Waunakee, Wisconsin teens create village’s first Black Student Union
• By Tim Wohlers firstname.lastname@example.org
• Jan 14, 2020
Twelve members of WHS’s Black Student Union stand together, with advisor Chuck Murphree (left) and co-facilitator Brett Wheeler (right). The group meets on a weekly basis, during student-teacher contact time.
More than a dozen teens have now joined the Black Student Union at Waunakee High School. Together, they’ve started a support network for the district’s students of color.
Some have been focusing their efforts on community outreach.
“I’m really involved in social justice,” said senior Nicole Rauls. “So I thought this would be a good opportunity to help empower myself and others, and bring more awareness to the school… One thing we’re interested in is going to the younger schools and doing a mentorship program.”
Having lived in the village nearly her entire life, Rauls said it’s important that members of her demographic be exposed to black role models at an early age.
“Growing up in Waunakee,” Rauls said, “there’s not a whole lot of representation for people who look like us. And I think it’s important that we see people who are black in positions of power. If we’re not seeing that, we start wondering where we fit in the narrative as kids.”
Others, such as senior Miles Lewis, joined for the social aspect.
“I wanted a place that I could be with other black students,” Lewis said, “because I didn’t really know or have a connection with many of them. And coming here, it feels like a family.”
Having lived on the east coast for most of his life, Lewis said the demography of Waunakee is considerably different than that found in other places throughout the country. For black families, moving to the village has posed challenges and continues to be a culture shock for some.
He said an organization such as Black Student Union (BSU) helps.
“A lot of people look at Waunakee and see the demographics,” Lewis said, “and they don’t really think much of it. But there are a lot of issues for that smaller percentage of people that the community just doesn’t see or turns a blind eye to. So it’s good to have a BSU in place here.”
BSU became an official co-curricular at the high school in mid-October, after cross-categorical teacher Chuck Murphree advocated for an organization to serve Waunakee’s students of color.
He said the growth of the district had made it a necessity.
“The need came up here in Waunakee for our students,” Murphree said. “And it’s really to bring together black students in order for them to talk about issues that may be happening in the school – and have a safe place to do that – but also talk about culture and backgrounds.”
Murphree has since become the Black Student Union advisor, with special-education instructor Brett Wheeler drawing from experience teaching in urban areas to co-facilitate.
Both educators have expressed a sense of fulfillment from the role.
“As two white men being facilitators of the group,” Wheeler said, “I feel really privileged to be a part of it and to learn from these guys… We want it to be student-focused, and student-centered. So we’re just here to kind of help out.”
The advisors said non-black students are welcome to join.
Author’s Note: Chuck Murphree is not only an educator and advocate for Mental Health, he is a published “Young Adult Author”.
The Last Chapter ©2020.elizabethannjohnsonmurphee