Then 16-year-old English teacher Lindsey Vance was sitting in an AP class, finding her way in teenage life. There were just two other black students in the class.
The teacher presented a topic related to the African-American experience and asked Vance, along with the two other students, to give their thoughts on the text.
Vance said that at such a young age she felt pressured to formulate a response that was representative of the entire culture. Frustrated and embarrassed after being put on the spot, she shared what happened with her family. Her parents encouraged her to talk to the teacher, and that is what she did. However, when she confronted the teacher about the situation, she felt like the teacher did not understand what she was trying to explain.
This incident spurred her to join the Black Student Union (which had another name at the time) at her high school. “The more that I discussed this with my classmates, the more I realized that there could be something gained from gathering together occasionally discussing our frustrations and strategies to deal with those frustrations that we had in class,” Vance said.
A new Black Student Union (BSU) has been created to unite black students through the promotion of their history, culture and academic and social interests. English teachers Vance and Dominique Parker are the sponsors.
Parker explained the inspiration of creating BSU comes from an excellently executed project, Black History Month. “The impetus came mostly from the students. We had a really positive Black History Month presentation, probably the best I have seen in my 10 years at Wootton. In preparing for that, for presenting, doing speeches, poems etc., the students were really enthused,” Parker said.
Parker said that the students felt like they needed something more permanent than a one-month project, hence, BSU was formed. “It seemed like a hole that needed to be filled and we decided to capitalize on momentum,” Parker said.
According to Vance, the group’s purpose is not solely to provide support to students, but to commemorate their culture. “I think that when you are not a part of the mainstream of the group or organization that you are in, I think that often times, your culture or subculture gets overlooked. This is an opportunity to get everyone together to celebrate their culture,” Vance said.
Parker said there are other teachers who are behind the scenes of BSU. “Although we are listed as the sponsors, this organization comes in terms of the adult leadership, we are more of a committee. It wouldn’t exist without [Paula] Levy, [Freda] Jones, [Tammie] Burke, [Kristen] Haynes, [Leslie] Richardson, so a lot of people are in the effort and behind the scenes,” Parker said.
Students who have seen Vance’s poster about BSU outside her door have asked her why the need to separate from the rest. “In order to understand the answer to that question, you have to understand that everyone’s experience is different in where they stand in the world. It is really important to ensure that everyone feels a part of this Wootton community. And there have been students who have reported and shared that they do not feel a part of the community. So this organization is really an outreach club for them,” Vance said.
The school’s step team is also under the umbrella of BSU. Sophomore Rhoda Ndjoukouo is involved in this subgroup as well as the club in general. “BSU is an awesome club that allows all minorities to come under the same roof and work together,” Ndjoukouo said.
With almost 40 group members who regularly show up to the meetings, BSU has visions and plans for the expansion and growth of their community. “We will be doing a service project each semester. Perhaps more importantly we are putting in place a mentoring program where we can help nurture and grow leaders,” Parker said.
Parker said that because they are able to come together around a shared experience, it makes it more possible to make the students more fully integrated into school life. “Who we are and what we do that is not about isolating ourselves but about building our strengths and building our capacity to do Wootton in whatever way the student chooses,” Parker said.