By Saul Lopez, graduate assistant in the Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion
Earlier this month, Marquette’s Black Student Council had the opportunity to travel to the annual Black Solidarity Conference at Yale University, which took place Jan. 30 to Feb. 2.
This completely student run conference hosts more than 700 students from all across the country to discuss issues pertaining to the Black diaspora. This year marked the 25th edition of the conference, which seeks to empower college students by providing them with discussions, panels, networking opportunities and social gatherings around issues that affect Black students on many of the country’s campuses.
With past speakers such as Angela Davis, J. Cole, and Big Sean, the Black Solidarity Conference is one of the most important of its kind in the nation, and is the largest conference held at Yale University.
Students Breanna Flowers and Lazabia Jackson, president and vice president of Marquette’s Black Student Council (BSC), along with other members of the organization’s executive board, were chosen as representatives from Marquette to attend the conference.
Thanks to DeJuan Washington, former African American Student Support coordinator in the Office of Engagement and Inclusion, Flowers first heard about this conference. Through a combination of fundraising efforts and the new “Travel Resources for Academic Conferences” (TRAC) fund through the Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion, BSC was able to attend the conference.
Both Milwaukee natives, Flowers and Jackson made it a goal for BSC to “create a bridge between the Marquette bubble and the city.” This conference was Jackson’s first time outside the city, and he saw tremendous value in the conversations he had with other students from all over the country. Talking with his peers from other institutions made him see that, despite having different problems, they could all learn from each other.
“This should be a thing every year for the Black Student Council,” Jackson says. He shared that he was surprised at the number of representatives each institution brought to the conference. Some universities brought groups as big as 40 students. For Jackson, he would like to see all Black students on campus be able to attend. One day, he even hopes to create Marquette’s very own Black Solidarity Conference.
The conference showed both the power of institutional backing and student involvement. “The most important lesson I learned is that when institutions truly believe in their mission, they put their resources toward the quality of life of their students,” Flowers said.
Jackson concurs, stating that if Marquette wants to fully support its Black students, funding opportunities such as this one can create a stronger bond between the institution and the student body.
Experiences like this help students know that they are not alone in their academic journey — that the institution supports them as they face issues related to race on campus and the university celebrates their strength and perseverance.
BSC participants returned with a new perspective on the issues that affect the city, the campus and students. As Flowers puts it, “It was an experience I will never forget, that I am grateful I was able to attend and be around people who care about the Black community and Black students in college as much as I do.”
It was this sense of community and empowerment that BSC brought back to Milwaukee. Rejuvenated by a weekend of insight from the conference, they are coming back with a “whole new drive” to bring about better programming for the Marquette community.
As for tips for the next conference-goers, Jackson suggests the following: “Soak it all in, you don’t wanna miss anything…Take notes, you wouldn’t sit through your anthropology class without taking notes. This [conference is] life changing.”