Black Student Union at the University of Utah helps students connect

Story and slideshow by GUSTABO RODRIGUEZ

Explore the Student Involvement Wing and the Center for Equity and Student Affairs and the Office for Equity and Diversity.

The University of Utah is a school where high school students can expand their educational horizons.

Students from a diverse background also apply to the U to expand and get a higher education. But some of them need help adjusting to the new school and to obstacles they might face as they attend the U.

The U has a variety of clubs and organizations that help students of diverse backgrounds with college life. For example, these clubs might help them get into classes for their majors, academic advising and financial advice.

There is one organization in particular at the U that helps African-American students.

The Black Student Union is one of the diverse organizations at the U that is dedicated and focused on helping the underrepresented students. BSU helps black students get involved with the school and within their community.

BSU has even hosted a special day at the U for black high school students to get them interested in higher education and inspire them to apply to the U or other institutions. BSU members have workshops, activities, and they give the visiting students a tour around campus.

The conference also helps students apply and enroll at the U or another school by telling them what to expect when they enroll.

This is why BSU is there ­­­— to help incoming U students get to know not only the school but also other students if they feel lost during their first semester.

James Jackson III founded ACCEL (African-Americans Advancing in Commerce Community Education & Leadership). Jackson was part of BSU in his early years at the U. This organization helped him become comfortable on campus. He did not feel like he was in a strange place anymore after he joined BSU.

“It was an opportunity for me to socialize and I made friends on campus,” Jackson said in an email.

He also had help from older students in BSU to show him around campus. This was also another opportunity to make new friends.

Not only does BSU work with the black students, but it also helps other clubs on campus. For example, they have participated in events for the Social Justice Advocates and the Asian American Student Association. This is a way to let students know that BSU helps other groups regardless of their background. They’ve also worked with the Kick off Black Social where other black students and staff bond and have a stronger community.

Fattima Ahmed got involved with BSU when she got an email stating the group needed volunteers to participate in the annual high school conference her freshman year.

“Coming to a new environment I was wanting to get involved in my campus and community. I was eager to grasp the exciting opportunity!” Ahmed said in an email interview.

To seize her opportunity to join BSU, Ahmed went to an advisor at the Union Building and the advisor recognized her from the high school conference.

The advisor told her to attend the next BSU meeting to see what BSU was about and what to expect.

“Before I knew it they were encouraging me to run for an executive position,” Ahmed said.

Ahmed has had students from high school reaching out to BSU to get the black students in their high school to get together to form a stronger community.

“I’ve personally worked closely with students to help them toward the intense processes of college; including college admissions, financial assistance, and certainly support,” Ahmed said.

The Black Student Union has 200 members and counting, according to the email addresses BSU has in their directory. These are not only former students from the U, but also members within the faculty at the U, alumni and community members.

Future college students at the U can count on BSU to help them throughout their college years. BSU has a service and supporting faculty and advisors who provide personal mentoring, not just for school but also to the students.

“They whole-heartedly support our future endeavors and provide any support to make sure we get there,” Ahmed said.

Faculty and the advisors help BSU and their students connect with other resources on campus and share their personal experiences in an attempt to aid students in their college endeavors.

The financial questions from students are a specialty of Ahmed.

“It’s an interesting hobby of mine to personally assist students with situation such as these,” Ahmed said.

Ahmed is not only involved with BSU as a member, but she is there to work with the new college students here at the U one-on-one.

“I’ve worked with students in a more collective manner, but I’ve had so many experiences interacting with them one on one on a personal level. I love being able to specifically learn about interests, family, and academics,” Ahmed said.

If students are confused or don’t know what classes to take next, BSU works with the Center for Ethnic Student Affairs. The center, located on the second floor of the Student Union, provides academic advising for students.

“Denise E. Francis Montaño has provided so much help for students who come to receive advising,” Ahmed said.

Montaño is one of the many advisors CESA has for students who seek help or guidance to pick their classes. She is more than an advisor— she treats every student as a friend and will listen to them. It doesn’t matter if a student has a question about school or just wants to talk; Montaño will be at the CESA office.

“Any student who walks through our doors can connect with any and all of our advisors,” Montaño said in an email interview. “Students connect with advisors for a variety of reasons and may talk about their academic progress, negative and positive experiences in the classroom/campus/or SLC, issues that cause them to feel discouraged/stuck, family challenges — anything.”

She is not Ahmed’s advisor but she welcomes any question that she might have. Ahmed and Montaño have shared work-related experiences with the Inclusion Center for Community Justice. This is a nonprofit organization being hosted at the U; this is a small program that provides experiential programing to promote dialogues for inclusion and social justice for the state of Utah.

“Fattima has been a consultant for BSU and even though her schedule is filled with services she does as a social justice advocate she took on the role of a BSU officer,” Montaño said.

Volunteer work is also an emphasis of BSU. This year the group has partnered with the Bennion Community Service Center to bring the US Dream Academy to campus. This mentoring program is designed for students from third and eighth grade levels who have parents in jail and help them understand and keep going to school.

On April 20, 2013, board members Jasmine Walton and Charity Jefferson worked together to provide the BSU Black Affairs to celebrate the end of the spring semester. This was a dance event for every student to get a chance to dress up and have a good time with friends.

To find out more about BSU, students can visit the CESA office at the Union or follow the group on Twitter (@UofUBSU). BSU has an annual membership fee of $10 that each person, including the executive board members, pays in order to join. This helps BSU fund the opening social they have at the start of every year.

If students are interested in joining the BSU board or have any questions, they can email BSU at

“No you do NOT have to be black to be in BSU nor do you have to be in order to run,” Fattima Ahmed said in an email. “We stand as a group who welcomes all!”

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