Jacob Thomas is a junior and lifelong native of Greensboro, N.C. At Wake Forest University, he majors in biochemistry and molecular biology. Jacob is also the president of the Black Student Alliance (BSA) on campus. In this role, he is committed to providing a safe space for students of color on campus, but is also eager to address the racial injustices present at the university.
What is the Black Student Alliance?
The Black Student Alliance is a student organization on campus that is committed to promoting cultural awareness. It serves to create an environment in which students of color, mainly Black students, can feel comfortable. One of the ways we try to do this is by hosting events where Black students can come together and celebrate our culture. One of the main things we’ve been doing this year has been working on the lounge, to try to get that up and running, and get that to be a cultural hub for Black students on campus.
What does your role as president entail?
Basically, I oversee all of the events and all of the programming. I’m the spokesperson for the organization so anything that comes through our BSA Instagram, I have to oversee and approve that. I basically try to center the other people on the executive team and their vision for the Black Student Alliance so we can truly create a community that helps Black students feel like they belong on campus.
What do you see as being some of the biggest struggles Black students face on campus?
I just want to make a disclaimer that I cannot speak for all Black students even though I am the president of the BSA. I definitely think that a few different experiences students may face are microaggressions, whether they be in the classroom or on any other part of campus, and I think that’s something that is pervasive and truly does color our experience. I think another thing black students face on campus is trying to find that sense of belonging. When I came here, I was expecting it to be a large party school. I was expecting it to be a place where I could really just let loose and have fun, but I didn’t realize that was going to be guarded by the largely white fraternity scene that our campus is known for and I think that is a testament to finding where students of color and Black students feel comfortable on campus.
What are your thoughts on the events that unfolded over the summer and continue to unfold in connection with the Black Lives Matter movement?
I was extremely disheartened because I did watch the video of George Floyd’s murder. It’s terrible that I have to see that. I also want to reiterate that this is not the first time that many Black students have seen stuff like this. Going back to Treyvon Martin and many of the other Black individuals who have died at the hands of police, I think that is just part of our experience and that should definitely not be part of our experience. I think that is something that we definitely are trying to mediate on top of trying to complete our other tasks, so Black students are constantly thinking about those other things. I think that is something that definitely makes our identity sometimes feel weighty, but I think that is not on us to really mediate. I think seeing those events unfold really made me think about my identity a little bit more and just how I can go forward in the future and make sure I am actively fighting against injustices that we face.
As president of BSA, what are concrete goals you have identified or steps you can take in combating some of these injustices on campus?
Injustices operate at many different levels when they are systemic like they are. I think at our level, we are continuing to promote cultural awareness on campus and make sure students have awareness of the events going on so they can further their own education. Also, we are working to make sure that Black students feel supported in a time that has been very trying on mental health needs and other concerns of just fitting in. We do have new Black freshmen that will go through a lot of these same things within the lens of COVID-19 and that also has the potential to affect mental health and stability on top of the racial inequity that has been highlighted in recent times.
How can the university or other students provide support and assist the BSA in achieving these goals?
We actually have a fundraiser for the Black Student Alliance lounge to redecorate just because we want to get some new furniture and make sure that we can truly curate a space that is comfortable to house our students on campus and make sure that we can cultivate that sense of belonging. That can be found in our Instagram bio @wfu_bsa. I also think on an individual level and in a non-pervasive way, checking in with your Black friends and making sure that they are appropriately supported is important. But, I think that takes some true finesse and to do that properly without invading their space and actually holding their mental wellness as a priority is important.
I want people to know that there are ways they can get involved in Winston-Salem especially with Jacob Blake, as he is from Winston-Salem. There’s a movement going on called Occupy WSNC and they are meeting downtown. It’s definitely a great way to show support and stand in solidarity with the Black community. I think it’s important to center the Black experience beyond justice as well, and that’s kind of a complicated theme. But beyond the justice and inequity that we are facing, I think it’s important to just center the Black experience and recognize that we don’t always have to be authorities on equity as well.
Editor’s note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and AP style.