A Closer Look at Smith’s BSA

Traci Williams ’AC
Contributing Writer

One could find the ABC’s of Smith College’s Black Students’ Alliance (BSA) on the Smith Social Network (SSN) easily. One would learn BSA is Smith’s first and oldest Unity Organization, founded in 1969, but would not learn that this founding occurred barely a year before Dr. Johnella Butler, Chair of African American Studies, and a group of African American students planned and executed the Bridge Welcome Program in 1970.  This timeline is not coincidental.

Unsurprisingly, the SSN will inform, “the Black Students’ Alliance represents all Smith students who identify as Black,” but it does not inform that “Black” is not defined by the social construct of race in the Americas. The BSA Black is diasporic, crossing international borders to include students of Caribbean, African, Latino, Hispanic and US decent.

Despite the BSA’s declaration on the Social Network that it welcomes all Smith students to participate in its activities, invites all Smith students to become members, and represents all Smith students, those who identify as Black and those who do not — white, yellow, brown, or other — who consider themselves allies to Black students and all students of color, this organization has been perceived and accused by some as an “exclusive” unity organization. However, this is a mischaracterization. Careful attention and trust in the word “unity” would immediately render that myth void, untrue and without substance or merit. Any Smith student who does not trust its institution’s description of BSA is welcome to visit the Mwangi Cultural Center, named for Dr. Florence N’gendo Mwangi, Class of 1961, and experience BSA members putting theory into practice.

At Mwangi, one will find humans, not only those who use she/her pronouns as the outdated Statement of Purpose on the Smith Social Network may hint with its use of “ladies,” one will find loving humans who’ve developed a “sistah-hood” (not to be confused with sisterhood) operating in and fulfilling the founding purposes of the Black Students’ Alliance: the promotion of all things Black including “cultural, social and political awareness within [and beyond the sidewalks of] the Smith College community.” One will find BSA members at work maintaining and strengthening established intra and “inter-collegiate bonds amongst the Black student organizations within the 5-college area.” And, on occasion, one may even find Mwangi empty, as BSA members are off-campus, serving and giving back to the community, meeting the people at their needs.

Lastly, the presence of Smith’s Black Students’ Alliance operates parallel to Doctors Without Borders (DWB), as the BSA’s energy, gifts and talents — all wrapped in a genuine love for the betterment of all people — are not confined to a gathering at Mwangi, a community outreach, or a party in the Carroll Room. (By the way, BSA thanks all who supported and attended its party this past Saturday.) No, like the DWB, the BSA love amongst its members cannot be contained.

If one looks, dismissing prejudice, preconceived notions and stereotypes, one will experience a transfer of that love as one crosses paths in the hallways, on the lawns, in the libraries, in the dining rooms, in the Campus Center and even in one’s house. Yes, if one is open-minded and open-hearted enough not to side-step or look down or away when encountering a Black student on this Smith campus or in the community, one could know the joy that comes with being in unity with the Black Students’ Alliance; the peace of having a space, a home away from home (sometimes better than home), where one is free to relax, to relate, and to release without fear of judgment; where one can simply (B)e (S)upported (A)lways in all ways. The spirit of Smith’s Black Students’ Alliance is in the air. All one has to do is breathe.

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