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Inaugural State of Black event brings together students, administrators

Courtesy Angelina Hall

By Viola Hsia     2/27/24 10:07pm

Rice’s Black Student Association held the first annual State of Black event Feb. 16. According to event coordinator Sean Nyangeri, Black students attended the event to share their experiences of being Black at Rice with administrators.

According to Nyangeri, a McMurtry College sophomore, President Reggie DesRoches, Provost Amy Dittmar and several members of the Center for Civic Leadership attended the event.

“The ‘State of Black Life at Rice’ event was not only insightful but also thought-provoking and impactful, offering a platform for meaningful dialogue and reflection,” DesRoches wrote in an email to the Thresher. “The Black Student Association created an environment where students felt empowered to share their experiences and perspectives. As someone who believes in the power of dialogue and community engagement, I am truly inspired by the association’s work to create spaces for meaningful discourse and reflection.”

Alexander Byrd, the vice provost for diversity, equity and inclusion, also attended the event. He said he was pleased with how the event went.

“I am grateful for all of the work that members of the BSA put into organizing this year’s State of Black [at] Rice,” Byrd wrote in an email to the Thresher. “That the work took place in February, in the midst of so many related examinations and celebrations of Black life at Rice and beyond, was especially inspiring. As always there is good, hard work ahead and there are people ready to find ways forward.”

Nyangeri said he was pleased with the participation from students and faculty.

“It went pretty well,” Nyangeri said. “Black students were able to get their concerns and voices heard [and] their questions asked. In terms of responses from administration, I thought overall they were very receptive.”

According to attendee Shungu Zimbwa, a sophomore from Lovett College, one of the topics discussed at length was experiencing Orientation Week as a Black student. 

“Overall, we don’t have a lot of Black students, and they split you up [into groups during O-Week]. It’s just a lot of things that make it harder to show and be represented as a Black student during O-Week,” Zimbwa said. “[During O-Week] they want you to really love your college and things like that. But it’s just going to be hard, right? That’s something that did get translated a little bit [at the] State of Black.”

Zimbwa said another thing he was looking forward to discussing at the event was Rice’s outreach to Black communities in Houston.

“You see high schools that are predominantly Black, predominantly low income, and they’re very close to our school, but they’re very different from our school in the ways that they don’t have the certain resources that we have,” Zimbwa said. “I want Rice to do more to reach out to those communities, like talk to them and provide resources to establish connections.”

Imaje Harvey, one of the co-moderators, also said Black students feel isolated at Rice.

“A lot of people were talking about [how] we’re [a] very small community, and then we’re split amongst the 11 colleges,” Harvey, a Sid Richardson sophomore, said. “It’s hard to find our community, especially within residential colleges.” 

Harvey also said the event covered topics such as resources for first-generation low-income Black students, as well as protecting Black faculty at Rice.

Zimbwa said he hoped that there would be a more concrete set of goals in future events that Black students wish the faculty and admin to act on.

“I think we should have come together and had more specific action items we would want [the administration] to do,” Zimbwa said. “We could work from actual action items that we would do as a collective.”

Harvey also said she hopes that the event will have a more concrete list of items Black students wish to get out of the discussion next year.

“It was a great open conversation, but maybe [we should create] goals of what we want from this conversation,” Harvey said. “I think having it as an organic conversation was a great way to pilot it, but [we want] to be able to have everyone’s input on what exactly they want from this going forward. It’s just being able to see how these issues are being communicated to everyone and making sure that they’re actually being taken seriously and being worked on.”

Nyangeri said he was proud of establishing a dialogue between Black students and the administration at this event.

“I’m really proud of initiating and moderating [that dialogue],” Nyangeri said. “I thought it was really powerful.”

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