Students in Service and Leadership at Harvard

BSA Then and Now

As Hasani said, Kuumba was the first black organization on campus. Today, Kuumba functions primarily as a choir, but also as a support network for black identifying students.  A couple of years later, after AFRO (another black organization that existed), the Harvard Black Students Association (BSA) was formed. The mission statement is as follows:


“The purpose of the Harvard Black Students' Association is to establish a sense of community, or more appropriately, communities. The BSA shall endeavor to establish and promote interaction among Black students at Harvard College. In addition, the BSA shall endeavor to promote interaction among all members of the Harvard community. As a means to the aforementioned goals, the BSA shall organize venues and channels to address those issues.”


While a part of the mission is “to establish and promote interaction among Black students at Harvard College,” this “interaction” eventually manifested itself as self-segregation, particularly in the form of housing. In “Taking Steps to Curtail Black Student Self-Segregation at Harvard College” from The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, one learns that Harvard’s housing process went through three main phases.


This system resulted in the self-segregation of not only blacks and other minority groups, but also athletes, musicians, and even STEM majors. The university recognized this as an issue and took action.

While this was a great way to begin the process of making the athletes, musicians, and STEM majors integrate, the problem of black students’ self-segregation only amplified. Since no one wanted the Quad because of its distance, if it was put as a choice, it was almost automatically given. Black students would always list the three Quad houses: Cabot, Currier, and Pforzheimer. As a result, in the fall of 1996, the racial makeup of the Quad houses were overwhelmingly black in comparison to other houses: Cabot was 31.7% black, Currier was 18.3% black, and Pforzheimer was 23.8% black. These numbers are astounding since black students only made up 11% of Harvard’s housing population at the time. Eliot had the lowest percentage of black students, rolling in at 2.8%.

This system is most similar to Harvard’s current housing system except that we not have groups of 8 and not 16. While this had so far proved to be the best method for housing integration, leaders of BSA raised concerns. The BSA president at the time, Derek N. Ashong, thought that the plan would “make it more difficult for the college’s African-American students to form a sense of community.” Past BSA president Kristal O’Bryant asserted that “the administration [was] using randomization to ‘disunify’ black students on campus, but she did believe that “students should not limit themselves by socializing only with members of their own race or background.” Presently, black students have been able to build a strong community, despite randomized housing. However, does everyone who identifies as black ACTUALLY feel welcomed in the black community?


The Harvard Black Students Association's current president, Hasani Hayden, brought up a debate between two words that drove the rest of my research: inclusivity versus comfortability. He begins giving a brief history of BSA, along with comparing its original intent to its current intentions. Throughout the last several decades on Harvard's campus the definition of what it means to be black has evolved. With this change has come the task of making the black community a space where all identities of blackness feel welcomed.


“Taking Steps to Curtail Black Student Self-Segregation at Harvard College.” The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, no. 15, 1997, pp. 14–15. JSTOR, JSTOR,


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