First Black Student Union forms at UHV

March 31, 2012 at 11 p.m.
Updated April 2, 2012 at 11:03 p.m.

D'Andrala "DeDe" Alexander, president of UHV's new Black Student Union,  right, attends the annual Black History Poster Contest with another member of the student union.

D'Andrala "DeDe" Alexander, president of UHV's new Black Student Union, right, attends the annual Black History Poster Contest with another member of the student union.   Gheni_Platenburg for The Victoria Advocate

D'Andrala "DeDe" Alexander knows what it is like to look out on a college campus and see few faces, if any, that look like hers.

Having always attended predominately white schools, Alexander helped combat the isolated feeling of being one of only a handful of African-Americans on Washington University in St. Louis' campus by joining the school's Association of Black Students.

"It was heart warming to see bright, intelligent, black people coming together to help other black people get to that same level," said Alexander, 24.

Now a graduate student in forensic psychology at the University of Houston-Victoria, Alexander hopes to deliver that same inspirational feeling to her current peers through the school's new Black Student Union.

"Me being a black woman and seeing them miss that connection to school and each other, I felt like they were missing out," she said. "The community didn't seem to have any family feel to it."

Of 4,330 students at UHV, 44 percent identify as white, while 23 percent are Hispanic, 18 percent are black and 10 percent Asian. The remainder comprise other ethnic groups.

The university's new Black Student Union joins the ranks of hundreds of other racial and ethnic student organizations across campuses nationwide.

While each such student group has its own specific missions, most share the common goals of academic retention of its members; promoting self-awareness; fellowship with students of similar backgrounds; recruitment and mentorship; and helping to educate the campus community about the group's culture.

Most of the groups are open to members of all races and ethnicities.

Formed on the campuses of predominately white institutions in the 1960s, black student groups have helped to usher in many of the transformative changes of the American college environment, according to a study conducted by Roger L. Pulliam, senior faculty adviser and founder of the National Black Student Union, a network of black student unions nationwide.

In his 1999 academic journal article, "Black Students on White Campuses: 20 Years of Research," education researcher William Sedlacek discussed some of the problems black students on white campuses faced.

These problems ranged from perceived poor communication with faculty members, faculty's lack of consistent reinforcement to black students and the discomfort of white students around blacks because of negative stereotypes.

"It's still a challenge to do the right thing," Pulliam, a product of a predominantly white university, said about the presence of racial issues on campuses. "There are some gaps there."

While universities have become more diverse, many argue the need for ethnic student unions remains.

"Let's say a university has 30,000 students. Three percent of those students may be students of color. Those students need the support of each other," Pulliam said. "They share similar experiences and can learn from each other."

Latino-based organizations expressed the same concerns.

Jose Francisco Delgado Jr., medical student at Ohio State University, College of Medicine and the national officer for the Latino Medical Student Association, said his group aims to increase the number of Latinos in medical school.

Delgado said the student association recently gave away $6,000 in scholarship materials to undergraduates and $3,000 dollars to current medical students with a desire to help Latino members in their own community.

Since UHV's Black Student Union formed in February, Alexander said, its immediate goal is to make students and the Crossroads community aware of its existence, while long-term goals include recruiting potential students to the university and getting African-American history courses added to the curriculum.

The group has made recent strides toward achieving its goals by selecting officers and taking part in Victoria's Black History Month parade.

"Since UHV has such a rich diversity of students, we want to enhance their collegiate experience by offering them a forum for collaboration through student organizations. It is important to promote cultural awareness and multiculturalism through ethnic organizations and give students the opportunity to preserve their culture and traditions and to create a sense of unity," said Janet Foerster, director of UHV's Student Life & Services. "Students who are engaged or committed to an organization are more likely to graduate."

Alexander also sees the student union as a means to help the university meets its goal of becoming a top destination university.

"For UHV to grow, it has to groom leaders and get them connected with the university and the community," said Alexander. "That's what the Black Student Union will do."



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