Black Law Students Association wins National Chapter of the Year
Members attribute success to increased activism, collaboration with U.Va. community
The University’s Black Law Students Association won Chapter of the Year at the National Black Law Students Association’s 49th annual convention held March 7-12. Chapters from 80 law schools attended the convention held in Houston, Texas.
This was the University BLSA’s fourth Chapter of the Year award since 2002.
“I think that we were really able to convey … the real spirit and mission of the national BLSA and it was very evident to them that this was the goal of ours from the very beginning,” BLSA President and Law student Deitra Jones said. “We did everything that we could to … coincide with the national theme and missions of BLSA.”
BLSA Historian and Law student Steven Morris also said a more concerted effort by the chapter to hone in on specific goals and initiatives contributed to the win.
“We worked even harder than maybe prior years before to be very intentional with our efforts in, not only necessarily just to win or have that title, but to really tap into that mission and make a better experience for the black law students here at U.Va.,” Morris said.
In February, the University BLSA first won regional Chapter of the Year for medium-sized chapters at the Mid-Atlantic BLSA conference in Pittsburgh, Pa. The chapter was judged on several categories and required to submit an application for consideration and sit in on interviews. They then went on to compete at nationals with law schools from across the country.
According to Jones, the national convention was similar to regionals at which they submitted materials and had a series of interviews.
“We sit down with the national director of community service and two other people on the National Board and we sit for an interview, they look through our scrapbook and our application materials,” Jones said. “We’re judged on different categories like maybe service initiations, socio-political awareness, international relations, pre-law programming.”
Jones said much of the chapter's success is due to their collaboration with other student organizations and faculty members on Grounds and national recognition of their continual and inaugural events and initiatives.
“It was a combination of things … programming that we’ve done every year that Nationals just hasn’t known about and then things that we did that were very new this year,” Jones said.
Morris also said the national recognition came from the chapter’s efforts to unite the University community at large, an experience he thought was missing from BLSA in previous years.
“We tapped into a void that was missing from the black law students’ experience here and through that we were able to create programming that really brought together the larger community,” Morris said.
As far as annual events, Jones said BLSA’s spring and winter diversity receptions and their annual service trip to nations in Africa are particularly notable. She said she believes the national board appreciated the collaborative nature of the programs.
“They were very impressed … once we told them about the logistics of our Spring and Winter Diversity Receptions,” Jones said. “Also, we have a trip to Africa every year … we choose six to eight dues-paying members and they have an all-expenses-paid trip to some country in Africa. This year we went to Tanzania.”
The BLSA also initiated new social action events this year which likely contributed to their success and recognition on a national level. The chapter focused on addressing issues that have affected the black community, such as police brutality, race relations and engaging the non-black community in the dialogue as well.
“We really wanted to create a presence on Grounds and make sure there were safe places and platforms for people affected to be able to discuss those types of issues and for people who are not directly affected, so basically non-black allies, to be able to come and provide a listening ear to see how they could help,” Jones said.
The chapter hosted two town hall meetings as well as an event called Allyship 101: Role of Non-Black Allies. The event was very well attended and focused on uniting not only black law students but also bringing together non-black students and community allies, Morris and Jones said.
Morris said the chapter’s mission is to bring together all members of the community to address current socio-political issues, and he believes many of today’s societal problems can transcend political beliefs.
“Given the climate of this past election and different things of that nature … we really wanted to focus on and really learn how to use our programming to bridge gaps no matter people’s differing political perspectives … understanding that the root of social issues is a human rights issue,” Morris said.
Morris sees receiving the award as an acknowledgement of the chapter’s recent efforts to increase their activism and understand their role as leaders in the University and Charlottesville community.
“I think it’s a testament to our efforts … in pushing forward the University and understanding that we have to be at the forefront of certain issues,” Morris said. “We have a unique set of experiences and a unique situation to be leaders of the community.”
Correction: The article previously misstated some instances of Black Law Students Association's acronym as BSLA. The correct acronym is BLSA.