Black Students for Advocacy, Awareness and Togetherness (BSAAT) is a campus club and support group run by students.
Previously named Rooted Only on the Strong (ROOTS), BSAAT got its current name in 2014 when Dia Minors, a Mount Allison student at the time and now an alumnus, became president. In a Facebook message to the Argosy, Minors wrote that she changed the name “so that there [would be] no confusion in regards to who we were and what our mission was.”
The “advocacy” part of the name, Minors explained in a CHMA interview recorded in 2014, stands for the “support of black students and all of their varieties of experiences here on campus, from the good to the bad…and the ugly.” “Awareness” is included in the name so that “people are aware of the issues and differences, and the mosaic that make up our experiences here.” Finally, the term “togetherness” is “not only for black students having solidarity for one another, but for the larger Mt. A community to come together in solidarity with us and make this community stronger by strengthening all its smaller parts.”
Minors said she initially got involved with BSAAT (then ROOTS) “almost accidentally.” She was invited to a meeting at the International Centre to discuss Black History Month events and met the ROOTS president, who was graduating that term.
“Before that semester I felt incredibly isolated; I had almost zero interactions with other black people and I was constantly being racialized by my white ‘friends’ and residence members as the ‘sassy black girl,’” she wrote. “It was exhausting.”
“To make a long story shorter, I decided I wanted to take over after [former president] Shafayne left and create something that I thought was missing: A safe space for black students,” Minors wrote.
Fourth-year student Victoria Monsanto, the current president of BSAAT, first got involved after the clubs and societies fair in 2014. “They waved at me to come over. The were really inviting; they wanted to make sure that I felt my voice was heard, that I was an important member,” she said.
“In my first year, I didn’t say much in the group, because I wasn’t sure where I would fall [since] they were already a group. But I went and I listened, and every time I would learn something new,” Monsanto said. She added that she “felt validated when other people would bring up things” she had felt or experienced but had never heard expressed at Mt. A.
All members of the 2015-16 BSAAT executive and many allies graduated last year. “This is my first year [as an] exec for anything, so I’m still learning,” Monsanto said. “[I’ve been] learning how to be more assertive in certain areas and also learning how to depend on people.”
BSAAT has regular meetings on Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m. in room 125 of the Wallace McCain Student Centre.
Monsanto encourages curious students, whether black or allies, to attend a meeting. “We’re open to allies because we want issues that aren’t necessarily known to the public to be made known,” she said. “You can just come and say, ‘I want to help out, and I don’t really know how.’ There’s a place for everyone at every base of knowledge.”
Monsanto also pointed out that there are many articles and resources online. “You don’t have to go up to a black person and ask a question. If you need things elaborated on [after you have looked it up], come to the group, bring this up.”
Unlike last year, BSAAT currently has more black members than allied members. “This year it’s more of a safe space for us,” Monsanto said. “But I want to see where we can go in the future, make our presence known on campus. We just want to celebrate our culture, express it and share it with others.”
BSAAT is organizing several events in recognition of Black History Month, including an Afro Diaspora Music Night at the Pond on March 3. “[BSAAT has] people directly from Africa, the States [and] the Caribbean area….We all have different background cultures, and we want to display the music from our areas and have a night where we just enjoy things and have fun,” Monsanto explained.
However, both Minors and Monsanto emphasized the importance of putting on events throughout the school year, not just during Black History Month. “For people of colour, it’s not just one month; these are things we make note of every day. We think it’s important to continue – we shouldn’t just have one month,” Monsanto said.