February 22, 2011
From left to right: Charnele John, Jasmine Clayton, Renee John, Dean Powers, Robert Whetstone, Cherisse Hagood and Ciera Parks. Photo by Stephanie Posner.
It’s been nearly 40 years since the Black Student Union (BSU) was first formed at Rollins. Founded in 1972 to connect an ever-increasing population of black students, the BSU has served to bring together a network of students who are interested in, passionate about, or members of the black community. While the membership numbers have fluctuated from year to year, most Rollins students, regardless of color, have been involved with the BSU in one way or another thanks to its unofficial motto, “You don’t have to be black to join.”
The “all are welcome” philosophy starts with the organization’s advisers. Dean of the Chapel Patrick Powers and Campus Security Senior Shift Supervisor Robert Whetstone are the BSU’s current advisers. “BSU is not only for black students,” said Powers. “It is a welcoming place for all students who want to learn about African-American culture. This organization is a valuable asset for our students, especially minority students.”
Powers has been with the BSU for 10 years. As an advocate for human rights, he became involved with the organization to maintain its presence when support and staffing waned. He is a strong believer in the efforts of the organization, the members involved in the club and the good it does for the campus community.
Since becoming a BSU adviser five years ago, Whetstone has been a mentor to many. Today, many of the students that he has interacted with through the BSU stay in touch with him and consider him a change agent on the Rollins campus. His goal for the organization has been to inspire students to thrive, reach their full potential and create a sense of unity on the campus. He truly appreciates the reach and impact the organization has on its members. It is because of these committed advisers that the group has been able to continue to prosper.
I have been involved with the BSU all four years of my college career. I started with the organization as a planning committee chair. My second year, I was elected president and remained in that position for two years. Now, as a senior, my position with the organization is community relations chair.
BSU has been a great personal development tool for me. I have gained so many leadership skills by being involved. The organization has taught me efficient operating processes and the value of teamwork. I have met so many wonderful people and had so many exciting opportunities because of my participation with the BSU. In each role, I have been able to learn more about myself and enhance my skill set. BSU really has made my years at Rollins memorable.
My experience is mirrored in the hundreds of students the BSU has touched over the years. It’s been a home for some students and launched many leaders into an active role on campus. Members are able develop a range of skills, are exposed to many facets of the community and meet a plethora of people. BSU students are connected to a web of people who provide them with the tools to engage themselves in a lifetime of learning, friendship and experiences.
Through the commitment of members, the group executes several annual events within the Rollins and greater Orlando community. Since most colleges and universities have some form of BSU, oftentimes, we partner with other institutions to execute events together. For example, the Rollins and UCF organizations collaborate on events and work to grow the reach of Black Student Unions in the Central Florida area.
Annually, Rollins’ BSU hosts a series of events for Black History Month: dialogues, Soul Food Sunday, fundraisers and awareness campaigns. Each year, the group also hosts a table at the involvement fair, participates in new student orientation events and hosts a ceremony for its graduating seniors.
On Sunday February 27 at 6 p.m., the BSU will host Soul Food Sunday, a signature event of the organization. This semi-formal, catered dinner of traditional African-American cuisine celebrates Black History Month and honors individuals at Rollins who have been instrumental in furthering the goals of the BSU. But more than anything, Soul Food Sunday embodies everything that the BSU stands for – community, inclusivity and connection.
By Ciera Parks (Class of 2011)