Black Student Union celebrates Black History Month at UNI

Black Student Union celebrates Black History Month at UNI

Anna Flanders /

People dance at the Black History Month kickoff

When she thinks about how she would like this year’s Black History Month programming to resonate with participants, Lexi Gause, co-president of the University of Northern Iowa’s Black Student Union (BSU), said one word comes to mind: celebration. 

“We want to make sure each of our events are a celebration,” said Gause, who is a junior majoring in social work. “We want to play music, play Black artists, have those conversations and just hug each other and talk to each other. In past years, we've had some events that are a little bit heavier, and this year, we really just want to show people we are so excited to see where the Black community is going.”

This year’s celebration began with a kickoff event on Feb.1, which was a collaboration between BSU and the Campus Activities Board (CAB). There was a DJ and dancing, mini golf and laser tag.

On Feb. 3, UNI’s Diversity, Inclusion and Social Justice Department collaborated with BSU to host Ayanna Gregory’s one-woman show “Daughter of the Struggle.” Gause described the experience of seeing the show as surreal.

“To hear an authentic version of her family’s firsthand experience of breaking down the walls of systemic racism, discrimination and living in a time of so much hatred, Ayanna created a feeling within the room that allowed us to travel back with her to truly understand the magnitude of Black history,” she said. “Ayanna empowered the audience to peek behind the doorway of activism, to embody revolution, fight the inevitable and remind us change starts within us.”

One of the more informative events during Black History Month comes on Feb. 22 when BSU hosts the Tunnel of Oppression in Lang Hall. This educational experience showcases a different topic and different era of Black history in every room. 

One of the new events this year is a showing of the 2019 film “Just Mercy,” which is based on a true story.

“This movie portrays police brutality. It portrays Black excellence. It touches on the death penalty and what it means to be wrongfully convicted as a Black individual,” said Gause. “It's really important we don't let the entertainment aspect of it change the fact that this is based on a true story. This has happened, and this is happening. This has not stopped happening.”

The grand finale of Black History Month for Black Student Union is the Toast for Change, which is a formal gala recognizing BSU and its sponsors.

“It acknowledges and recognizes the work BSU has done and the people of color on this campus who make Black History Month as loud as possible,” said Gause. “At a predominantly white institution, it’s really important for Black people and people of color to make sure our voices are heard and our culture is celebrated.”

For the full schedule of Black History Month events, check out UNI’s landing page.

After Black History Month, Gause is looking forward to having more guest speakers come to BSU events. She is also hoping the organization can partner with Black Student Unions from other schools in the area.

Gause has been active with BSU since she first came to UNI. She discovered the group when she attended Jump Start, which is an extended orientation program focused on students from underrepresented racial and ethnic backgrounds.

“I was able to meet other people who were involved in Black Student Union who were already students here, and I knew I wanted to be a part of it,” she said. “When I came to college, I wanted to make sure I was connected to people of color, and I knew I could do that with Black Student Union.”

Gause chose to go to UNI in part because it felt like a home away from home. Through BSU, she’s made what she considers to be a second family. Many students have agreed with her over the years, resulting in the group recently celebrating its 50th anniversary.

“Everyone in BSU just blooms of love,” she said. “It's a great environment to be in, and you feel so safe and welcomed. It’s like your family away from your family.”

She recommends other students join BSU because it’s a space that allows everyone to be heard and recognized. 

“I went to a predominantly white high school and go to predominantly white college,” she said. “I know when I leave UNI, I will definitely be searching for this sense of community wherever I go. I want to make sure I always stay in tune with my Blackness.”