In the midst of a nationwide racial awakening, this fall marks the beginning of Undergraduate Student Government’s first-of-its-kind Black Caucus.
The Black Caucus will both advocate on behalf of Black students to university administration and serve as a center for resource information, academic support and collaboration among Black students and faculty. Ose Arheghan, a third-year in political science and Chinese and chair of the Black Caucus, said the caucus was created by Black students and for Black students to access resources and support at the university and also to see themselves represented in the organization.
“We’ve created a space within USG that is ours and was crafted intentionally with Black students in mind,” Arheghan said.
They said the driving force behind the caucus’ creation was student activism and outrage.
The Black Caucus was approved by USG in May and came after USG’s failure to recognize Black History Month at a February meeting in the Hale Black Cultural Center. Amanya Paige, a second-year in strategic communication and sociology and vice chair of systems and operations of the Black Caucus, said that when she raised her concern for the lack of acknowledgement to senior leadership in USG, she was told the organization did not recognize cultural months.
After the February meeting, students began demanding change in how USG operates, particularly related to the way it approaches Black student experiences. Arheghan said a major factor into the lack of acknowledgement of Black experiences is the underrepresentation of Black students in USG.
According to the spring 2020 15th-day enrollment report, there were 3,744 Black students at the Columbus campus — 6.4 percent of all students. But Black students made up only 4.9 percent of USG, according to USG’s internal report. This underrepresentation is part of what has led to what Arheghan said is an unwelcoming culture in USG, particularly for Black and other minority students.
“For a lot of people, USG is not an accessible organization,” Arheghan said. “And if they choose to join, it’s not always a place that Black students are uplifted and supported in, unlike other students in the organization.”
Because Black students are less likely to join USG, the university is less likely to hear their voices, Arheghan said. They said that university administrators typically go to USG to get a feel on the “pulse” of student life and activity, meaning that if USG is not representative of the student body, the university cannot get an accurate picture of students’ experiences.
By leaving Black students out of key conversations, Paige said the university is also leaving Black students out of important academic and postgraduate opportunities like scholarships and internships, especially ones not designed specifically for Black or other minority students.
Paige said the structure of the caucus is designed to address that. In addition to the vice chair of systems and operations, there are four other members of the executive board: a community relations chair and three vice chairs of student experience, academic affairs, and policy.
“We all have a very, very different role,” Paige said. “But we’re all working towards the same goal of providing support for our Black students on campus.”
While as vice chair of systems and operations, Paige is responsible for the caucus’ general operation and ensuring it becomes a stable, enduring part of USG, she said the other executive board members also have specific issues their roles will address. The academic affairs vice chair will be in charge of developing mentorship programs for Black students to connect with upperclassmen and alumni as they navigate their coursework; the student experience vice chair will oversee increased outreach to Black students regarding fellowship and internship opportunities; the policy vice chair will work with the University Senate to develop official policies to support Black students; and the community relations chair will establish connections between Black students and the Columbus community.
With the pandemic leaving procedural aspects of the caucus — like how, where and when it can hold events and meetings — uncertain, Paige said the caucus is striving to make sure incoming Black students know both what resources are available and how to find them.
“In ideal circumstances it’s difficult to transition to college,” Paige said. “What we want to do is ensure that we are listening to [Black students] while we’re providing [them] with all the resources that will best suit [their] needs.”