HIS 490 - History Capstone (Spring 2020)

The Formation of the Black Student Union at Rollins

By tracing the establishment and activity of the Rollins Black Student Union in its first five years of existence, approximately 1969 to 1976, it is possible to see the organization’s efforts and achievements in connecting with the national civil rights movement and creating a positive environment for Black students at Rollins College. The record of these student’s activities and communications provide insight into race relations at Rollins during this time, and the work they did to create community and inclusion on campus.

The Rollins Black Student Union was officially founded in late 1972, and first appeared photographed for the yearbook in 1973, with twenty members posed on the chapel steps. The student organization’s Constitution and Bylaws were documented by the 1970-1971 academic year. In this Constitution and Bylaws document, the founding BSU members laid out their goals and the reasons they established their organization:

“The purpose of this organization shall be to: (a) create a relevant social and academic atmosphere for Black students, (b) foster a unity between Black students on this campus and the surrounding community, ( c) provide Blacks with a set of positive symbols and values that are essential to the development of the wholeness of the individual, and (d) to plan and program activities emphasizing the cultural achievements of Black people.”

The annually recurring Black Awareness Week was best documented in the early years of the organization’s operation through promotional materials and event-planning correspondence. In November 1972, the college allocated $2500 to the Black Student Union for upcoming first Black Awareness Week expenses, however in a more recent interview BSU president Krisita Jackson recalled it being a truly huge sum that the College ended up contributing to the inaugural event’s programing. The BSU held this Black Awareness Week in early 1973, and its planning process encountered some controversy among students, which the organization members and their faculty sponsor tried to address. Black Awareness Week featured Black speakers, artists, and musicians, as well as cultural events featuring films, food, fashion, and worship.

Documents of membership lists and yearbook photographs show the changes and continuities in BSU membership between 1972 and 1976. Correspondence from faculty and Black Student Union leaders trace these students’ activities and attitudes as they worked to make their organization’s purpose a reality. Not every effort was successful, but the Black Student Union consistently fought for representation of Black students and Black culture at Rollins College.

— Veronica Szoke (Class of 2020)

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