The Black Student Union at Flagler College: Through the Eyes of the President

Rory Thompson, president of the Black Student Union at Flagler College.

By Julia Corrie

Tuesday, Feb. 1 was the perfect day to kick off Black History Month at Flagler College, with the Black Student Union (BSU) tabling under the gazebo on the West Lawn. Promoting their events for the month and getting insight from students about their favorite Black icons, Rory Thompson is running the show.

Thompson is a graduating senior at Flagler studying digital media production with minors in media studies and film studies. His journey with BSU started during his freshman year, and he felt as if he had found a sense of community at a predominantly white institution. 

“I’m from Jacksonville, so I know the area pretty well,” Thompson said. “I couldn’t tell you how many people have come up to me bamboozled at the lack of diversity on campus after Flagler made it look like there were more students of color than there actually are.” 

He joined the executive board his sophomore year as an event coordinator and got acquainted with how student organizations were run. When asked how the organization has evolved since he first joined the team, his answer was simple:

“We stopped asking for permission.

“We were not being as unapologetically Black as we could be, and over time we decided to do it our way,” Thompson said. During his sophomore year, Thompson and the executive board wanted to purchase shirts that read ‘Unapologetically Black’ on the front, with the club’s name on the reversed side. 

“They told us we couldn’t make it because it would be exclusive of other students, which was weird because we are the Black Student Union, not the Student Government Association,” Thompson said. “Forcing us to make ‘Unapologetically Supportive’ shirts which in turn cost us more money to make.”

Thompson then explained that the first time they did something without anyone’s approval was when they released a list of demands for Flagler College in July 2020. He said that the only people it was discussed with were the executive board, not even their club advisor was aware of the demands.

The demands had come following months of racial injustice protests around the world and it was important for BSU to hold their institution accountable for any type of racial discrimination or inequality on campus. 

“It definitely woke up Flagler,” Thompson said. “We pretty much told them that you have to do something if you’re going to have an office of diversity and inclusion.”

Some of these demands included requiring anti-racism, anti-sexism, anti-homophobia and anti-transphobia curriculum in First Year Seminar classes and communicating a stronger stance on human rights issues.

While some of these demands were followed, there are many that were in a grey area with students. Thompson brought up an example regarding the final demand about granting immunity to students protesting racial injustice and inequality. 

“When the basketball team kneeled at their games, technically they could’ve gotten in trouble as their protest was not aligned with the school’s policies,” Thompson said. “But the basketball team has a different student experience as athletes, so you’d be expecting them to know there’s a protest form in the first place.”

Due to the high foot traffic in downtown St. Augustine, there are protestors on a regular basis for a variety of issues. To reach college students, protestors often stand on public property like sidewalks around Flagler’s campus. Turning Point USA is an organization that often stands on Sevilla St. speaking with students and Thompson expressed his concern with the protesting policy. 

“The Turning Point people were here last week, and I know a few people who wanted to protest them being here,” Thompson said. “But a form has to be submitted 72 hours in advance, and why would I protest the protestors from the Palm Garden when they’re in front of the art museum? I didn’t want to go through all of that.”

Thompson said that there is a lot of work left to be done by the administration at Flagler College. Black History Month ended on Feb. 28, and students have been reflecting on how Flagler College’s social media channels covered the events of the month.

One of the final demands set forward by BSU was for Flagler to “provide adequate resources and support for Black History Month.” 

In the month of February, the official Flagler College Instagram (@flaglercollege) only posted about Black History Month events three times and did not tag BSU (@flaglerbsu) or the Black Female Development Circle (@bfdc_flagler), the student organizations hosting the events.

The events the Flagler College Instagram promoted was copied from social media profiles from either student organizations or by the Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion — the official social media channels of the college did not create any original content for the month in supporting events for its Black students, leaving many to wonder the reason for Flagler’s lack of initiative.

Flagler College’s Black Student Union held their 3rd annual “Soul Food Sunday” on Sunday, February 28. Photo courtesy of Rory Thompson.

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