Drue Bender is a third-year James Madison College student majoring in social relations and policy from Detroit, Michigan. Bender reflects on her experience celebrating Black history and offers advice to peers.
Throughout my time at Michigan State University, I have taken an interest in Black feminism due to classes I have taken in the Department of African American and African Studies, or AAAS. I studied Black gender with Associate Professor LeConté Dill and I am now in her Black girl studies class this semester. She, along with Professor and Chairperson Ruth Nicole Brown and the entire AAAS department have been supportive of me and my undergraduate career at MSU. It is refreshing and empowering to sit in a class and study my identity through a scholarly lens.
As Black History Month continues to be celebrated, I reflect on how I found my community at MSU. I have surrounded myself with Black women as mentors, and that is by no mistake! Assistant Professor Rashida Harrison of James Madison College and Assistant Vice President for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging, in Student Life and Engagement, Genyne Royal are people who inspire me to be better and pursue my goals. They support me, challenge me and, most importantly, help me see how I can be successful as well. This tight-knit community did not develop overnight. It required networking and putting my pride aside to be vulnerable and reach out for guidance. These mentors have all played a vital role in my personal growth.
Finding my community goes beyond the classroom and offices. Throughout my time at MSU, I have found a passion serving as the internal vice president of Michigan State’s Black Students’ Alliance. It is so important to give Black students the space and opportunity to be seen and heard on a predominately white campus. I know how it feels firsthand to feel like an afterthought in spaces on this campus. So, it is important to me to be a part of an organization whose objectives are to uplift and empower our community. Additionally, I also serve on the DEI Student Advisory Board for MSU Residence Education and Housing Services. Although new to this position, I appreciate being in a room of individuals who seek to hear input from students on how we can improve diversity, equity and inclusion standards as a university. Some of the DEI work being done is productive, but it is not as sustainable as people may think and needs improvement. My role empowers me to continue advocating for and achieving change.
Throughout college, one of the biggest stressors I have dealt with is affording to attend MSU. I have relied on the Spartan Advantage Program since I started at MSU, and it helped supplement the costs of tuition, fees, room and board and books. However, once I lost that funding it has been a daily struggle to afford being a student. When celebrating history, it also is important to uplift those who are here today. Staff and faculty who share these scholarship opportunities and grants go a long way in positively impacting the lives and success of students.
Celebrating my history also means recognizing the struggles that people in my community face, especially in higher education. Coming to MSU as a Black woman, my outspoken demeanor and passion for certain topics has been seen as intense and used to discredit my work. In the past, I would frame what I said in more palatable ways or even refrain from sharing my thoughts for fear of how my opinions and experiences would be taken. My mentors and organizations have encouraged me to speak out, and now I embrace my passions, opinions and experiences. My best advice for others who struggle with this is to challenge yourself to talk at least once in each of your classes. Start small and you will feel accomplished by meeting that small goal. The more you do it the easier it gets, I promise!
MSU is extending Black History Month recognitions into March, and our community is coming together to strengthen resources, programs, research centers and scholarships supporting Black students at MSU and promoting a culture of inclusion. Learn more at givingto.msu.edu.