Founded in 1969 – a year after the Memphis Sanitation Workers’ Strike – the Rhodes College Black Students Association (BSA) has been a consistent advocate for justice, diversity, inclusion, and equity on campus. Learning of the explicit racism that the Memphis sanitation workers endured in their workplace, Rhodes students joined the Sanitation Workers’ marches of 1968. A year later, those same students established the Rhodes College Black Students Association as a vital force demanding full campus integration and empowering African American students.
Fifty-one years later, the BSA continues to serve an essential role on campus, as it fosters a supportive and comfortable environment for black students. With approximately 100 members comprised of black students, allies, and people of color, the BSA organizes numerous educational, entertainment, and empowerment events. On a monthly basis the BSA hosts its infamous “Soul Food and Cinema” event that features entertainment and educational films rooted in a black foundation along with hearty soul food. In addition, the BSA organizes annual Back-to-School cookouts, open mic nights in the Lynx Lair, and “Moccas and Melanin” – discussions regarding colorism. These events allow BSA members the opportunity to bond and develop a sense of community on campus. Current BSA President and Political Science student, Sydney Jones, elaborates on BSA’s supportive environment, claiming: “BSA has empowered me into becoming a more well-rounded and assertive leader. It has taught me to become resilient and to always look for the positives – to carry on organizing these events for the betterment of black students on this campus.”
As the BSA has grown in numbers over the past years, so has its on-campus and alumni recognition. For the past two consecutive years, the BSA has been awarded “Program of the Year” by Campus Life Awards for its Annual Convocation event. It has also received the “Organization of the Year” award in 2018 for its phenomenal programming. Furthermore, as the BSA reached its 50th anniversary in 2019, it hosted the BSA 50th Banquet, celebrating alumni and current students.
For Kerri Campbell ’02, the Director of Community Relations at Rhodes College, these joint alumni and student events are the highlight of her homecoming experience, as she looks forward to meeting current BSA students and learning of the BSAs new programs: “Celebrations like the BSA homecoming reception serve to energize the African American alumni base, and allow us to connect with students on a deeper, more personal level around our shared experiences. I am looking forward to seeing BSA and the Black Alumni Chapter continue to build upon and foster a deep, empowering connection.”
With the conclusion of Black History Month, the BSA hosted its annual convocation Friday, February 28 in the Bryan Campus Life Center Ballroom. A celebratory banquet open to all students, faculty, and alumni, the annual convocation serves as the culmination of the beautiful iterations of blackness that the BSA witnesses. Featuring this year’s theme “New Era, Celebrating our Legacy,” this convocation focused on displaying the excellence of BSA students and black leaders to come.
The banquet featured two alumni keynote speakers, Brandon Johnson ’19 and Chloe Moore ’16. It also included a dance performance by the Rhodes Majorette Squad along with spoken word performances.
By: Mariam Khayata '22
Political Science and International Studies Major
Diversity and Inclusion RSG Committee Chair
Digital Content Associate, Rhodes College Alumni Relations
Images taken during convocation