When Legion of Black Collegians President Marnae Chavers was a freshman, she left her hometown, which she said, was very homogenous with a strong African American community.
In search of the same on campus, she attended the Big 12 Conference on Black Student Government as a volunteer.
“It was amazing to me seeing all these African American students from all over the country coming together to learn and be leaders,” said Chavers, who is now a senior.
After the conference, Chavers applied to be on the LBC executive board and worked her way to becoming president. In her position, she has tried to help students more easily transition to a new culture in college, something she worked through herself.
An example of how she tries to help is the Black Book, a resource handbook once given to black students at MU from 1977 to 1985. Chavers is re-writing it with the help of the Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center.
“(It will include) a lot of stuff that’s going to be general like housing and classes and who to contact in this department,” Chavers said. “But there are going to be things specific to African Americans that a lot of students just want to know, (such as) black faculty, black scholarships, black student organizations and churches.”
LBC’s mission statement says that it is “the leading voice on campus working to eradicate ignorance and promote positive change.” Chavers said that, yes, doing this amongst races is necessary, but that it is also important to do so within the black community itself.
“(We eradicate ignorance) through programming, knowledge, holding students to a high level of expectation and just learning through experiences,” she said.
For Black History Month, specifically, LBC has helped organize various events in conjunction with the university, such as forums on race.
“As the president of LBC, black history to me means celebrating a legacy,” said Chavers, who feels that she celebrates throughout the entire year.
Since she is president of LBC, Chavers takes part in weekly meetings for the One Mizzou Council, which is comprised of leaders of the biggest organizations on campus. There, members work together “to create a more inclusive campus community,” according to the organization’s website. And although Chavers feels that MU already has an inclusive campus, she thinks it could always use improvement.
“I definitely think there are places where it needs work, but I do see people trying to make that change,” Chavers said. “It’s slow and it’s steady, (but) it’s not just programming — it’s mindsets that need to be changed. It’s looking at me or looking at you as a person.”
Outside of MU, Chavers feels there is also a cultural divide. She thinks the challenge that a country with different cultures faces has changed since 1968 when LBC was founded.
“It’s a different struggle,” she said. “To me, it’s institutionalized racism. It is passed- down mindsets of people, both black and white, and just habit. I only know what I was taught and what I seek to learn.”
The solution to that problem, Chavers believes, is honesty. She has tried to stay truer to herself over the past four years, and she thinks that is essential in shirking the foundational shackles built by society.
“I think that when we’re honest and we open up about our feelings is the only way to move forward,” she said. “If you don’t recognize you have a problem, you can’t solve it.”
With her involvement as LBC president, Chavers said she has also changed as a person. She is more conscientious of people’s feelings, more flexible, a better leader, and more responsible. Chavers, though, said she also feels lot closer to her culture after her years spent with LBC.
“I take a lot more pride in being African American and making sure the experience of black students is powerful and what they want it to be,” she said.
She is also currently working on making changes to how LBC works so that powerful experience is more attainable through the organization.
“Right now, we’re working on just setting a foundation for others behind us,” Chavers said. “For me, as president, it’s important to leave a legacy.”
To do that, she is tinkering with LBC’s constitution, last updated in October 2010, with the hopes of improving it. She is also aiming to set new standards for members to come, improve programming and participation for events and increasing efficiency.
Although Chavers has already gone through the bulk of her college experiences, already extended her boundaries and improved her skills as president of LBC, she knows there is still more to come in life.
“It’s just all a learning experience,” she said.