Despite becoming an official club only last February, Black & Bold has already found itself to be quite a positive force on campus. The club works to provide a space and community for students of the Black and/or African diaspora descent who identify as a member of the LGBTQ+. Jen L. Berry, the lead academic advisor to the OVPDEMA 21st Century Scholars program, is the founder and faculty advisor to the club. Berry spoke about how this club’s founding was necessary to fill a significant gap in student organization groups. Berry saw the opportunity and necessity for Black & Bold during her time at Indiana University as a sociology graduate student.
“Much of this came from my experience as a graduate student, and, while I was here, there wasn’t much for black queer folx (a gender-inclusive term used to encompass a group of people, particularly LGBTQ+ POCs),” Berry said. “After becoming an academic advisor, I worked with a lot of students who identified with the queer community. I had a lot of students, not just black queer students, come out in my office. They saw me as a safe place and a safe space. It just gave me the idea that maybe something should be created to give space, create space, and also bridge some community gaps between black students and queer students and embrace that intersectionality that is inherent in those identities.”
Students still often go to Berry to seek guidance and ask questions about the club. They spoke about how students’ initial response to the club was a surprise and how important it was to students that this club existed.
“One student who’s in a master’s program specifically said they looked up what the queer presence was in Bloomington before they came. And now, having this, this would’ve been very integral in their decision because they would’ve known that there was a space and a body of people that they could come to,” Berry said. “I’ve also had a lot of non-Black students come up and tell me, ‘Oh, this is really awesome,’ or expressed that they want to be an ally and be involved. For people who may not have known how to support or acknowledge our community, they’re finding a way so that’s helpful as well. It feels like it’s filling a missing spot that campus has had.”
As the club’s faculty member, Berry is incredibly involved with the group and is a critical voice in the discussion.
“Sometimes, I focus on giving them a space, but very often they say that yes, we have a space but that you’re [I am] included in that space. That’s nice too, as a staff member, and also as a member of the black queer community. There’s a sense of belongingness that I get to experience as well.”
Berry spoke about the group’s evolution from initially a discussion space in its inception in fall 2018. After initially publicizing about the group through newsletters like the 21st Century Scholars and the LGBTQ+ Center, the group had its very first meeting.
“We met in the library in the LGBTQ+ center, and there were about 5 or 6 students who showed up, but I didn’t think anyone was going to show up,” they said. “We just talked and connected. I know a lot of students who left that space feeling rejuvenated and revived. It was the first time they had felt welcomed in the center and found other black queer students and thought, ‘Whoa, I’m not alone!’ Black & Bold is a thing and this is something that could be something that I want to be involved in.”
Berry described how even though many of those members of that first meeting graduated and left, many also stayed and went on to become a part of the executive board. Black & Bold decided to become an official IU student organization specifically to have more a presence and access to more resources like leadership training. As an official IU club with a growing membership, Berry described the opportunities and specific challenges in its evolution.
“One thing that may be on students’ minds is, ‘are we going to lose that first initial energy that was behind coming together and creating space and are we now going to get too caught up in this organizational structure to keep a particular presence known,’” Berry said. Still, the group wants to expand without losing sight of their core values from the beginning. “That’s just something I could see being a potential struggle in trying to balance out who we are and our true identity and the true community we want to build and not getting ahead of ourselves or conforming to dynamics that are not inherent to us.”
The club plans to be able to increase visibility, development, and fundraising. With their five-year plan, Berry described how they want the club to be a part of all of the discussions.
“Ideally would be we would be at all of the tables because our voices are recognized as being needed. The tables would include student government, admissions, and recruitment so all students—not just black queer students—know that this is something the university embraces and supports. I want to make sure that we’re still creating a space for black queer students to be and exist as themselves. Within that, I’d like the opportunity for black queer students to experience leadership opportunities. I envision Black & Bold being a place that fosters community, educates, and creates leaders and activists in our community that then go on to larger communities. It is a body that administrators turn to for people to represent the university in different places and different spaces. I hope there’s also a scholarly academic leg to Black & Bold, with conferences and presentations and doing things for students who want to engage in that level. I have lots of ideas so in an ideal situation, we’d be able to tap into all of these things.”
They also established how the group could bring many different kinds of meanings to all its members of the club.“ Folx who are interested in social justice advocacy and also folx who are interested in fun and educational activities. When you’re a part of a marginalized group that doesn’t have experience in equity, I believe that there’s always space for the fight. I think an organization that gives room for both types of people would be ideal. Already, we see a blending of different folx who are involved. Because, it’s like people say, just being is revolutionary. I think it’s important when you carry such intersecting identities.”
As the parting message, Berry spoke about how students who embraced what Black & Bold was, even from afar, could do.
“Email me. I’ve gotten a lot of emails from students who’ve heard about the group who want to learn more about it, and I’m open to meet students all the time. Also, join BeInvolved so they can get emails and updates about what we’re doing. One can be invisible, and you don’t have to make your membership present, you can hide that feature if that’s something that students are worried about. Knowing that we’re really stressing about LGBTQ+, we include in that folx who are not sure, who are questioning, who may not know anywhere else to turn or who to talk to. If a student identifies as black or of the African diaspora, and they’re not sure, we are both for them to talk to. Even with folx on our executive board, everyone is at a different place. There are folx who came out in junior high or high school and then folx who just now are starting to embrace and understanding that something is happening. The spectrum is wide and we come from that perspective of where are you in your human journey and how can we help.”
Black & Bold will host their first anniversary event this spring. Learn more about upcoming events and how to get involved with Black & Bold on their BeInvolved page.