Seattle University Black Student Union Begins New Student Led Scholarship Program

by Chamidae Ford

Following the death of George Floyd, Seattle University’s Black Student Union (BSU) gathered to discuss how they could improve the experience of Black students at their college. BSU President Adilia Watson asked her peers what some of the main issues facing Black students at Seattle University are. She hoped the BSU could then use this increased awareness to garner support from people for improving the experience of Black students. Two main concerns raised caught the attention of Watson. 

“The lack of diversity in the staff and faculty of Seattle U, and the lack of economic support for Black students,” Watson said. 

BSU is currently working to raise $200,000 by March 1, to fund an annual, need-based scholarship for Black students. Funded completely by donations, the goal of this scholarship is to alleviate some of the financial burden placed on Black students who are trying to get a higher education.  

This scholarship is something Watson has wanted to do since her freshman year. Now a senior, Watson is dedicated to providing support that she has not received to other students. 

For many Black students, having to supplement their income to pay bills and tuition forces them to be stretched too thin or cut back on school-related work. 

“If you have a scholarship, then you won’t have to work as hard. You will be able to just focus on what you’re there to do: to get your degree,” Watson said. “So I mean a lot by this, when I say we need support for Black students, so they don’t have to work as hard as me.” 

Watson is currently finishing up her environmental studies major, working two internships and 30 hours a week as a barista, on top of organizing this new BSU scholarship program. Ultimately, her time is not her own. Monetary support is essential when it comes to prioritizing Black students’ education, she says. By alleviating some of the anxiety of how Black students are going to pay tuition and all their bills, Watson knows from firsthand experience it will allow them to focus more on the education they are receiving. 

While the new BSU scholarships are meant to provide support for Black students, BSU also hopes the program will increase their college’s Black student population. Currently, only 5.1% of undergraduate students at Seattle University are Black. 

“It would drive increasing the amount of diversity of Black students on campus,” Watson said.

Currently, Seattle University’s Black students say they are frequently in classrooms and clubs where they are one of the only People of Color in the room.

“Whenever I speak in class, before people have heard me speak, they have this expectation … they expect me to kind of talk a little ghetto, to be somewhat lost, or the opposite where I’m some sort of genius who excels in everything that she does,” Watson said. “We [Black students] have to work twice as hard to really show who we are and dispel the narratives of what people are told of how Black people act.”

These kinds of stigmas and expectations placed on Black students in a predominantly white school can feel inescapable. Watson hopes increasing the diversity of Seattle University will also change the way white peers view Black students. 

Watson is also trying to prevent the scholarships from falling into the highly competitive, overly specific realm that scholarships for Black students often fall into. Many scholarships, for example, have requirements for GPA, clubs affiliations, awards, and what a future college major will be, making it difficult to check all the boxes. The idea is to have the new Seattle University BSU scholarships focused on need rather than requiring Black students meet unreasonably high standards to receive financial support. 

“[Black people] are always competing with [each other] … because there’s so much out there that we have to do just to be able to prove that we’re ‘worthy of going to a higher education,’” Watson said. 

Presently, Seattle University’s BSU has raised over $69,000 of their $200,000 goal. Their fundraising deadline is March 1, in hopes of getting Black students their scholarships as early as Spring Quarter. 

If you are interested in donating to the Seattle University’s Black Student Union Scholarship, you can donate on Seattle University’s Make a Gift webpage by selecting “Black Student Union Endowed Scholarship” from the drop-down menu under “Designation.”

Chamidae Ford is a recent journalism graduate of the University of Washington. Born and raised in Western Washington, she has a passion for providing a voice to the communities around her. She has written for The Daily, GRAY Magazine, and Capitol Hill Seattle. Reach her on IG/Twitter: @chamidaeford.

Featured image courtesy of Adilia Watson.

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