“Black Out” Held at Lane University Center to Lobby for BSA’s Interests

Black Student Alliance held a “black out” at the Lane University Center on the evening of April 7 in order to promote awareness of inequality issues at Frostburg State University and lobby SGA for BSA’s interests on campus.

Students participating in the black out attended Student Government Association’s regularly scheduled meeting at 7:30 to voice concerns about BSA’s budget for 2016-17 and BSA’s involvement in Fall 2016’s Homecoming.

Although tensions grew during the meeting, there were no significant problems, and there was no security intervention. FSU Police Chief Cynthia Smith said before the black out that she did not expect the event to pose any safety concerns.

The gallery at SGA's meeting is usually bare, with only a small handful in attendance, but over 30 students came out to lobby for BSA's interests. (Brad Kroner/TBL)
The gallery at SGA’s meeting is usually bare, with only a small handful in attendance, but over 30 students came out to lobby for BSA’s interests. (Brad Kroner/TBL)

At the conclusion of SGA’s regular agenda of passing funding packets, SGA President James Kirk opened the floor to comments from the gallery.

“All students are welcome to attend our meetings, and we welcome input from students from all student organizations,” Kirk said.

Current BSA President Shaniya Johnson expressed concern that BSA’s budget would face significant cuts. She said she expected the budget to be limited to only educational and cultural programming.

During the meeting, SGA voted to delay discussion of its budget for next year until its next meeting on Thursday, April 21 at 7:30. SGA’s constitution requires the budget, and all procedural documents, to be tabled for meeting before debate can commence.

BSA is the only student organization operationally funded by SGA. In SGA’s 2015-16 budget, BSA was allocated $37,790. The Event Funding account available for all other organizations was funded $38,550.

Kirk said that the budget is not set yet and that he is involving members of BSA in the budgeting process, as SGA does every year. 

“BSA is all I have,” Johnson said. “It’s literally all we have to have fun.” She added that FSU is a predominantly white institution, and she argued that the university’s event programming reflects that.

Kyesha Cary, a BSA executive staff member, said, “As a board member, you can hear our frustration. There’s a disconnect between SGA and BSA.”

At one point, after SGA Secretary Chantal Dones interrupted Johnson, Johnson told Dones, “I will fight you.” She made no attempt to advance toward Dones. Johnson apologized for this after the meeting.

Jahree Sosa, another BSA member, asked if the budget setting process would be transparent, so that members would know exactly what would be cut before the meeting on April 21.

Kirk offered to listen to BSA’s concerns and work on possible solutions.

Johnson also expressed concern that her organization would no longer be responsible for organizing Homecoming. In 2015, SGA voted unanimously to authorize BSA to organize the event.

However, it was not SGA’s decision to remove that authority from BSA. According to an April 7 memo from the Department of Student and Community Involvement (SCI), this decision was made by SCI and Lane Center staff due to increasing concerns that students were not skilled enough to program large-scale, high risk, and late night programs without university staff assistance.

Homecoming will now be planned by a committee of several different student organizations with oversight from SCI and the Lane Center staff.

“We are establishing a collaborative Homecoming Planning Committee comprised of students representing the major student organizations that have contributed to Homecoming events (i.e. SGA, BSA, UPC, LUC, Greeks) that will be chaired by our Director of Student Activities and Greek Life (ex officio) and charged with the planning and implementation of the Homecoming Dance and the Pep Rally,” wrote Bill Mandicott, Assistant Vice President for Student and Community Involvement, in a memo from SCI.

BSA representatives called for more diversity in event planning.

“We pay the same tuition as other students,” said Cary, adding that she wanted to see more representation for all minorities.

Dasia Scott, BSA President-elect and SGA senator, said, “African Americans have the highest retention rate but they don’t have the representation in programming.”

African-American females have a retention rate of 84 percent, closely followed by a retention rate of 83 percent for African-American males.

Scott said that BSA had co-sponsored Homecoming for ten years before SGA took control the event several years ago. In 2015, however, BSA organized it single-handedly.

Johnson said, “Things are being taken away and ruined for us, but nothing bad happened at our events.” She added, “Nobody wants to let us prosper.”

BSA was hoping to use revenue from Homecoming to make up for its potential budget cuts, but Homecoming revenue will be allocated into a special Homecoming account for use by many student organizations.

Members highlighted that BSA holds itself to a high standard and that it tries to push its members to excel, noting the retention rates of black students.

“We mentor our freshmen and teach them what it means to be a black student at a predominantly white institution,” Johnson said.

Cary said, “We promote black excellence.”

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