BGPSA: Creating Community for Black Graduate and Professional Students
Written by Erin Michel, Graduate Assistant for the Graduate School
Being a graduate student isn’t easy. The path we’ve chosen can be overwhelming, exciting, frustrating, fulfilling, and lonely, all at the same time. One thing is for certain, though—no one can get through this process alone. It’s important to find a community of like-minded learners to support you through the tough times and celebrate the good ones. That’s why the UC’s chapter of BGPSA (Black Graduate and Professional Student Association) exists- to help Black students across all UC campuses find a sense of solace, community, and shared experience through connection. They achieve this goal primarily through regular programming, both social and professional, that starts as early as orientation and continues year-round. “If you haven’t realized there is a Black community on campus because you haven’t seen one in your department, here is the first place you can start building community […] The more we create space, the more we kind of offhandedly encourage new generations of people to come to UC,” says Sierra Corbin, BGPSA president and 5th year experimental psychology PhD student. Dominique Tanner, BGPSA vice president and 5th year biomedical engineering PhD student, agrees: “It’s been great, just connecting with other like-minded Black graduate and professional students, different events we hold, and just working to not only build community but to sustain and maintain the community that we’re in.”
BGPSA as an organization has undergone significant changes since its inception years ago. Anthony Stone, BGPSA historian and 4th year sociology PhD student, shares that the organization was first started at UC in the early 2000s but became defunct for years until a group of sociology doctoral students revamped it in 2014. Like all other clubs and organizations, BGPSA had to navigate a significant pivot with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. But for an organization whose mission centers around connection, virtual events have been particularly challenging. The group has adapted admirably, hosting hybrid and virtual events as well as tailoring the content their event offerings to meet the shifting needs of student body members. To achieve this, BGPSA has coordinated with other organizations including Cincy SACNAS (Society for the Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics & Native Americans in Science) to host events such as a COVID roundtable webinar where students could engage in honest, important conversations about the impact of COVID on communities of color.
This roundtable, which was a resounding success, provided the basis and inspiration for BGPSA’s upcoming event in partnership with AACRC, “Black Mental Health Roundtable.” The event, taking place this Thursday February 24 from 4-6PM (click here for Zoom link, passcode: 995078) will feature a panel of Cincinnati-based Black mental health practitioners and researchers who will discuss a range of issues including stigma, misconceptions about Black mental health, intersections of religion and mental health, community policy, and accessing culturally competent mental health resources. Attendees will have the chance to submit questions for the panelists in advance of the event. As Dominique points out, the theme for this year’s Akwaaba (the AACRC’s yearly Black student welcome) was Uthabiti, which means “resilience” in Swahili. “We’ve kind of focused our Black mental health webinar around [this theme], because we know that with Black people there is a lot of resilience around mental health,” she says.
Other upcoming BGPSA events include a weekly virtual study session (every Saturday from 12-5PM, click here for Zoom link, passcode: 940585). Students can attend for however long they would like, and the session provides some structure, encouragement, and accountability to get things done. Every hour, all attendees set intentions for what they would accomplish and at the end of that hour share back to the group about progress and sticking points, and the group members can help troubleshoot difficulties that might arise. “It’s a good opportunity to make really easy connections,” says Sierra. Since attendees hail from academic disciplines across the board, it is likely that someone there will be an expert in a subject area that is difficult to someone else. “I found out that there are people in other departments who are doing stuff very similar to me, which was a great opportunity,” says Sierra.
Even if you can’t attend these upcoming events, the BGPSA officers encourage students to get involved by joining the org as a general body member. There are no dues to pay, commitment can be as much or as little as you want, and joining gives you a chance to start to get to know other Black students and build important connections. Tierra Koney, BGPSA treasurer and 4th year Sociology PhD student, expands on the benefits of connection-building. “It helps you remain human and reminds you of your humanity, because I think in this process [graduate school], we try to be ultra-professional super bookworms. It’s a way for people like myself, who can be naturally introverted, to have a structured way of interacting with people, being social, and it makes it easier to then become real friends later on,” she says. Tierra also points out that BGPSA does have its own professional benefits, though: “While you’re becoming an expert in your field, you might not be trained to use that and try and transform it into a job […] BGPSA makes a big difference for a lot of us.”
For those who might want a bit higher level of involvement than that of a general body member, BGPSA is hoping to transition leadership at the end of the spring semester, so they are actively seeking interested candidates. “The time to start coming to [BGPSA events] is now,” says Sierra, “so you can figure out what we do and how much of a time commitment.” According to the leaders, a unique benefit of their roles involves access and influence with regards to administrative decision-making. Several of them have been asked to participate in antiracism conversations at various levels of the university, or to collaborate on projects such as helping to write a Juneteenth proposal for the graduate community. “We definitely have the ear of a lot of important people […] in administration who will hear our concerns,” says Sierra.
Clearly, BGPSA is a great organization to get involved with on any level, whether you have leadership aspirations or just want a place to connect with other Black students. Follow them on Twitter, Instagram, or CampusLink to stay up to date with current events and opportunities, or reach out to their email at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.