Central Black Student Union at Illinois to hold conference about connecting students

By Ali Braboy

Green, now president of the Central Black Student Union at Illinois, and senior in AHS, is preparing for the “Our Place at a Predominantly White Institution” conference Friday and Saturday in the hopes of talking about issues black students face and ideas on how to solve these problems

Green said before coming to the University, she went to a high school that was very diverse in race and culture; if someone didn’t like someone, it wasn’t because of skin color. It was a very different experience when she came to the University.

“You’re judging me upon something I can’t control,” she said. “It was a whole new thing, coming to college.”

Around 200 people are registered to attend the conference hosted by the Central Black Student Union at Illinois. People from other Illinois colleges will be in attendance, including Jonathan Butler, one of the central student figures who participated in the protests at the University of Missouri.

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The conference will include speakers and workshops, such as how to be a leader, in the Student Dining and Residential Programs (SDRP) leadership suites.

Amaka Onwuta, vice president of the union and junior in Business, said the goal of the conference is to connect students with one another, bringing together the minds and ideas of those who know the experience of being black on a predominantly white institution.

She said the union allows students to have a safe space to communicate issues they are facing and support one another. The group also helps students with interview skills, studying for exams and networking.

Marissa Roberson, graduate student in the School of Labor and Employment Relations, is the student advisor for the union.

She said there are some University students who aren’t aware of other races or other cultures, which can lead to some comments being made out of ignorance. But, she said she believes some comments are made to be intentionally rude or hateful.

In reference to the White Student Union Facebook group that surfaced, she said students who identify with one another can get together and talk about experiences, but these groups should not target others.

“They would like a white student union to talk about their experiences on campus? Feel free. But don’t take that union to then turn around and call us terrorists and try to tear us down, because that’s not what we’re doing at our black student union meetings.”

Roberson said the union in the past has had telephone conferences with other unions in Illinois and at other Big Ten universities about issues they were having and solutions to the problems, but the group wanted to meet in person, which led to the creation of the conference.

Green said many of the negative problems black students at the University face are passive, such as moving away or saying things under one’s breath. She said she has come prepared with answers for a study group with other students, but sometimes, they don’t want her answers.

“You’re sitting here like well, why, why when everybody else speaks, their point is validated but yours isn’t?” Green said. “You think in this time and day and age people would be past that point.”

Roberson said the conference will allow the students to talk about how they will move forward with challenges they’re having, while also saying, “We’re not accepting this and something needs to be done.”

Onwuta is hopeful for what the conference will do for students.

“It gives them hope that things can change because if you never try then you never really know what you can get out of it,” she said. “And some of us have tried it and experienced that hope, so I want to share that with other students too.”

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Clarification: A previous version of this article implied some quotes said by Green were said by Roberson. The Daily Illini regrets the error.