Home Local News Black Student Unions from across Dane County gather at Madison College

Black Student Unions from across Dane County gather at Madison College

Black Student Unoin members created "advertisements" for their school's BSUs. Photo by Omar Waheed.

Students from Black Student Unions (BSU) across Dane County high schools came together at Madison College for a first annual meet-up.

Around 150 BSU members from about 10 high schools throughout Dane County came out to Madison College to network and learn more about the support structures for Black students in higher education. The meet-up was the first ever for Dane County BSUs, with plans to make it an annual event.

After bringing his own Waunakee High School BSU students to Madison College in Spring 2023 for a similar venture, Patrick Collins wanted to find a way to get other schools together. He worked with Madison College to invite other high school BSUs where students had the opportunity to continue building community.

“Because of the pandemic, we heard from other schools that a lot of BSUs were trying to restart up and Madison College’s BSU was trying to restart,” Collins said. “We thought it would be a great way to show support of other districts, but also get the other students to really network and find out what other schools are doing.”

Throughout the event, students from the different BSUs got to mingle with each other and compare practices. They were tasked with creating an advertisement for their school’s BSU to reflect on the importance of the BSU and the representation it brings. All BSUs then hung the ads on the wall where students could look at efforts from each school’s groups.

The group from Monona Grove High School highlighted its volunteering, fundraisers, college visits and goal of its BSU, which is “to provide leadership, inspire peers, [and] teach acceptance while welcoming all backgrounds.”

The all backgrounds point from Monona Grove’s BSU is something that Jimmy Cheffen, climate and culture program coordinator at Madison College, has noticed from his time going through BSUs and attending Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

“You see all those different shades of color in the BSU, and BSU is just not only for Black students, it’s for anybody that wants to get involved in social justice. I feel like there’s a need, so I’m loving the way it looks. It looks totally different than when I was in college,” Cheffen said. “I think this is what’s so beautiful about this.”

Jimmy Cheffen comments on one of the BSU ads. Photo by Omar Waheed.

Students continued to network through the next activity “99 questions” where one representative from each school’s BSU would sit at a table talk about their group’s goals, hopes for changes at their high schools and major challenges.

For Cheffen, BSUs have been a pipeline for finding community in higher education. A challenge he saw comes from his own experience of seeing a lack of representation affecting retention rates for students of color going into college.

“For our students of color, it’s important to retain them and get that sense of belonging if a student for the first year,” Cheffen said. “If students of color are not engaged, then most likely they’ll leave — especially in the first year.”

Durand Hunter, associate principal at Oregon High School, was excited to see an event for his Black and brown students to have an event like the meet-up with other students of color.

He notes that there are very few opportunities for Oregon High School’s students of color to come to big scenes with “kids like themselves” organizing and promoting better outcomes for themselves. He felt it was important for the 15 students he brought along to better learn the infrastructure of BSUs in other places.

Students and advisers were largely excited to bring schools together and help students of color connect with each other. Collins and Cheffen hope to make the meet-up an annual event at Madison College going forward.