financial need. Funding raised by BSU members and allies will also provide emergency grants to ensure that unforeseen challenges don’t impede recipients’ education. The scholarship fund will be managed through an innovative partnership between Seattle University’s Center for Student Involvement and BSU.
BSU President Adilia Watson, ‘21, voices the need for more Black and African-American students at Seattle U.
“There are parts of my identity as a Black woman that the university tends to make me forget. I’m an environmental studies student attending class with a lot of white people and I participate in classroom discussions based on content that doesn’t always include a diversity of perspectives,” she says. “We read the stories about the impact of police brutality on Black bodies, but where is the connection between those stories and their impact on Black students at Seattle U? How do Black students process what is going on in the world? BSU is one of the only places we can do that, along with the National Society of Black Engineers, the African Student Association and Queer and Trans People of Color.”
The Black Student Union provides a safe space for students to engage in critical discussion, active listening and self-reflection. Members find community in shared experiences and values and draw support from one another in elevating important movements like Black Lives Matter on campus and in organizing to improve equity in access to a Seattle U education.
BSU Advisor Colina Bruce, ’07, ’15, was active in the organization as a student. She is the current director of educational partnerships at Seattle U’s Center for Community Engagement and an adjunct faculty member in the university’s Master of Nonprofit Leadership program.
“Seattle U is located right in the heart of the Central District, a historically Black neighborhood, and I know from my work with young scholars in this area that many of them would love to attend the university,” she says. “The two consistent barriers for potential or admitted students that I hear most often are that they can’t afford it or they just don’t see themselves represented on this campus. Students of color want to feel valued and need to see other students who look like them. The BSU scholarship is a way to approach this and I want to use my position as a staff member to help amplify the voices of the students who are making it a reality.”
Fundraising for the scholarship was spearheaded by Watson and BSU Vice President Tatianah Summers, ‘21. BSU members and allies promoted the scholarship initiative on social media and collected donations through Venmo, raising a few thousand dollars. When Bruce and BSU Co-Advisor LaKesha Kimbrough came on board, they encouraged the students to leverage their efforts by working through the university to formalize the scholarship. This would provide greater access to interested donors and enable BSU to grow the scholarship in a sustainable way.
Heeding this advice, Watson and Summers worked with University Advancement to endow the scholarship so it would support Black and African-American students in perpetuity. They also inspired the support of university leadership, including James Willette, dean of students, Alvin Sturdivant, vice president for Student Development, and Natasha Martin, vice president of Diversity and Inclusion. Jason Oliver, ’00, a Seattle University Trustee and former BSU president, is another enthusiastic supporter. He encouraged Watson and Summers to shoot high.
“Jason encouraged us to think big in terms of the amount of money we can raise and suggested that we give ourselves a timeline to measure our success,” Watson says. “So, we set a goal to raise $200,000 by March 1. We’ve raised $80,500 to date and have several fundraising activities planned throughout February, which is Black History Month. This includes our annual BSU Showcase, which will be virtual this year. We’re featuring a strong lineup of Black artists, musicians and authors and will request donations to support the scholarship. People can also support the BSU Scholarship through the Seattle U Gives campaign on February 25.”
Will the students achieve their $200,000 goal over the next two weeks? Bruce is hopeful. “I think that anything is possible with the support of generous donors,” she says, “so I’m optimistic and LaKesha and I are going to do whatever we can to support the effort.”
Bruce’s small business, Noir Lux Candle Co., will donate a portion of the proceeds from sales of their Black History candle to the scholarship fund.
“These young leaders are setting a precedent and leaving a legacy,” she continues, “and that’s something to be extremely proud of.”
If you would like to contribute to the Black Student Union Endowed Scholarship, visit Seattle U’s Giving Page and select the scholarship in the designation field. Questions? Contact Tatianah Summers at firstname.lastname@example.org.