What started as a Twitter discussion last semester led to the founding of the newest honors organization on campus, providing an unprecedented opportunity for students of color to start a dialogue regarding issues on campus.
Marketing senior Dayjah Harris and design junior Adraint Bereal noticed a scarcity of honor organizations accessible to students of color on campus and decided to create their own. The Onyx Honor Society focuses on promoting community service, leadership and academic excellence within the black community at UT, which makes up 4 percent of the undergraduate student population.
“We want to inspire and recognize students of color here at UT,” Onyx President Harris said. “We want to have a place where black students can come, learn from each other, learn how to progress themselves in their academic careers and also socially at the same time.”
Harris and Bereal noticed that the black community at UT often turned to Twitter to discuss different campus issues, which inspired them to take the dialogue a step further.
“We wanted to bring that to a physical space where students can actually say those things and know that those concerns are being put into a channel that’s going to make some change,” Bereal said.
Although UT has a multitude of organizations celebrating student achievements, competitive application processes can prevent students of underprivileged backgrounds from being involved. In addition, there are few organizations that specifically celebrate the achievements of students of color on campus.
Hypatia Sorunke, outreach chair at Onyx, said it can be validating and affirming for black students to build a strong community with one another, and Onyx will help with that.
“There are a lot of black people in predominantly white spaces that are doing big things, but because they are surrounded by peers that don’t necessarily look like them, they don’t get all the due credit for what they’re doing,” Sorunke said.
The organization plans on hosting a monthly caucus open to nonmembers where students can gather and have a dialogue about campus issues. Bereal, the internal vice president of Onyx, said he hopes this will encourage more students to get involved.
“The usual places students would go to resolve a problem or something that they would like to see improved on campus, such as Student Government, those things aren’t always accessible,” Bereal said. “We want students to be able to come and let us know what they think should be improved about the University, so that will give everyone an opportunity to have their voice heard.”
Octavian Moten, the external vice president of Onyx, said they designed the application process to be accessible for students of all backgrounds.
“My favorite part about our application is that it is holistic,” Moten said. “Students of color sometimes face more academic problems, and sometimes we don’t get recognized outside of academics. Of course, we care about GPA, but at the same time it’s all about what you are doing for your community.”
The founding members of The Onyx Honor Society will induct their first class in February 2019, who will be in a charge of a service project.
“We won’t really know what the impact will look like until we get that first class,” Bereal said. “But we know it will be progress.”