The Black Student Union (BSU) held their fifth anniversary gala on Saturday, April 2. It was a celebration of the affinity club and their accomplishments, as well as a call to action. 

The gala began with opening remarks by Sebastian Michel ‘23, the president-elect for BSU.  

Michel introduced Ophelia Rowe-Allen, Ph.D., the first speaker of the night and a former faculty member of Fairfield University. Rowe-Allen served as associate dean of students and director of residence life, as well as associate dean of assessment and director of student diversity and multicultural affairs. 

“Students want to feel like inclusion is important, but there is a lack of it on campus,” Rowe-Allen remarked. 

Within her speech, she also touched upon the importance “of acknowledging the experiences of BIPOC students and employees, [using] their stories to enact change, and diversifying spaces.” 

She concluded by saying, “Diversity is a fact. The numbers are what they are. Equity is a choice. Inclusion is an action. Belonging is a feeling. We all want to belong.” 

First-year student Jennifer Fajardo commented that “[Rowe-Allen, Ph.D.]’s speech was very empowering. Listening to her was my favorite part of the night.” 

In a separate interview, Michel described the importance of Rowe-Allen’s speech.

“It was good to have a speaker … who could attest to the experience of students of color and it was interesting to hear her call to action for students of color, and call on faculty to lead by example in terms of creating an inclusive environment,” Michel stated. 

Students also noted the struggles that come with being a person of color at a predominantly white institution (PWI) and talked about how having an event celebrating BSU is important. 

“Being at a PWI can be a hostile and isolating environment, which is why it was very important to recognize people who stood out in the BSU for being dedicated and stepping up to fulfill positions, as well as advocate for other students of color on campus,” commented Michel on the significance of the awards handed out to current BSU members during the gala. 

First-year student Mekaylia Ingram said, “It was great seeing the BIPOC community come together and celebrate each other.”

“It’s not easy being a part of a PWI and barely seeing people who look like you, but tonight was one of those nights that make everything here at Fairfield worth it” Ingram continues. 

The second speaker of the night was Ryan Harris, founder of the non-profit organization, As I Plant This Seed. 

Michel commented on the significance of Harris’ speech, saying, “It was good to see how after his days at the university he had the call to do something for the youth in his community.”

“By creating advancement through after school activities and by seeing the joy on the kids’ faces he [Harris] works with … I think that is what it is all about… giving back to your community,” Michel said.

 “If he [Harris] can do it, then so can we.” 

Chelsey Gabriel ‘22, current president of the BSU, stated that the BSU will partner with campus ministry for community service projects. She mentioned that they hold back-to-school drives for children in Bridgeport, as well as tutoring sessions. 

The event also featured a performance by Remixx, the hip-hop club on campus, a raffle that raised 1,000 dollars in support of the non-profit, As I Plant This Seed, and the announcement of next year’s editorial board. Finally, to end the Gala, a D.J. performed and dancing ensued.

For many, the night was a success. It was a way for the BSU and allies of the BSU to get together to celebrate. 

Junior Kenniesha Norford remarks, “I love how everyone was able to come together. Even though there were only a few of us, I felt that the energy we had made it feel like there were a lot of us.”

In a follow-up interview with Gabriel, she commented on the significance of the Gala, the club’s impact on Fairfield’s community, and how to get involved in the club. 

“The current E-Board did their best throughout COVID to make impacts, but the Gala was a way to bring everyone together,” Gabriel said. 

She went into depth about the significance of the BSU and who the club is for. 

“The BSU is a club, first and foremost for the Black students on campus, so they can have a sense of community on campus, it is the space for them to create bonds with other students of color on campus,” she said. 

“But it is also a space for their allies to support them, whether in bi-weekly meetings, or shout-outs in other ways,” she added.  

Gabriel continued, “The third group of people the BSU is trying to reach is people who want to get educated on Black history.”

In addition, Gabriel brought up any hesitations students may have about joining the club. 

“Anyone is allowed to join BSU, I imagine a lot of students fixate on the title because they see the phrase Black Student Union,” she said. “It [the title] should not deter students from coming to events or to meetings.” 

Gabriel adds that for those looking to get involved, the BSU hosts biweekly meetings, where games relating to Black history are played, as well as important conversations conducted depending on the environment.

Many students are looking to the future of the BSU. 

“I think for an event they haven’t done since before COVID, they did an amazing job at it,” said Aliyah Seenauth ‘24, Fairfield University Student Association vice president-elect.

“They planned it as best as they could and it is a good glimpse at what is coming in the future,” Seenauth continued. “I think the new executive board is phenomenal and the old executive board did everything they could for BSU this year.” 

Gabriel agreed, stating, “I really enjoyed the Gala last night, there were a few complications, but I know it will get bigger and better than this, and I can’t wait to see how the new E-Board will top it.”

Michel also commented on plans he has for his presidency in the upcoming school year. 

“Next year, we are going to look for more ways to get involved, more community service, collaborating with different offices on campus, whether that be with the Office of Admission to assist with recruiting, as well as facilitating discussions,” he said. 

As Rowe-Allen said, “We all have the responsibility to make it happen.”

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