Makayla Graham is a 19-year-old Atlanta, GA native and freshman at Georgia Southwestern State University (GSW) in Americus. She recently established the university’s first-ever Black Student Union (BSU).

According to College Factual, GSW has a total enrollment of approximately 3,000, with roughly 27% Black students, and 13% Black faculty.

Graham, a political science major who began attending GSW during fall  2018, says she decided to orchestrate an organization that would advocate for the Black students at GSW, after a discussion with one of her professors; who encouraged her to participate on a diversity council.

“I told my teacher about thinking of starting a Black Students Union, and he pointed me in the direction of this advisor named LaToya Stackhouse,” said Graham.

“I told her about my idea of a Black Student Union and she said, ‘This is something that we need on this campus.’

Graham says that at the time a lot of other universities and schools in Georgia had a diversity and inclusion department, and GSW didn’t.

Following her conversations with GSW faculty members, Graham says she drafted a model constitution for the BSU. She went on to present the constitution to GSW’s Vice-President for Student Engagement and Success Dr. Laura D. Boren, during a sit-down meeting in November 2018.

“I was really shocked that she even put me on the calendar,” Graham said. “I had the meeting with the vice president, told her my ideas, presented the constitution and told her why we needed it.”

“She agreed that it was something that we needed because she came from a university in Texas where they had a Black Student Union. She was like why don’t we have that here.”

After getting an okay from the vice president, Graham says that she had to next go through a more formal process to get it approved.

“I had to submit an online petition on this website called Canes Connect,” Graham said. “You have to submit the names of the advisor, founder, and president.”

“Then you upload the constitution on the website. After you upload it to the website it goes to the faculty senate, they overview the constitution, and then you have to wait for it to get approved.”

Despite the help of a few students proofreading the constitution, Graham says she went through the entire process of obtaining approval for the BSU organization alone.

On January 17, 2019, Graham completed and submitted her petition. Thereafter, she waited two months until receiving notice on March 25, 2019, that the university successfully approved her petition.

Graham says shortly after receiving notice of approval, she recruited several other GSW freshman students to join as BSU board members.

Current BSU board members are: Makayla Graham, founder and president; Lorelle Carey, vice president; Kaiyah Vickers, secretary; Jada Mike, financial advisor; Asia Pittman, marketing director; and Alicia Adams, community outreach director. LaToya Stackhouse, GSW Interim Director of Residential and Campus Life, serves as the BSU faculty advisor.

“All of the people that are on the board are all freshman and Black females, except our historian,” Graham said. “We have nursing majors, psychology majors, marketing majors, and other majors.”

“They’re also all my friends. My roommate is actually the treasurer. My friends have been really supportive throughout the process. My friends are just as dedicated and focused as I am. So since I had the opportunity for us to create a legacy, I wanted to have the people closest to me.”

Graham has also insisted that the organization will take part in various community service projects within Sumter County, such as mentoring the youth and caring for the elderly. The organization intends to incorporate events in alignment with a yearly theme, with this year being ‘Forever We Reign.’

“It’s all about protecting our legacy, and promoting excellence in the community,” said Graham. “It’s about showing that we are kings, queens, princes, and princesses.”

“That’s actually how we got the idea of the Power Princess Tea. I wanted our service project to be called The Royal Court. We will go to elementary schools and middle schools to teach the kids etiquette, self-confidence, and give back to them.”

Since the organization has been approved, the American Red Cross reached out to collaborate with the BSU, by sponsoring a GSW campus blood drive on April 24th. Also on April 24th, the BSU plans to have a “Power Princess Tea”, which will be an informal tea party for female college students to connect with, and mentor young girls in kindergarten through sixth grade.

“I think the campus is really excited about our upcoming events,” Graham said.  “Although there are other Black organizations on the campus, there wasn’t a cohesive union of a sense.”

“The Black Student Union is all about promoting leadership.  It’s a place where we can express our cultural ideas and beliefs, and be given a platform to share them with. I envision for this organization to hold as much weight as a student government organization. Hopefully one day we can get a position on student government.”

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