As a member of the Black Student Union since freshman year, Ariyonna Cousins has been a constant change maker within the organization.
Cousins’ first leadership position in BSU was as the educational chair of the Freshman Action Team in September 2018. From there, she was elected educational chair in September 2019, vice president in September 2020 and lastly president in May 2021.
Cousins, as the BSU president, is pushing for there to be more of a focus on the mental health of Black students here on campus.
The questions and answers have been edited for clarity and brevity.
IDS: Why did you want to become the Black Student Union President?
Cousins: Seeing there was a time for transition, especially with Ky Freeman becoming student body president, I felt this was the perfect opportunity to continue the legacy that we have with Ky as president and me as vice president and with the things we have created in the past. I also wanted to create a safe space for the students and for them to know they have a home on campus for them.
IDS: How is BSU preserving Blackness on IU’s campus?
Cousins: We are making sure we are entering the doors that are still shut off to us. So whether that is going into those spaces and demanding the needs of Black students, and letting them know that we need these things for our community. Also, we are just creating space for Black students to be free and ourselves and not feel like we have to confine ourselves to what campus is expecting out of us and creating a space just for us to preserve who we are and not get left out or drowned out.
IDS: In your opinion, do you think that IU has become more inclusive for Black students?
Cousins: I think that they have tried to in a certain sense. But I think it is hard for people to try to create a space for students when they don’t identify with them or don’t know their needs. I think that while they are trying to, they haven’t done it effectively because they don’t know how to.
IDS: What initiatives does BSU have planned for this school year?
Cousins: Our main initiative is focusing on mental health in the Black community. For students returning back to campus after being in their rooms, first-generation students, and just being a Black student who saw the Black Lives Matter protest happening in the summer, we want to focus on fellowship. So in order to understand what students need, and to understand where we can meet them in the middle regarding their mental health, we have to fellowship with them, get to know them, and let them know that we are reachable for them. We do have some events coming up. Our next mass meeting will be centered around mental health and it takes place on Oct. 7.
There will be an open discussion about the stigma surrounding mental health in the Black community, and how mental health affects the Black community differently. We will have licensed counselors and therapists come out, as resources and to help destigmatize mental health. We have other events in the works, like working with CAPS to make this service more accessible. We want to allow students to come to us when they are looking for resources, and we have to educate ourselves in the process as well.
IDS: Has BSU reached out to other Black organizations on this campus or on any other campuses? If so, will there be any programming collaborations?
Cousins: We were originally going to have an event with LevelUp with Prea, but it pretty much was rained out. But we still want to collaborate with them because their sole purpose is health, whether that may be physical health, wellbeing health or mental health. So we want to work with them, as well as the Black organizations we have on this campus. I know that we are collaborating with the Black Graduate Association, to create an alumni panel. We would have graduates from different career fields come back and give advice to current graduate and undergraduate students. Also, we want to have a retreat with all of the Black Student Unions around the state, and that is in the works.
IDS: As a busy woman, what do you do to make sure to keep and balance around you?
Cousins: So I take what I call self-care days, occasionally throughout the month. I just step away from all things school related and organization related. I take time for myself and do things that I enjoy. And sometimes that is just me laying in bed and watching television because I do not necessarily get to do that very often. So it’s very nice to just sit back and not have to think about anything pertaining to school or BSU or just life in general.
IDS: What advice do you have for Black students on campus?
Cousins: My main advice is to reach out if you need help. Do not feel like there are not people out in the community that are able to hear you out. So whether you go to the Groups office or go to CAPS, or to talk to your professor, see someone and let them know that you're struggling with whatever it is. There are people that are on campus that want to help you. While they may be a bit harder to find, once you do find them they will provide you with the resources that you need. But do not go throughout your four years struggling and feeling like you cannot get the help that you need.