Black students at USC are finding community and solace in BlackSpace, a collective support group for black students to talk about their issues at a predominately white institution.
The group, which meets bimonthly on Thursdays in the Intersection Lounge of Russell House, gives a platform for black students to come together to talk about the issues they’re struggling with regarding identity, discrimination and belonging. The hope of the group is that the communal nature will help students feel less alone in their personal struggles.
April Scott, a co-facilitator of the group and the associate director of mental health initiatives, believes the community fostered will help students to face issues on campus through a familial bond.
“We have seen firsthand the things that black students at this university struggle with around identity, so being a good provided space where that identity is affirmed, I think that will aid students in being able to matriculate through the university,” Scott said.
The group is not considered to be a counseling or process group, but rather one centered around community building and affirmation of a collective identity. Shari Dade, another co-facilitator and a psychologist, was instrumental in the creation of BlackSpace and said community building spaces are important.
“I went to undergrad and graduated from a historically black university, and I worked here as an intern at the counseling center, and I saw a need for black students to have a community building space ... a space where they could come together and just join on commonalities," Dade said. "I didn’t see that space while I was here, and so I thought it would be important to continue to create that space and to foster that space for students here on campus.”
BlackSpace hopes to further affirm identity, even outside of the context of race, with their upcoming “We Wear The Mask” workshop.
Scott said the workshop (set for next month) comes from the Paul Laurence Dunbar poem of the same name. Its focus is creating art out of students’ experiences and struggles with identity. Students will discuss what it’s like to have multiple identities, then go through a workshop which will help them translate their experiences into poetry or any other preferred art form.
“The poem itself deals with having to wear a mask, or feeling like you have to put a smile on your face when you don't feel like it, which I think is an experience that all students can relate to in some shape or fashion," Scott said, "so that’s an event that has kind of grown out of BlackSpace, but it's for the entire university, too."
Brianna Lewis, a second-year biology and psychology student who attended BlackSpace for the first time last week, spoke about why the group was meaningful to her.
“It was my first meeting, and I definitely felt welcomed,” Lewis said. “I feel like in such a big school, having a place where you can have even just a handful of people who relate to what you’re going through is really helpful in making sure that you stay above.”