With Western Michigan University being host to over 400 registered student organizations, for black students — many of whom are living in a predominately white space for the first time — finding a community can be a daunting task.
To celebrate Black History Month, each week in February, Western Herald will spotlight a Black RSO feature series called ‘Focus Feature’ to inform the student body of the different black student groups on WMU’s campus.
Jasean Murray, president of Young Black Male Support Network (YBM), felt lost and isolated his freshman year. While this may be a common feeling among freshmen, for the Western Michigan senior it was compounded by the fact that he was a black male student.
At Western Michigan University, a predominantly white institution, Murray could not find other students that shared his experience — until he found YBM.
“Once I found out more about YBM it was like okay I can be around my African American male brothers,’” he said. “People I could relate to more.”
Murray feels that having a space specifically for black males on campus is essential.
“It makes us feel wanted,” Murray said. “It makes us feel more comfortable with being on campus.”
WMU student Alexander Long, vice president of YBM, shares a similar view.
“YBM has led me to see that there are people that are similar to me,” Long explained. “There are people that look like me and can do amazing things without being limited to what they look like.”
Long explained how connecting with other powerful and successful black students motivates him.
“Overcoming certain barriers with being marginalized on campus and not being within the majority gives me that internal power,” he said.
YBM teaches social and professional development skills to its members while creating a safe and inclusive environment for them to bond over shared experiences. Upperclassmen members of the organization serve as mentors for incoming students.
“By actually getting on close quarters with people I’m able to tell them about the experiences I’ve had with college and being a black student on campus,” Long explained. “I kind of just hear them out on their struggles and what it is that they're going through. I try to listen more than I’m trying to give advice so I’m able to accurately give help.”
Murray feels that for black male students, finding role models they can relate to can be difficult. When someone has gone through the same racial and school related struggles, it provides another layer of understanding.
“When you do find one it’s like ‘yeah, I like you, I want to gravitate towards you’ and within YBM we have multiple individuals like that,” Murray explained. “It’s more relatable because some of those individuals are within their undergrad or their grad programs so they’re closer to our age and they have more experiences that we can relate to.”
Over the last four years, Murray has seen YBM’s presence on campus improve. The organization has taken more initiative and has become more involved in the surrounding Kalamazoo area. Through a YBM alumnus, they were given the opportunity to speak at the WMU Martin Luther King Jr. Public School Visitation Program on MLK Day.
“That was a great chance and opportunity for us to engage in our community especially with incoming freshman or just overall potential students," Murray said.
Going forward, one of YBM’s goals is to increase retention among general body members. They’ll accomplish this through social media, word of mouth, engaging in the community and hosting more events.
"That’s something we didn’t do so much of last year, reaching out,” Murray said. “This year we are reaching out, we’re networking and we’re going out to get more students vs. students coming into us. We're marketing towards them.”
YBM offers a collective voice for black students to rally around. Together they partner with other organizations like the Black Student Union and You Beautiful Black Women to advocate for various problems affecting Black students.
“We want a space on campus, we want a bigger space on campus, we want to feel that we are wanted on campus,” Murray said.