According to the University Institutional Research and Reporting, only 7.5% of degree seeking students at IU Bloomington identify as Black/African American. In response there are several IU-sponsored Black-focused spaces within the Neal-Marshall Culture Center, the African American Arts Institute, the department of African American and African Diaspora Studies, and student-led organizations that focus on specific topics related to the Black community. These groups can be found on the Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center’s website and BeInvolved.
The question of the benefits and necessity of Black-focused spaces continues to arise from outside the Black community. For people of color, these spaces can give students a chance to express themselves freely, while for non-people of color, these spaces can appear exclusive.
One group that offers a safe space for Black students is Campus Curls and Coils, an organization that empowers black students who wear their natural hair and provides education on styling and maintaining healthy, natural hair through community events.
Senior Diavian Miller is the event liaison of Campus Curls and Coils. She said organizations like Campus Curls can offer a chance to connect with people who understand her feelings without explaining them or judgement, as opposed to Predominantly White Institutions.
“For me, I think this club is a getaway,” Miller said. “There’s a lot of times, especially going to a PWI where you’re not expressing yourself to the extent that you want to be judged or characterized by other groups of people.”
Sophomore Damorion Page, vice president of the Black Collegians, said he feels similarly. Black Collegians focuses on getting Black students involved in political conversations and civic engagement. He said that while the organization is a majority Black organization, it is not an exclusively Black organization.
“If you don’t have these Black organizations and Black spaces where we make them comfortable about who you are, they get imposter syndrome,” Page said. “When you create these spaces, it helps people know who they are, what is for them and what they are for.”
He said Black spaces are important for Black students to feel comfortable with their identities and have their thoughts be heard.
“It’s hard for Black voices to have weight,” Page said “It’s like a shareholder who has one share compared to a board member who has majority shares of a company.”
Junior Jackie Patterson said she has participated in several Black-focused groups at IU. Being in a group like this helps her find the diversity that lies within the Black community.
“It’s amazing to be Black,” Patterson said. “It comes with culture and history that’s rich and full of people who have worked hard to get you to where you are today. I think being Black today is an identity that has a lot of meaning.”
She also said seeing other successful Black people helps encourage and empower Black students when they leave these spaces. One group she has participated in is I Can Persist, a group for women of color in STEM.
“In these STEM classes, you see a lot of white people, you see a lot of white men, and you almost feel like you’re doing something wrong,” Patterson said. “If all I ever saw was white men being successful in my field, in my major, I don’t think that I would be as encouraged to continue doing what I’m doing.”
Miller, Page and Patterson said they believe in the importance of education in and outside of the Black community about Black history and sentiments. Patterson said informing non-people of color on their privilege and the importance of safe spaces for marginalized groups can increase acceptance.
“I think educating people on why certain things are sensitive topics to some is a good thing,” Miller said. “I think that standing up for people who may be experiencing oppression can be good because it’s not right. You shouldn’t be afraid to help each other out.”