UT hosts black student government leadership conference

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Government junior Jennell Benson speaks at the kickoff for 40th annual Big 12 Conference on Black Student Government.
Photo Credit: Joshua Guerra | Daily Texan Staff

More than 300 black students from universities around the country marched on campus Thursday night to celebrate the coming weekend of educational achievement and campus climate discussions in the black community. 

UT kicked off the 40th annual Big 12 Conference on Black Student Government on Thursday with a march to the Barbara Jordan statue at 7 p.m. The participants started at the Martin Luther King Jr. statue on the East Mall and were led by members of the Manor High School band. 

The Big 12 Conference brought together black student associations and black student alliances from the Big 12 schools to come and form ideas on how to further the presence of black students at predominantly white institutions, said Kayla Storrs, admissions counselor at the University of Oklahoma. 

“(The conference) is a place where a group of collective minds can come together and collaborate and figure out what are we doing on this campus that works, and formulate it and structure it to also work on their campuses,” Storrs said. “Somehow, we can all use the exchange of ideas to further what we’re trying to accomplish on campuses across the country.”

Corporate communications junior Dorian Maloy said the conference takes place every February to coincide with Black History Month at different schools in the Big 12 with a weekend of workshops and career building. 

“Everything is still very positive,” said Maloy, parliamentarian of the Big 12 Council. “No matter what, everybody is coming from good hearts, good minds. Basically we’re really just here to lean on one another and know the differences we have to make.”

Maloy said visiting black students get the chance to grow, improve resumes and make connections they otherwise wouldn’t make. 

“The result isn’t just people get hired,” Maloy said. “It really is just to get the idea that we are all experiencing different things.”

In previous years, members of the Big 12 Conference have rallied around other campuses when racial discrimination has taken place on campus, such as when the MLK statue was egged at UT, organizers said.

Organizers said the conference is not only about discussing campus climate and ways to address racism and events on campus, but also to bring the “brightest black minds” — who are required to have high GPAs to attend the conference — from universities around the country to UT, organizers said.

“It’s about student development and how you can grow as a leader on your campus,” said Brenda Burt, an African and African diaspora studies lecturer. “But it’s also looking beyond; like when I graduate, these are the things that I want to do.” 

Special education senior Jessica Jackson, conference chair for the UT Black Student Alliance, said the conference is an important mechanism for black students to learn how to express their thoughts and opinions professionally on a college campus and in a workplace.

“We want to be able to act professional,” Jackson said. “We take concerns to our advisers, (and) we have personal school advisers. We try to go about it in a systematic manner.”

Jackson said the conference will host workshops Friday and Saturday, in addition to an awards banquet gala Saturday night.