The Black Student Association in 1971.

Millersville University’s Black Student Union (BSU) celebrated its 50th anniversary with a party attended by original founders, current members and friends of the club.

“You don’t get too many 50-year celebrations in your life,” says Dr. Melvin Allen, the founding president of the organization, and retired associate professor of philosophy and administrator at MU. Last year, he interacted with several alums who were upset about postings on social media, “and thought about a constructive way to get our message across in the times we live. Holding a 50th-year anniversary event at MU that focused on celebration and the work that remains seemed the best way to go” says Allen, who helped to coordinate the event.

“The Millersville University Black Student Union was founded in the 1967-68 academic year as the Black Students Association by the dozen or so African-American and African students then enrolled at Millersville State College. Its mission was, and continuing legacy is, [racial] inclusion in all aspects of University life, including student admissions, faculty and staff, academic programs, student life and campus climate,” explains Allen.

“Over the past 50 years, thousands of students of color have become MU alumni and highly productive members of their professions, communities and society. Moreover, the evolution of inclusion at MU has been invaluable in enriching the lives and careers of students, faculty, staff and others of all backgrounds who have been part of this University community,” says Allen.

The event titled, “The Imperative of Inclusion: A Celebration and the Work That Remains” took place on March 22 and 23.

Current BSU members at the 50th anniversary gala.

Allen, along with BSU’s current president Cassian D. Le Jeune, presided over the events, which included a keynote speaker, conference, banquet and semi-formal dance.

“The Black Student Union is a pillar of the Millersville community,” says Le Jeune. “It has provided an outlet for 50 years that allows students of color a safe place to voice their concerns and have a place in which they call home. I am honored to be able to continue the amazing legacy of BSU.”

During the first hundred years of Millersville’s existence, the presence of African-American students in the student body was a rare and infrequent occurrence. The June 7, 1890 board minutes contain this passage:

“The Principal made his report and among other matters stated that for the first time a colored student made application and was admitted as a student–boarding out with a colored family in the village.”

“Alumni News” of The Normal Journal 1888-1904 said that Mr. Emanuel W. Epps was the first colored man to bear away a Millersville diploma.

Race, diversity and inclusiveness did not become major issues during most of the first half of the 20th Century at Millersville. From 1926-41, seven students of color graduated from Millersville. It was not until the 1960s that the campus awakened to the tide of change that was sweeping the nation and the BSA was born. The basic goal of the organization was “to create a substantial and meaningful black community and an atmosphere in which black students can survive without the hang-ups which have previously been the cause of ‘inadequate’ performance and alien experience at this college.”

The Black Student Association in 1972.

“Things at MSC (Millersville State College) aren’t what they should be. We demand justice,” stated Allen in an interview with the Snapper in 1969. The BSA listed 16 demands to President William Duncan that included recognizing BSA as the official representative body of the black community, having an office in the Student Union, doubling its black enrollment and not discriminating in college housing.

At least a dozen African-American student organizations were founded within 10 years of the founding of the BSA and now number more than two dozen. Since the early 1970s, MU has built up a multicultural program of guest speakers and entertainment. Numerous academic departments employed African-American faculty who became tenured at the University.

The all-day conference on inclusion offered sessions on educational and economic advancement as well as social justice as they pertain to contemporary society as a whole and to the MU campus in particular. The much beloved Dr. Rita Smith Wade-El, professor of psychology and director of the African-American studies minor, was honored at the gala reception.

Allen hopes that the conversations started in the spring will continue at Millersville University.

Leave a comment