Saturday, August 8, 2020

Black Girls Unite provides support system, safe space for black women

March 12, 2019
Psychology junior and event coordinator Sharon Herring talks during a Black Girls Unite meeting on Feb. 27, 2019 at the Main Library. The organization provides a safe space for black women to discuss issues surrounding black women and diversity.
Psychology junior and event coordinator Sharon Herring talks during a Black Girls Unite meeting on Feb. 27, 2019 at the Main Library. The organization provides a safe space for black women to discuss issues surrounding black women and diversity. —
Photo by Sylvia Jarrus | The State News

Black Girls Unite, or BGU, is a registered student organization on Michigan State's campus established in April 2018. The group serves as a safe space for black women to meet and talk about their interests, diversity, inclusion and issues that affect them.

“BGU will serve as a safe space for Black women of all sizes, skin tones, ethnicities, social/economic backgrounds, sexualities, religions, and identities,” the group’s website said. “Even though BGU is an organization that specifically focuses on the intersections and issues that apply to Black women, everyone is invited to join us.”

The group was created by psychology junior Samantha Turner, current president of the group, and some of her friends after their conversations about the problems they have faced in society as young black women.

“We were just all in our room and we were all talking about how we don’t feel accepted sometimes in certain spaces on campus,” she said. “We were like, ‘What if we made an organization?’”

Turner said the main goals of BGU is to provide a platform and create a space for black women to discuss their various interests, diversity and things that affect them in their community. The group aims to “help black women gain a voice and to become a support system for both communities on and off campus.”

The group holds movie nights, meetings and other events on campus. At their meetings, the group discusses topics such as colorism, cultural appropriation, black women in history, healthcare disparities and more. 

“Our meetings always look different because we talk about such a range of topics,” Vice President Nanga Chungag said. “It really depends on the day, but we have a format.”

The organization doesn’t condone offensive material, such as slurs, Turner said. They do encourage members of the group to be open to sharing their past experiences and to vent about what is concerning to them in society. 

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According to Turner, the group is unique in that many other organizations on campus don’t have the time or space to discuss every important topic. Black Girls Unite tries to narrow down their focus specifically to issues they think are most likely relevant to black women. 

“A lot of times, we find that general black organizations — they’re great and they serve a great purpose on this campus — but we just find that sometimes they appeal to the general population, they don’t have time or the amount of meeting times to just cover every topic and dimension of what happens within the black community,” Turner said. “We have so many interests and so many experiences, so it’s really impossible to cover them all. So that’s why we hope to kind of cover more specific things.”

Turner and Chungag said they wish issues that affect black women were better covered in the media. One of the goals of Black Girls Unite is to discuss issues that aren’t as talked about in society. 

“I feel like black people — specifically black women — we’re not humanized in these stories,” she said. “It feels really hard for people to just empathize with us through the stories that are told about us and about what’s happened to us. I know, personally, I just get so frustrated.”

This semester, Black Girls Unite has been getting into the swing of things, holding more meetings and events, Turner said.

Although the group was told the number of student organizations on campus could be cut down because there are too many of them dedicated to the same issues, Turner said she would encourage any student thinking about creating a student organization to just do it. 

“I don’t think there’s ever too many organizations, even if each person on campus felt the need to create their own individual organization,” she said. “If you have an idea for an organization, go ahead because even if you just get one person at your meetings per week, that’s okay because that means you’ve really affected that person and you’re making a space for them to feel accepted and loved. And that’s what’s important at the end of the day.”

Chungag said she also thinks it’s important for groups on campus to exist for students who need a space to discuss the things that affect them. 

“We can’t cover it all,” she said. “For any group to come out and be like, ‘Hey, this is where you didn’t represent me. This is where this can represent someone else,” is really beautiful.”

Chungag also said each member of the group’s e-board brings something different to the table. She said they're all involved in “an array of things you don’t always think black women have interests in, stereotypically.”

Both Turner and Chungag said they hope the group will continue into next year and even after they graduate in 2020. 

“I love this organization like it’s a baby of mine,” Turner said. “I’m just really hoping it does get continued because you just never know who needs it. At this point, it’s bigger than me, it’s bigger than the e-board … it’s about helping people.”

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