BSU First to Support Community Engagement by Making Their Mark

Friday, December 09, 2011

When it was time for the first home FSU football game, Black Student Union members wanted to be the first make their mark for the Community Engagement Initiative. In fact, “Make Your Mark” is the theme this year for the student organization.

Dr. Tara Brooks, advisor for the group and Director of Multicultural Affairs, says the focus is showcasing the differences that make us unique. That’s why BSU had a tent at the game featuring artwork made by many student handprints. Although each handprint has similarities, every handprint is special and unique to the person who made it. BSU celebrates African-American culture but also the spirit of multiculturalism.

“This year’s theme is about digging deep inside yourself first and finding who you are and making your mark in a positive and personal way in class, at work and in the community. It’s about being proud of who you are. It doesn’t matter where you’re from. Everyone involved is committed to coming together,” Brooks says.

Service to the community is a major focus for BSU this year. Among other activities, the student organization donated to the Sobrania Soup Opera in Fairmont and held a “Pink Out” for Breast Cancer Awareness on campus.

“We have chosen to ‘be First’ in our community and we embrace diversity. BSU and Fairmont State University are proud to ‘be First’ and make change,” said BSU member Sharonda Robinson.

The “Make Your Mark” theme has carried over to another campus effort spearheaded by Brooks and Dr. Van Dempsey, Dean of the School of Education and Health and Human Performance. FSU was awarded a Diversity through Equity Grant from the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission to build and support diversity initiatives for students, faculty, staff and the broader Fairmont community.

Through a competitive grant process, the Commission awarded funds to state colleges and universities for initiatives that focus on the notion of diversity for equity in educational outcomes. FSU was awarded $5,250 for the 2011-2012 academic year.

A key element of FSU’s grant focuses on creating an archive of personal stories of diversity at FSU and in the Fairmont community. The aim of the archive is to provide Fairmont State and community members the ability to search these stories and use them as a basis for teaching activities, academic programs and public conversations and dialogues on issues of diversity in the area, state, nation and world.

At the Oct. 6 Fighting Falcons football game at Duvall-Rosier Field, the Diversity Task Force sponsored and staffed a tent as part of the Community Engagement initiative and began the process of recruiting participants to share their stories. The first round of archival stories will be completed by the end of the 2011-2012 academic year.

“When students enter into a university community, they often find themselves not only academically challenged, but also challenged in finding out who they are and how they fit into the community,” Brooks said. “By allowing these students and our whole community to hear where others have come from and where they have gone, our hope is that it will help everyone relate to these stories and guide them in their personal journey of understanding who they are and can be in the world.”

In addition to the digital archive, the grant will help: (1) create a strategic plan for diversity related activities; (2) develop a course for faculty and staff focused on building and sustaining a culture of respect for, engagement with and celebration of diverse issues; (3) host a series of events that encourage deliberate discussions about factors that marginalize students and constrain or deny access to learning or education.

“The premise of our grant proposal was based on key ways of re-imagining what ‘diversity’ means at Fairmont State University and with our broader community,” Dempsey said. “The University must be able to sustain a climate and culture where students have access to resources, ways of knowing and ways of being that nurture their own success and opportunities for creating a more diverse community.”

If you would like to share your story, please contact Tara Brooks at