BSU celebrates 50th anniversary with gala

Safiyah Anwar Chuku

At the start of the gala, Jeffrey Zigbuo ’26 sung the Black National Anthem. (Photo courtesy of Angel Santiago.) 

To commemorate its 50th anniversary, the Black Student Union (BSU) hosted a gala on Friday, which around 180 students, alums, faculty, and staff attended. 

The event, which took place in the former Greylock Dining Hall, discussed the origins of BSU, highlighted the organization’s role in providing a safe space for Black students, and celebrated its accomplishments. After a performance of the Black National Anthem by Jeffrey Zigbuo ’26, a catered dinner was served. BSU co-Chairs Isha Kamara ’23, Tyler Smith ’24, and Wongi Ayele ’24 introduced the BSU board. Nadia Joseph ’25, BSU historian, then spoke about the history of the organization, noting that the Williams Afro-American Society (WAAS) paved the way for the creation of BSU. “[WAAS] proposed to the administration to change the policy course syllabi to incorporate Black history,” she said. 

Karla Cabrera ’25 spoke shortly after Joseph on the role BSU plays in fostering a Black community at the College. “BSU’s main goal, especially in these past few years, has been rebuilding a community that was so impaired and stunted by COVID, especially in light of the Black Lives Matter movement and the murder of George Floyd,” Cabrera said.

She went on to discuss the current Black spaces on campus, which she said contribute to Black students “feeling safe to take up space on this campus and creating our own spaces, like Eban House, which has become a staple for the Black community this year in the absence of Rice House.” Cabrera ended her speech by outlining the organization’s hopes for its relationship with the administration going forward. “It’s a matter of continuing work to strengthen and build the [Black] community and … demanding that the institution provide for us in terms of safety and mental health.” 

Nadra Franklin ’86 gave the final speech, reminiscing on her time in BSU. “We threw parties, we played a lot of cards, we talked a lot of trash,” she said. “The Black Student Union was to experience the joy of Blackness.”

For many of the attendees, celebrating not only the legacy of BSU, but of Blackness at the College in general, was important. “I think that there are a lot of times where at Williams, the Black community feels super dispersed,” Beza Lulseged ’25 said. “[Here,] I saw people that look like me, and it was nice getting a better perspective of the Black community at Williams.” 

Samantha Alexander ’25 expressed a similar sentiment. “It was just so nice to be in a Black space,” she said. “I feel like I’ve kind of done a lot of other club activities that have felt very white, so it’s nice to see everyone nicely dressed, have a good time, [and] eating [together].” 

For Zigbuo, exploring Blackness at the College through the gala was a cathartic experience. “As I stand here today I can’t help but feel immense pride and respect for myself and for us, because in the face of adversity, those that came before us paved the road, simply to guide us through this unfair world.” 

“What does it mean to be Black?” Zigbuo asked in his closing speech. “The answer to this is beauty. What does it mean to be a Black student? The answer to this is excellence. What does it mean to be a Black student at Williams College? It means insistence on challenging this space that denies our existence.”