In 1966, students created the Black Student Union (BSU) to bring awareness to racial discrimination and to serve as a coalescing group for activism regarding these issues. Indeed, in April 1968, the BSU submitted a list of grievances and demands to then President Arthur Flemming. One outcome of these requests included a report proposing funding of a “Task Force on Black Studies.” This report also provided detailed background about the previously created “Committee on Racism,” as the Black Studies initiative grew out of one of the Sub-Committees on Academic Affairs. According to the report,
“[T]he proposal for the establishment of a School of Black Studies is a major part, but one part only, of a concentrated and whole-hearted effort at institutional reform in the light of what all sane men agree to be the most pressing current social and academic needs.” (p. 7)
You can read additional documents regarding this initiative, and the larger civil rights issues occurring on campus, in the digital collection of the Papers of the Presidents. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the Black Student Union expanded its efforts in numerous areas, especially concerning awareness surrounding culture, arts, and education. The BSU continued to build strong bonds with other groups across campus, including Student Affairs, the Office of Multicultural Academic Success, and the Council for Minority Education, and remained the go-to place for black students on the UO campus. In addition, due to the initiatives spearheaded and developed by BSU in the 1960s, the enrollment and graduation rates for black students increased.
Today, black students remain a driving force behind strong activism regarding issues of race and ethnicity. Students most noticeably took an active stance in addressing diversity concerns in the mid to late 2000s and the Black Student Union was ever present in this endeavor. Sparked by instances of cultural inefficiencies within the College of Education, black students used this as an opportunity to note larger campus climate issues as they pertained to students of color. In a series of meetings with central administration and various actions including the “Zero Awards” given to departments with no faculty or staff of color, black students along with additional students of color moved the campus forward in issues of equity, diversity and inclusion.
By Jennifer O’Neal, University Historian and Archivist and Zach Bigalke, Student Research Assistant