With their final meeting of the year and election of a new executive team complete, the Black Law Student Association (BLSA) is hoping to spread awareness and diversity throughout the law school and USD.
BLSA started about three years ago when former president, Alafia Wright, registered the group as a recognized student organization.
“BLSA existed in a purely intramural-type sense within the law school up until about three years ago,” said Billy Coby, former president and third-year law student. “At the time, there was just a few of us, and the programming that we did just focused on getting awareness out about the group and the causes that we wanted to highlight. After the first year, I took over as president and we expanded our reach in terms of the things that the people we wanted to impact, the issues we wanted to highlight and our
Isaac Bouwman, a first-year law student and the current BLSA president, said the group targets issues pertaining to minorities.
“The whole purpose is to create a place where you can have discussion on lots of issues that are affecting minorities and African Americans,” he said. “And not just negative things — there’s obviously a lot of great things out there going on, too. We like to keep that out there, too.”
There are about 15 to 30 active members of the group, but Bouwman said there are many participants on BLSA’s Facebook group. BLSA meets about once a month in the law school and stay connected through group messaging.
“The numbers kind of always fluctuate since we have a lot of events and we don’t really have a numbers count,” he said. “We have seven people on (executive) board (and about) 50 to 60 people on Facebook posting stuff.”
Coby said the group discusses a variety of topics at their meetings.
“When we’re talking about African Americans in the law, we’re talking about things like the relationship between law enforcement and people of color, mainly African Americans,” Coby said. “Some other things that we touched on in programming is voting rights in this country, income equality, social stratification, women’s rights and LGBT rights. Thanks to the intersectionality of all these movements, we’re able to touch on a whole array of different things.”
Tiffany Graham, adviser of BLSA and associate dean of academic affairs, said the club’s mission is important.
“I do believe in diversity at the university — in particular in the school of law and in the practice of law,” Graham said. “I like the fact that (the members) talk about issues that are cutting-edge, happening in the news.”
Bouwman said the group tries to recruit through the different events they host, such as trivia nights and during the various Black History Month activities.
“We do a bunch of stuff — post things around the school,” he said. “Most of what we do is having activities posted up, a Facebook page. Black History Month — we’ll have things up all the time in the hallways and posters.”
Recruiting efforts are also targeted towards undergraduate students interested in law.
“I feel like the program could be one to where we could help start and feed a pipeline of students who are interested in maybe going to law school and learning more about the law, and people of color to go into our group and use that as a window to what they like to do within the law,” Coby said.
Coby said the group coincides well with USD’s mission statement of diversity and inclusiveness.
“Plainly stated, the mission of our group is to enhance the recruitment, retention and graduation of African American students in USD law school,” Coby said. “I think that lines up pretty squarely with what the diversity mission is.”
Bouwman said he hopes the group continues to grow.
“I hope (BLSA) spreads awareness about diversity, inclusion,” he said. “It’s a fun group to be a part of — you learn a lot, good connections. I’m excited for next year.”
Graham said she hopes the members gain knowledge through the club.
“I hope that what they take away is a sense that there is a concrete place and a real voice for African Americans in South Dakota generally and in South Dakota’s legal community in particular,” she said.
Though no longer president, Coby said he has high hopes for the club’s future.
“There’s a misconception that BLSA is only a group for African Americans. What we want people to know is that we want to engage everyone,” he said. “Whether it’s social events that we do or more intellectually-engaging events, we want everyone to know that this is a group that you can be part of and find out more about.”