For just over a decade, Rutgers University–Newark’s Black Organization of Students Alumni Association (BOSAA) has worked to elevate the presence and experiences of Black students at Rutgers University–Newark. Members hail from a range of careers and locales, but they all share a primary mission: to increase the number of Black students enrolled at and graduating from the university.
While BOSAA might be young, its work builds off the legacy of Black student organizers, harking back to the 1960s, who fought to expand university access to students of African descent. Back then, organizers used written demands, sit-ins, and the historic takeover of Conklin Hall to make their voices heard and generate change on campus.
Indeed, the Liberation of Conklin Hall (led by the Black Organization of Students in 1969) is embraced by all of Rutgers as a watershed moment for the institution. Rutgers–Newark chancellor Nancy Cantor said at the gala celebration of that event’s 50th anniversary that the takeover demonstrated that “strength and progress will be built by continuing to transform our own institution into a diverse and inclusive beacon—as our heroes and heroines of 1969 set us on a path to do—one we will keep walking with students, faculty, and staff by embracing the collective work we all do to transform the opportunity map across our dear city and beyond.” That transformation continues today in the university’s role as an anchor institution that is not just in Newark, but of Newark, exemplified by broad and deep collaborations in areas such as education, entrepreneurship, public safety, the arts, and equitable growth that are designed to make the university an engine of social mobility and innovation for the city.
Today, BOSAA’s strategies—creating a scholarship fund, augmenting recruitment in area schools, mentoring the Black Organization of Students (BOS), and developing relationships with Rutgers–Newark leadership—look a little different. Still, strong threads connect the efforts of the 1960s to today, such as combatting inequality, expanding access for Black students, and strengthening Black communities. These threads also stitch together with Rutgers’ ongoing efforts to integrate principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion into every facet of the university, thereby creating a “Beloved Community.”
That legacy is what inspired Ed Nkosi NCAS’93, president of BOSAA, to take the group’s helm. “I just felt that need to contribute because I know there was a concern when I was on campus that the number of students of African descent wasn’t where they should have been,” he says. “Any kind of effort that we can wage to spread the word about Rutgers–Newark and recruit talented students from the greater Newark area, I’m on board with that.”
As a high school educator, Nkosi observes opportunity in Newark every day. “I see the talented students,” he says. “I want them to bring that talent to Rutgers.” He also sees firsthand that BOSAA’s work has become even more pressing in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. “We know that the effects of this pandemic are going to be detrimental for years to come,” he says. “This is where we as an organization need to gear up and help repair what has been damaged, so these prospective students feel confident and feel capable and able to become students of the Rutgers–Newark campus. This is going to be our mission: to make sure that we act as a bridge for these prospective students to get into Rutgers and graduate.”
Even as BOSAA confronts modern challenges and works toward a more equitable future, it remains rooted in its past. As Vickie Donaldson NCAS’72, NLAW’82, an active member of BOSAA, founding member of BOS, and one of at least 15 students involved in the Liberation of Conklin Hall, puts it: “You look back to go forward.” By uplifting the historical context of Black lives on campus, Donaldson hopes to embolden a new generation of student activists and ensure that the needs of Black students are integrated into Rutgers’ governance. To that end, Donaldson is invested in mentoring Black students and empowering other Black alumni to support current students by teaching them what they’ve learned at Rutgers and in their lives beyond the university. “[Decades ago] we were fighting for just the right to sit at the table, at the lunch counter,” she says. “We’re in the door now, so…what does that get us? And how does that allow us to bring somebody with us?”
Those questions reflect the broad-minded approach that’s ever present at BOSAA. While much of the organization’s strategy focuses on improving concrete metrics, such as enrollment and graduation rates, its vision extends beyond these aims. “I believe that BOSAA ultimately wants to impact the larger society beyond Rutgers,” Nkosi says. “If we can do that in some way, if we can say that we had an effect in that vein of making life a little bit better for whomever—that’s really the success. We’re in it for the long haul, and we’re determined to have an impact.”
The group is fundraising for the Black Organization of Students Alumni Association Scholarship Fund, which will enhance university affordability for civically engaged students. Tax-deductible donations of any size can be made at support.rutgers.edu/BOSScholarFund.