Highland Starts Up Their Very First Black Student Union Club

Gabi de Oliveira, Entertainment Editor

In a historic move, students at Highland have formed the first Black Student Union for the Rams. This groundbreaking step signifies the growing room for diversity, inclusion, and representation in education.  

Students at Highland have tried forming a BSU last year and several years prior, but the request has always been denied. 

Until this year.  

“This year, it was more acceptable,” said sophomore Avarose Norman, Highland BSU’s president.  

Last year, Norman was involved in Kids of Love, a group meant to provide a place for students of color like the BSU does. Norman and other students who had been in KOL submitted a club form for BSU again this year, and this time, they were finally allowed to do it.  

This may be in part due to the growing number of clubs for students of color at Highland, such as the Native American club, the Hispanos of Highland club, the People of Polynesia club, and the Latino Empowerment club.  

Deirdre Straight, advisor for the BSU, has encouraged many of these student leaders as they start up their clubs. 

“The timing is right, and when you see one club able to start, then other students gain interest in starting, too. It’s about where students feel like they can easily or comfortably participate in school activities,” Straight said. “I want to do what I can to make students feel like they belong to Highland and Highland belongs to them.”  

Black Student Unions have been around since 1966, founded by a group of Black students at San Francisco State University. The purpose of the BSU was to advance civil rights, raise inclusivity in education, and bring together Black students. The organization quickly spread to other universities and high schools throughout the country. Nowadays, almost all major universities have a BSU on campus. 

BSUs vary from school to school, focusing on what their community needs the most. At Highland, BSU has many functions, from community aid to simply providing a safe space for students. 

Earlier this year, Highland’s BSU organized a clothing drive and are now planning a book drive for the Highland daycare and local preschools. As the year goes on, they hope to plan additional activities that will foster involvement and create more leadership opportunities for Black students at Highland.  

A big focus for Highland’s BSU is promoting Black owned local businesses and increasing education of Black history. In a state like Utah (where 85% of the population is white), this can often be difficult.  

“There’s not a lot of black people in Utah, especially in the school system,” says freshman Takarah Parker, vice president of Highland’s BSU. “Being black in the American school system is a very unique experience.”  

According to the Salt Lake School District’s 2022-2023 ethnicity report, African-Americans only make up 4.6% of the district’s high school population. This disparity harms Black students and can lead to a feeling of solitude. Black Student Unions create a community for these students and increase the sense of belonging.  

“We want to have a group where you’re able to hang out with people that look like you and have had experiences like you,” Parker said.  

Additionally, Straight believes the BSU will provide a sanctuary for black students. 

“It’s a great opportunity for students to get together and discuss issues in a safe place and to contribute to the school in a way that they might not otherwise be able to do,” Straight said.  

Highland’s BSU works hard to create this safe place for students. Club meetings involve planning for upcoming projects, but also invest time for members to simply socialize and spend time with each other.  

However, the BSU doesn’t stop at connecting Highland students– it connects with other BSUs throughout the valley, introducing members to a diverse network of other students.  

“We’ve been doing a lot of talk time to discuss what it’s like being black in the school system and what it’s like for us to kind of relate to each other,” Norman said. “But mostly we’ve been doing out of school activities with other BSUs so that we get in contact with each other and meet other black people in Utah, considering that we’re a predominantly white state.”  

Over the course of Black History Month, the Highland BSU participated in several activities with other Salt Lake BSUs. These included the University of Utah’s BSU conference and the All-Star Bazaar, a yearly festival to showcase Black art and Black businesses in Utah.  

Every month, there is a BSU coalition meeting for high school BSUs to come together and talk about different opportunities.  

“I think it’s really important for black students or students of black descent to be interested in joining BSU just as a spot to belong, especially due to the amount of involvement we have with the community,” Norman said. “It’s important to be connected to who you are. We invite anyone who supports us to join BSU.”