Anyone on Franciscan University’s campus can agree that the student population isn’t exactly ethically diverse, and there is a lack of representation from many cultures that populate the United States. But how aware are students of the backgrounds from which they each come?
Earlier this month, a new club was approved and started on campus called the Black Student Association Club. The founder, Justin Fontenot, a theology and catechetics senior, said there are a couple reasons that he and a few others decided to start the club.
The first reason is that when he first arrived on campus a few years ago, he was already aware that the majority of the students were white, but he was still unsettled by “certain dialogue and comments that would happen that I did not find good, to say the least. I would not go as far as to say it was racist, but I definitely could see signs of ignorance on the parts of where the students were coming from, where they grew up and things of that nature. As I came across other African American students and the African students, they had experienced the same thing,” said Fontenot.
This shared experience led to a desire to start a club that would become a place for learning and dialogue for students of all backgrounds. Another source of inspiration for the club came from the club Latinos for Christ. Fontenot and the other African American and African students drew many ideas from the group to emulate in their own club.
The club has three officers: Fontenot, Nikki Black and Jennifer Onyejekwe. The three asked Matthew Breuninger, who holds a doctorate in clinical psychology from Baylor University, to be their advisor for the club. Fontenot explained that the officers and advisor of the club suggested the idea of the name Black Student Association Club, as opposed to something like African American Club, because some of the group members are American American, while some are from Africa. The term “black” in this sense is much more inclusive.
Some of the major objectives of the club are hosting talks and events on campus, along with “being a place for the black population to come to together and talk about our cultures and experiences because for some of us it is different. But also to open it up to the rest of the campus, no matter what color you are: white, black, brown, yellow or even rainbow. Just to come and experience what our black culture is like,” said Fontenot.
The club has put on one dance and plans to start meetings sometime after mid-terms and spring break. With these meetings, they want it to be a place of learning, discovering and experiencing another culture that plays such an important role in America.
The invitation to come to the club is open to anyone who wants to learn about a black culture. “I just want to emphasize how you should not be afraid to come.” said Fontenot. “I totally understand that it would probably be, as a white person or whoever, intimating to come into a club with a focus on black and black culture. But take it from my perspective, that I live that every day. I am a black person surrounded by a bunch of white people, of course culturally we are different. … It can be difficult sometimes, but I can make it through because of how loving, caring and welcoming people are. And that is the same thing our group is going to be; we are going to be as loving as we can. It will all be good; just don’t be afraid.”
With these dialogue about black culture, the group also wants to draw more attention to the role of African Americans in the Catholic Church and “to share what does it mean to be black and Catholic and what does black spirituality in a Catholic context look like,” said Fontenot.
With this as its objective, the club plans on asking black theologians to come speak on campus, including Ansel Augustine, a theologian from New Orleans, who has become a friend of Fontenot. In the future, the group would like to plan something as big as a conference for African Americans. This may not happen for a while, but the club definitely has big goals for the future.
Mr Fontenot, I applaud your, and the other Black students efforts at Franciscan, that have formed the Black Student Association Club.
I am an African American alum of the University, graduate of 1975. I earned my Bachelors degree in Biology, and attended the Ohio State University College of Dentistry, where I graduated in 1979. I am in private practice.
Though Franciscan was very integral to my growth and development in my education, the presence and affirmation of Black students, other than a few basketball players, was not very pronounced while I was a student there. I am an Evangelical Christian, and practice my faith consistently, and devotedly. Though not Catholic, my education also includes being the first African American to graduate from my high school, Walsh Jesuit. The Jesuit priests there, were very instrumental in my preparation for college, and the world that I was about to enter. I also was the only Af Am student in my class at Ohio State! So I was ‘prepared’ to function in a majority
white educational environment, over an extended period of time. I cannot emphasize strongly enough, the importance in what you are doing for our school. As our country and world are increasingly more diverse, it is imperative that students that are not of color, become exposed to what the world that they will be entering into is comprised of…alot of people of color! However, I’m not naive! It is far easier for those students to return, after graduation, to the world that they are most familiar, and not make, or be positively influenced by, an interaction with people of color, a reality in their lives. This is what is so important about your Association. If Franciscan white students have the courage to abandon their comfort zones, and take a bold step of faith to change their perspectives of people so different from what they know, they will become the true beneficiaries of your group…because of the presence of people like you. We may never know, the positive impact your Association has on generations of present and future fellow Franciscan graduates, as they venture into that diverse world, equipped with a true relational understanding of our experience, faith, and culture. You will be changing the experiences and lives of people you’ll probably never meet, because of what happens, positively, when the Association and white students, together, experience the common ground that we share . That we are warriors together….able to accomplish far more together, than apart. Its a struggle I know! But keep it going. Extend it. Don’t be afraid. In closing, I share a phrase that has encouraged me over the years: “I want to do as much good as I can, for as many as I can for as long as I can. Dear Lord, pour your blessings upon me.”