Black Student Union wins six awards at 46th annual Big XII Conference

Noah McPherson (left) Negil McPherson III (middle) pose with their awards at the conference. Students received awards for their work in expanding inclusion at their colleges. (Photo courtesy of Cristopher Burrell)

Kansas State University hosted the Big XII Conference on Black Student Government from Feb. 16-19. Negil McPherson III, head treasurer for the Black Student Union, said this year’s theme was Health, Wealth and Knowledge of Self.

“We really took the theme and ran with it,” McPherson said. “We brought in a ton of speakers to speak on what it looks like to be healthy, what it looks like to really get to know yourself in occupying a Black space.” 

Brandon Clark, BSU advisor, said several K-State students won awards at the conference.

“We had a student apply for almost every single award,” Clark said. “Most Outstanding Freshman in the Big XII Award went to Noah McPherson. Christopher Burrell won the Martin Luther King Jr. Award. Negil McPherson won the Alvin Ailey award, and the students nominated me for Most Outstanding Advisor. K-State walked away with the most awards, and that was a really proud moment.” 

Burrel, president of the BSU, said the K-State BSU also received the Clarence Wine Award for Outstanding Big XII Council of the Year.

“Not only did we win this award, but we’ve won this award the past 14 out of 17 years,” Burrell, senior in mechanical engineering, said. “This is an award that’s not easy to come by. It’s an award that’s extremely worked for.” 

Burrell said the conference aims to help young Black students develop themselves into strong leaders.

“It’s a four-day and three-night leadership retreat that attracts students all across the nation for four days of leadership and development and awesome experiences they can take back to their universities or colleges to hopefully help develop their student bodies to push them in the direction of success,” Burrell said. 

McPherson, junior in business marketing and music, said hosting the event at K-State took plenty of preparation.

“It was a lot of getting the background stuff done, a lot of the things you don’t think about when it comes to a conference,” McPherson said. “Driving to go get speakers, making sure the speakers got to their hotel and the airport, it was a lot of things like that. It was a lot of behind the scenes work.”

Serenity Holmes, secretary and head delegate for the BSU and recipient of the Barbara Jordan Award, said this conference allows Black students to find a place of belonging.

“It gives Black students a space to come together and talk to each other and know that they’re not alone,” Holmes, junior in professional strategic selling and Spanish, said. “Coming to K-State my freshman year during COVID, I had a very hard time making friends that looked like me and had the same experiences as me. Knowing that there are people here who are going through the same things as you helps you know you’re not alone.” 

Burrell said to apply for the Martin Luther King Jr. Award, he wrote an essay on how his work at K-State continued the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. 

“It’s one thing to think you can receive the award, and it’s one thing to make a case,” Burrell said. “I felt the best way to make my case was to explain the different things I do here at Kansas State University. I was the Big XII conference chair, and I’ve served in multiple honors societies. Quite literally any way I can advocate for and push for students at KSU to ensure that the next generation of Wildcats can enjoy K-State that much more, I’m always sure to do that.” 

Burrell said the awards validate students who’ve worked hard to improve inclusivity at K-State.

“Being recognized for work you never planned to be recognized for is a really humbling and good experience,” Burrell said. “When you’re doing something out of the goodness of your heart and people are recognizing you for the work you’ve done, it helps you know that your heart is in the right place.” 

Burrell said the success of the BSU, as well as his personal success, is made possible by Clark. 

“I tried to leave K-State my freshman year because I felt overwhelmed,” Burrell said. “Our advisor stepped in, sat me down and told me that K-State was the place for me, and I could be successful here. Without Mr. Brandon Clark and the BSU itself, I not only wouldn’t be the person I am today, I wouldn’t be at KSU.” 

Clark said he hopes the student body of K-State is proud of its BSU. 

“While this is the Black Student Union, I don’t think our recognition should be looked at as any different than if the debate team were to win an award, or winning the Big 12 football championship,” Clark said. “All of those awards go to individual clubs and organizations, but it’s all a reflection of K-State and the wonderful students and faculty we have.”

Clark said he encourages any student who feels excluded at K-State to come to a BSU meeting.

“We meet every single Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the Student Union,” Clark said. “Come check us out. Our goal is that we want you to come to BSU and find a sense of community there. If you don’t find that sense of community, then maybe BSU can assist you in finding your sense of community somewhere else. … Let BSU help you in whatever way you need to be helped.”