When you ask philosophy major Jamarr McCain ’19, the newly elected president of the Black Student Association (BSA), why he came to Rhodes, he recalls the lasting impression the school left on him after visiting. “Rhodes was not on my radar up until mid-junior year of high school. What actually got my attention was the mock trial program. Then when I got to see the rest of the school, I liked everything else about it. The people were a really big thing—definitely a welcoming environment for me. Academic rigor was another. One of the biggest things, though, was having options for extracurricular activities that I could get involved in on campus.” Among other things, McCain is involved in Rhodes Mock Trial, Gender and Sexuality Alliance, and The Bridge.
One of the first things McCain participated in was Serving Our Students, a peer mentoring program that pairs incoming students of color with returning students of color to assist in their acclimation to campus. But, he says, the shifting racial tensions in the country drew him to becoming more involved in BSA. “Also, all of the executive board last year were women, which I applaud, but I felt that the representation of black men was also necessary to help lead BSA into this new beginning. BSA should be meeting the changing needs of our membership as we go along, and representation is one of those needs.”
McCain, who is minoring in Africana Studies, adds, “Thinking back to when I first came to Rhodes and the things that drew me to BSA, I want to cultivate that to make it more enticing for students of color, and all of the student body, to join. I don’t want us to just embody the African American experience, but I want to take it and spread it across different cultures and organizations on campus to make it more meaningful. My biggest vision is for BSA to reach the highest standard it can and be just as credible and reputable as Rhodes Student Government. RSG has set a high bar of excellence for this campus, and I think BSA can meet that. Aside from reputation and credibility, I want the organization to be self-reflective of issues and flaws within the African American community as well.”
In order to accomplish his goals, McCain says that inclusivity is absolutely necessary, and he encourages all students to get involved with the organization. “I want everyone to know that BSA is open to all students on campus. We’re shaping a better experience for black individuals, while allowing others to come inside that experience and see what it’s like to be a student of color on campus, in Memphis, and in the world in general.”
He also sees this as an innovative programming year for the organization, including an upcoming DACA discussion panel. “I’m very excited about what the executive board is working on behind the scenes. We’ll be engaging in conversations that haven’t been prominent on campus, while creating a safe, fun environment for BSA members.”
By Ellie Johnson ’20