Association of Black Students looks to refocus goals, improve resources in coming election
The Association of Black Students (ABS) is hoping to clarify its goals and mission in an effort to better serve students in anticipation of Washington University’s plans to increase racial and socioeconomic diversity on campus. An upcoming election to decide the group’s executive members may be a step forward in these efforts.
The New York Times has recognized Washington University multiple times as “the least economically diverse top college,” a title the University hopes to shed through an initiative to increase the percentage of Pell-eligible students to 13 percent by the class of 2020. The University has also been criticized for a lack of racial diversity compared to peer institutions.
The class of 2019, however, saw the highest percentage of black students—at nine percent—in recent years. A large part of ABS’ mission, which some feel needs to be adjusted alongside the University’s efforts to increase diversity, is to provide support to students from various backgrounds as they transition to college life.
Sophomore Kielah Harbert is, thus far, the only candidate running in the election for ABS president on April 15. ABS elections are generally only open to students who attend 33 percent of meetings, but due to a lack of attendance records this year, all students involved in the organization are eligible to vote.
Harbert said that if she takes office, she hopes to completely restructure the way ABS works because she feels that the aims of the organization are currently unclear to students.
“I feel as if ABS has lost its purpose over time, and there is a tendency for students to not really know what ABS does—what ABS’ aims are—and I don’t think, at this point, ABS knows either. I think they’re stuck between knowing whether they should mobilize students, whether they should get students involved in social justice issues or if it’s more of a social space,” Harbert said. “So my plan would be not only to restructure the way we work, but also to refocus our aims and missions.”
Freshman Brandon Davis, a member of ABS, said that Harbert wants to increase membership and to contribute to a strong black community at the University.
“The organization has been dying; over the past few years, it’s been getting less membership and that kind of thing,” Davis said. “[Harbert] wants a community and to make sure there’s a camaraderie with African-American students, in Wash. U. and just in general.”
Harbert also emphasized ABS’ needs for increased funding, not just focus. ABS is a Category 1 student group, meaning that it can obtain over $500 a semester from Student Union, but typically does not receive enough funds to cover all of the programming it hopes to host, Harbert said.
Harbert added that despite aims to increase diversity on campus, the University fails to adequately provide for students from various backgrounds after they’ve been accepted.
“Structurally, the University isn’t supporting the students, especially minority and low-income students. Five years from now, they might be, with the strategic plans that [Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs] Lori White put in place,” Harbert said. “But can we really wait another year, with a larger class coming in? That’s why I’m running now…because I don’t want to wait.”