‘We don’t fight with weapons, we fight with our voices’: Students create first Black Student Union at Waunakee High School

The teens say their goal is to educate students and teachers so they can become more culturally and racially sensitive

WAUNAKEE, Wis.– Black students at Waunakee High School are hoping to ignite change, or at least, start a conversation.

A group of about 20 students have helped create the school’s first Black Student Union (BSU). It all started with the special education teacher’s leadership last spring.

Chuck Murphree said he started asking black students how they would like to form a BSU on campus. In October, his idea came to fruition.

Murphree said at first, the meetings were mostly, “A lot of community building, and getting to know each other. It was the first time they were able to sit down with other black students in the school. So that was powerful.”

Murphree said he wanted to create a non-judgmental space where students could learn from each other by relating to one another. But when people look at Murphree, some are surprised that he was the person to take the lead on creating the group.

“Being a white man, somebody who is very aware of his own privilege in society, being able to sit with these young black people, for them to be able to trust me, to pull me into those conversations, to hear their ideas on how we can change the school, to bring the awareness on how this needs to happen,” he said. “The first thing I said to them is, ‘How do you feel about a white man advising the Black Student Union?’ The kids said to me, ‘Mr. Murphree, who else is going to do it?’ It was as simple as that. It was the right thing to do and the kids needed it.”

Murphree sits in on all the meetings and said he has already learned so much. He said other teachers are now expressing interest in coming to the meetings too.

“The district curriculum director recently contacted me about coming in and talking to the students about our curriculum and changing that so students of color can start seeing themselves in the curriculum,” Murphree said.

BSU members said the point of the group is to educate others and they welcome people to just come listen.

“I just want first and foremost to educate and show younger students the representation of black people in power, black people making changes,” said BSU member Nicole Rauls.

Rauls said it is rare for two black students to be in the same classes together at Waunakee High School. She said the school doesn’t have any culture-based classes, so there isn’t much opportunity to learn about people who are different than them.

Rauls said having a BSU is giving them that opportunity and providing black students a space to all sit in a room together for the first time.

Rauls added that the struggles black students face are often not understood by many of the other students at school who don’t relate to those same thoughts or feelings. She said she reflects on positive black icons, like Martin Luther King Jr., to motivate her that the group can make a positive change without resorting to anger and violence.

“The things that we do daily are things that they could never even dream of,” Raul said. “That progress has already been made. But taking it a step further to dream even farther. I don’t think they would want us to meet the goal and stop there.”

Murphree said he lets the students lead the conversations at BSU meetings, and is just happy to provide them a safe space to talk about the things that matter to them.

“I’m really proud of these kids for what they’re doing and I’m thankful for the administration too because they’re allowing us to keep moving forward with this,” Murphree said.

The BSU has already made a major change in the school district. Murphree said because of the students’ desire to educate and change the curriculum to be more inclusive of black culture and black history, this will be the first year Waunakee High School will teach students about Black History Month.

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