by LADAIJIA BALL
On Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020, the University of Mary Washington Black Alumni Association (BAA) kicked off their first ever meeting via Zoom. There were more than twenty Black alumni in attendance, with graduating classes ranging from 2014 to recent 2020 graduates. During the meeting, the group discussed experiences at UMW, improving UMW for current and incoming Black students, survey summary and results, expectations as a member and their mission statement.
As stated in the Black Alumni Association’s mission statement, their main objectives are: “to increase engagement of Black alumni with one another and with current students through mentorship programs, social events, and professional networking; to drive advocacy efforts to implement productive and equitable programs to dismantle policies that further institutionalize racism;to provide accountability with administration and champion transparency in matters tied to the Black UMW community and racial equity.”
The Black Alumni Association seeks to provide a community for Black students at UMW.
“I felt there was an absence of community among Black alumni. The solution, create an association uniquely for Black alumni that will allow us to unite, strengthen our voice and make active changes towards similar goals,” said Purity Muthaa from the class of 2018. “If current students know post-graduation that there is an organization ready to guide them through their journey, it could have a positive impact on Black experiences at UMW.”
The BAA offers a safe space for Black alumni and current students to share their experiences facing racism, microaggressions and uncomfortable experiences at Mary Washington and examine what policies they can implement to prevent negative experiences from happening again. Those features allow Black alumni to connect in a more intimate way than the standard alumni association can offer.
The Black Alumni Association plans to be actively involved with current Black students on campus to amplify their voices, help challenge and change policies and be a support system through undergraduate and postgraduate life. “If you have any kind of event, we will show up. If you need advice on preparing for the GRE and grad school applications, we can help. If you need data, personal stories or perspective from past students, we will provide that for you,” said Muthaa.
The Black Alumni Association will be partnering with the NAACP to help with their “Defund the Police” campaign. Current president of the NAACP, junior sociology major Brianna Simone Reaves, said, “The first goal is to build a community. The BAA will be a crucial crutch to how important the police report really is. Having access to former UMW students will make it aware that we are not making these problems up, they’ve been going on and the modes of discrimination, racism and white supremacy have change but not diminished.”
Reaves continued, “[The Black Alumni Association] further represents that the University of Mary Washington is not as inclusive as it thinks it is. For a Black Alumni Association to be created while the Alumni Association already exists reveals that there has been some inconsistency in inclusion, diversity or showing up for Black students in a way that makes them feel safe. As the Black Alumni Association exists and grows, more Black students will feel comfortable about going to the university because it recognizes the BAA. As a current Black student on campus, you can feel so ostracized and so isolated when you see alumni coming back to campus and none of them look like you, it makes you feel like your experience is only happening to you and that’s not the truth.”
Jason Ford, class of 2020 and former SGA president, talked about what he hopes for the Black Alumni Association. “When I envision what this organization could be, personally, it is having a group of alumni students come back to campus, on various occasions, the main one being homecoming, to be visible, to be accessible and to be ourselves. And to show the Black students on campus, that ‘hey, there are some students who have come before you.’” Through their mentorship program, he hopes to mentor and guide Black students through their years at Mary Washington and what that looks like transitioning out of UMW into the professional world.
Effie Kalulu, class of 2019, shared her experience as an alumni coming back for homecoming. “As an alumni of UMW I don’t really feel a connection to the school. I went to homecoming last year and it was fun to see my friends here and there but there wasn’t anything for me. It didn’t feel inclusive. Many Black alumni graduate from UMW and never come back,” said Kalulu.
The Black Alumni Association plans to cross promote with multicultural clubs on campus to let current Black students know that there is something to be a part of after they graduate. “You have a group that wants you! It’s overdue but at the same time better late than never,” Kalulu said.