Inside of Science (building 52) lies a long hallway with turns at every corner, almost like a maze. In this building, there is a room with couches to lounge and socialize. On the right are cubicles and computers that make up a study space for students. In the far left corner is an office that belongs to Connections for Academic Success (CAS) Director Stephen Ross. This space is where CAS is run.

CAS is a program offered to students who identify as black or African American. When students apply to Cal Poly and check the box indicating they identify as black, they are automatically offered resources and support under this program, Ross said. Some of those resources include academic advising, a study room, computers with programs and a space to hang out between classes and socialize.

The program is a resource dedicated to retaining and graduating as many black students as possible and can refer students to other resources depending on what they are looking for, Ross said.

According to an article written by the Hechinger Report, “about 33 percent of African American adults had at least a two-year college degree in 2015, up from about 28 percent in 2007. For Latinos, that figure grew to about 23 percent from 19 percent, while whites grew to 47 percent from 41 percent.

Graphic by Gurpreet Bhoot

CAS aims to increase the retention of black students on campus and increase the number of black students who obtain bachelor’s degrees. Clubs like Black Student Union (BSU) and National Society for Black Engineers (NBSE) share a similar goal.

Building a community

BSU is one of the major clubs that acts as an on-campus community for black students. The club meets weekly and students are able to come to a space where they can learn about black culture and what it means to be black, co-adviser of BSU Ross said. Ross said BSU has helped students by offering a sense of inclusion and support.

Video by Julia Morris

“I think BSU has grown so much, it makes me emotional to think about it, like it’s so strong now and our presence is really large now,” ethnic studies senior and BSU President Saisa Willis said. 

Ross said these resources are helpful because it offers a sense of cultural acceptance and helps students feel more included at Cal Poly.

The path to recharter BSU

Approximately eight years ago, BSU lacked leadership and wasn’t a significant resource for students at the time, according to Ross. The chapter was reinitiated in 2014 by the director of Student Support Services, Jeffery Alexander.

Graphic by Chloe Carlson

Alexander thinks that BSU went unchartered at Cal Poly for so long because leadership roles were held by upperclassmen who went on to graduate, so no leader was left behind to continue the club.

“I don’t think there was enough support to encourage students to charter it,” he said.

Alexander also remembers the lack of community and support among black students when he came to Cal Poly.

“I came to Cal Poly in 2013 and when I got here the atmosphere of black students was completely different from the atmosphere that exists today … It was a really broken community where everyone was out for really just survival, like just go to class, get through it and survive,” he said.

When Alexander was a student, he made it his goal to recharter BSU, but at the time there weren’t enough students dedicated to restarting the organization. As a staff member, Alexander created a focus group. That was where Willis and a few other students stepped forward to restart BSU.

“Our first quarter being chartered we had some meetings where we had only four students show up … and we just talked, we didn’t even have any topics to discuss because we didn’t really know what to do and now,” Willis said. “A year and a half later, our meetings are too big for our space now. Our first meeting this year I think we had [between] 60 … or 80 people come to our meetings.”

Graphic by Chloe Carlson

Willis and Alexander rechartered the club in 2015 under the name Brothers and Sisters United to get students interested in joining and creating a community. Once that was stabilized, members decided to change the name to Black Student Union.

Bringing students together

Today, the club is in its second year and continues to grow. Each meeting has approximately 50 to 60 members and has even moved to a bigger space, next door to CAS. In the meetings students talk about historical culture, identity and education.

“Going from having like four people and just talking about nothing to being part of something so big like Black History Month and our showcase last year and those kind of things is just like, in a year and a half, what can we do?” Willis said.

Willis said students who are thinking of joining or want to know more about BSU can always contact one of the members, and that everyone is welcome.

“There’s so many different types of people in BSU, so many students from different backgrounds not just black students,” Willis said. “But we have such a diverse population in our club that you don’t have to be black to be there and to feel comfortable.”

There is a person in that room for everyone to connect with and to be friends with … We are all very open and welcoming because we know what it’s like to be shut out; we know what it’s like to feel like you are the only one or you’re alone so the point of our club is to make sure that no one feels alone.”

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