A conversation with BSU president Danait Yonas

During Black History Month, Hope College has taken the initiative to give support to minority students and educate all students on the importance of this time. One of the most prevalent signs of this on campus is the work of the Black Student Union, which holds events for the Hope community throughout the year to spread awareness of important current issues. 

A vital role in the production of these events is Danait Yonas. She is the group’s president this year and agreed to speak with us about her role. 

Taking on the job of president comes with many responsibilities. Yonas collaborates with other groups on campus, meets with faculty members, assigns jobs to the other BSU executive board members and makes sure all of their events run smoothly. However, Yonas said that one of her most important roles is being the face of the organization.

“I just kind of have that leadership role on campus as well with other minority students, and they kind of just look up to me and reach out for advice,” Yonas said.

Yonas’ mentorship doesn’t just extend to the students who seek her out. She loves being a resource for those students who come to her for advice, but she cares about the well-being of all students. 

“I just kind of like to keep track of all students, especially African American students, just make sure that everyone’s doing okay, everyone’s aware that BSU’s a resource available to them,” Yonas said. 

Additionally, Yonas goes out of her way to introduce herself to freshmen students that she doesn’t know and makes sure they know about the BSU. It is really important to Yonas that she take on this role for the underclassmen. She wants to be able to do for them what was done for her when she was in their shoes.

“Definitely freshman year, sophomore year, I was really close with the past BSU presidents, so they kind of paved that way for me,” Yonas said. “But I realized how important that role was for me as a freshman and a sophomore, so I really wanted to be able to find that for other freshmen.

A desire to be a role model for younger students was just one of the reasons that Yonas initially wanted to run for president of the BSU. She also had a vision for the BSU that she wanted the chance to implement. This vision included creating a space on campus for Black students to find confidence and community.

“In the circumstances that our country is in and everything, I really hope that Black students specifically can really just find empowerment through our group to be proud and embrace their blackness on this predominantly white campus; to just be able to not hide or be afraid to express themself, to not feel silenced,” Yonas said.

Additionally, Yonas also envisioned a larger presence for the group on campus, which is something she believes they have already started to achieve. 

One of the main ways that the BSU is active on campus is through the events that they put on. These can be anything from town hall meetings to discuss Hope students’ opinions on current issues to hip hop zumba classes.

Recently, the BSU has put on many events specifically to celebrate Black History Month. So far, this has included a meeting where students could get to know the BSU’s e-board and a meeting to discuss the culture and history of natural hair.

There are still more opportunities for students to get involved, as well.

“We have our Black Excellence dinner that’s coming up this Friday that will be honoring BSU alumni and faculty,” Yonas said. “Next week we have a keynote speaker lecture type of thing with an African American author that’s speaking virtually about their book.” 

Yonas encourages any students who are interested in the BSU and their mission to attend their events, regardless of their race.

“BSU is not something exclusive to just African Americans. You know, it does foster that community specifically for us, but it also is a really good opportunity to learn and to be educated on certain things, or just to be aware.”

In fact, Yonas said that she believes attending their events is the best way for students to ally themselves with the BSU.

“Over the summer, a lot of different groups on campus, like sororities, fraternities, SAC and different big groups reached out to us to learn how they can better support us or how they can better be involved,” Yonas said, “and I think the first step is just attending and advocating for the events that we already have on campus, rather than trying to take a piece.”

Yonas encourages people to come and ask questions, even if it might seem scary at first. She says that she in particular is more than happy to be a resource for students, as well as to direct them to other campus resources, like the Center for Diversity and Inclusion.

While it can be a lot sometimes to fill such an important, time-consuming role on campus, Yonas said that she loves being able to provide that service of advising and educating her fellow students and she would not change a thing.

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