BCC welcome event provides community for incoming students of color and their families

Move-In Day is an exciting time for incoming Vanderbilt students and their families. It can also hold some uncertainty about navigating the campus environment, which can be especially true for historically underrepresented groups. Vanderbilt University’s Bishop Joseph Johnson Black Cultural Center helps ease this transition for students of color and their families through its annual Family Welcome and Harambee March, which this year was on Saturday, Aug. 19. 

Omare Omatete, a first-year student majoring in civil engineering, is from Washington, D.C. After the event, he said it made his transition to Vanderbilt, and Nashville, feel a bit easier for him and his parents. 

“I’ve been surrounded by successful African Americans all of my life, but participating in this event has eased my mind about moving to a different environment,” Omatete said. “The Harambee March is great way to truly show how much students receive support here at the university.” 

More than 200 first-year students of color and their families marched across campus to the BCC to the beat of African drummers and the cheers of upper-division students, faculty, staff and alumni. Students and their families enjoyed tours of the BCC building and browsed information tables hosted by student organizations and campus partners. 

“Every year, I have dozens of parents who tell me in the moment or email me expressing their gratitude for the information they received and the communal spirit of the event,” said Rosevelt L. Noble, assistant dean of Residential Colleges and director of the Black Cultural Center. “The event confirms for the parents and families that their student will find community and feelings of belonging at Vanderbilt.” 

This event also lets students and their families ask questions about life on campus for students of color. The BCC’s goal for the march is to establish a community for students of color and allow families to return home with the assurance that their child is being supported, included and celebrated in an identity-affirming space. 

“There were upperclassmen present, and though it was for a small amount of time, I was able to absorb some advice from (them) and create a path for small talk in the future,” Omatete added. “The Zoom calls and magazines could only do so much, so this event really put icing on the cake.” 

Students participate in the annual Harambee March on Aug. 19, hosted by the Black Cultural Center. (Joe Howell / Vanderbilt University)