On Wednesday, Feb. 20, Slippery Rock University’s Black Action Society (BAS) held an event titled “Flexin’ My Complexion” in room 111 of the Eisenberg Classroom Building. Featuring a panel comprised of members of the general body and staff of BAS, the organization hoped to foster an open discussion between the panel and attendees about racism, colorism, and the black experience.
“As the vice president, I have to conduct and construct the general body meetings, so this was originally going to be a general body meeting with topics to talk about and everything. Then we started to rethink how we wanted to structure it: how we wanted it to be a panel and a discussion, how we wanted to be deeper than [a general body meeting],” explained Danaya Jackson, a junior public health major and vice president of BAS. “A lot of times whenever you talk about racism and colorism, it’s just going through the first list and it’s like, ‘Oh okay, so what is it, how does it affect you?’ We wanted it to be about deep-rooted issues and how we as the black community affect each other.”
Colorism, as defined by a slide during the event, is “prejudice and discrimination against individuals with a darker skin tone, particularly within the same ethnicity or racial group.” Each of the panel members was asked to talk about their own experiences in life, how their own complexions affected their perception of the world growing up, and how these issues came to be in the first place.
Attendees were encouraged to ask questions and be part of the discussion themselves. Topics ranged from the meaning of certain terms such as “redbone” or “nappy” to whether or not it may be appropriate to ask someone what their cultural background was. Throughout the proceedings, the conversation was civil and lighthearted, with laughs being a common occurrence that helped to provide levity to the more serious issues on display. BAS, as a whole, hopes to do just that with the student body here at SRU.
Through general body meetings and open discussion in and around campus, the goal is to create a sense of belonging and community while addressing and providing information pertaining to cultural concerns regarding race.
“My freshman year when I first came up here, I wasn’t too social,” Jackson said, recalling her history with the organization. “My friend who was here at the panel was a part of their e-Board and she invited me out a couple of times, so it was pretty nice and it was really welcoming… by my junior year, this was something that I was involved in—I wanted to push these issues, I wanted to help with these events, I wanted to help spread knowledge.”
The Black Action Society strives to help students to feel more at home in their campus—to feel like they belong where they’ve decided to go. The same topic itself was brought up during the discussion, even to the degree of not feeling a sense of belonging within one’s own perceived group. “Where do I fit in?” is not only a core concern of BAS but one they make their mission to answer. An emphasis is placed on fostering a healthy relationship, not just within the black community, but across the many cultures present at Slippery Rock.
“… it’s a predominantly white institution, so as an African American student, you tend to feel out of place,” Jackson remarked. “You tend to run into people who are not like you, so we don’t have a way to fit in; Black Action Society is a way for you to feel welcome here and wanted here. It’s not just only for black people, it’s for us to unite the community as a whole so that we all can coexist happily.”
For students interested in joining, Danaya recommended they come and see what BAS was all about for themselves and see if it was where they fit.
“If you wanna do it, do it. Just push yourself to go do it because it’s gonna turn out great,” Jackson said. “I would say to come out to a few general body meetings, get a feel for it, see how it goes. Once you get a feel for it, it really does start to feel like home; everyone comes and it feels like family no matter what you look like, color, size, anything. Everybody feels very comfortable.”
Going forward, BAS has a number of events scheduled in celebration of Black History Month. Some, such as a visit from a motivational speaker on Sunday, a spin-off of MTV’s show “Wild ‘N’ Out” on Monday and a question-and-answer sesson with actress and author Keke Palmer on Tuesday, have already come and gone. Others, like the organization’s trip to Memphis that’s occurring from Thursday to Sunday, are still in full swing.
To top it all off, on Tuesday, Feb. 26, BAS is holding the “Ebony Ball” in the Smith Student Center Ballroom as one final celebration of a week of cultural events. They welcome anyone in the student body to come, enjoy themselves, and find their place at Slippery Rock University.