Black Scholars Matter welcome second set of student cohorts

Theresa White, CSUN’s Black Scholars Matter program director, speaks at the Black Scholars Matter event in the Thousand Oaks Room on April 29, 2023, in Northridge, Calif.

Aimee Martinez, Reporter

Black Scholars Matter accepted 13 students into their second cohort and welcomed them on April 29 at the University Student Union’s Thousand Oaks Room.

The event consisted of a program overview, group activities and a Q&A panel with four current BSM students.

Theresa White, full-time professor and former chair of the Africana studies department, serves as the program’s director. She spoke about why she feels BSM is important at the event’s opening.

“We realized that coming to any large campus such as CSUN, you need to have a plethora of support to ensure your success,” White said. “We’re here to be sure that our students come into a space that they excel in, a space that they are retained and that they graduate with a set of skills, a sense of confidence and sense of self-efficacy so they can go out and rule the world and make changes in whatever area of discipline that they are studying.”
According to their website, BSM aims to guide students through their first four years of college by providing them with a community of peers and support through counseling and tutoring. They also provide cohorts with tuition costs that are not covered by other financial aid, and pays for student mandatory fees.

The program partners with Taft Charter High School, Birmingham Community Charter High School and Hamilton High School. The three schools were determined to be the best candidates after extensive research by the program’s outreach team into aspects such as CSUN student enrollment, CSUN partnerships and the high school’s demographic data and support systems for students of African descent, according to White.

The percentage of Black students enrolled at CSUN has been steadily declining over the past 15 years, according to the CSU enrollment dashboard. Of the school’s total enrollment of 36,123 students for the fall 2022 semester, only 5% are Black.

The BSM program is typically funded through diversity, equity and inclusion grants, though they sometimes receive sponsorship from campus partners like the USU for events like this one, said Bryan Arevalo, creative media manager.

Among those greeting the new cohort during the event were CSUN Provost Meera Komarraju, Faculty Senate President Michael Neubauer and Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students William Watkins.

Watkins has been involved with BSM since the beginning, when the program was still an offshoot of the Bridge to the Future program. B2F pays the four-year tuition of some Canoga Park High School graduating seniors and provides them with support throughout their education. As of this year, BSM is now a stand-alone program within the division of student affairs.

Watkins said he believes in the program.

“It really is a vehicle that we think will do a great deal to reverse the decline in enrollment of Black students,” Watkins said. “Not so much because this program admits a large number every year, but because of the success that these students will be able to model and then communicate to other high schoolers, that at Cal State Northridge, Black students can come here and enjoy a successful outcome.”

Some of the incoming freshmen said they found out about the program through their high school counselors and looked forward to the community aspect it offered.

Hamilton High School senior Noah Finley said she went on a school field trip to CSUN through the BSM program where she was able to connect with White. When applications opened, Finley said she immediately applied.

“I’ve been on multiple college trips and have not been able to see myself there and feel comfortable,” Finley said. “But the one thing about BSM is seeing my people around me and seeing a community of people around me for four years, which I think is extremely important.”

A similar experience was expressed by Taft Charter High School student Calvin Henry. Henry said he struggled with having both Mexican and African American heritage and felt split between the two.

“I never really connected with my African American community that well,” Henry said. “So I came here to make more Black friends and connect with them and immerse myself in the culture a little better. I never got to immerse myself in both cultures, so it was really difficult. I wanted to come here and make Black friends and finally understand what it means to be Black.”

In order to qualify for the BSM program, students must first be accepted into CSUN after having attended one of the three high schools. Those accepted must take 15 units every semester, participate in community activities, attend BSM program meetings and mentor future members, according to BSM’s website.

Throughout her 16 years at CSUN, White has grown invested in the future of Black students and faculty. She is excited about the diversity and intelligence of the new cohort and looks forward to seeing the community they will build with each other and the current group of BSM students.

“I didn’t have a program like this when I was growing up,” White said. “I think it is something that we all need, to have someone there that can show you the way, the resources, so that you can succeed in whatever area that you choose. It’s really my opportunity to give back, to show students that with the right resources, they can do whatever it is that they desire to do.”