In 1966, during the era of the Civili Rights Movement, Sam Cooper (Class of ’69) helped form the Society of Afro-American Students, also known as SAAS. According to Sam, the group came together from the need to confront white privilege at the University. SAAS became one of Penn’s first black “movement organizations”. This organization strived to combat racial inequalities while also providing a sense of community and support for blacks on campus. SAAS pushed for the validation of the Black community by making a proposal for a Black Studies program and creating the House of the Family, which later became the group's headquarters.
In 1971 the organization changed its name to the Black Student League (BSL).The BSL served to uphold the integrity of the Black community while also fighting for their equality. Throughout the seventies, the BSL organized and participated in several protests. One of their most notable protests was the Franklin Building Sit-In of 1978 where Sheryl George (Class of '80), the acting president, helped form the United Minorities Council (UMC).
During the eighties and nineties, the BSL continued to strive for visibility, community engagement, and unity on Penn’s campus. However, the frequent process of board turnover often led to the constant shift in perspectives about how to approach the concerns of black students, whether it be radically or passively. Along with new leadership, the diversification of Penn’s Black community caused the Black Student League to restructure. The BSL could not adequately meet the needs of all of the black students matriculating to Penn.
OUR TURNING POINT
In 1998 UMOJA, an umbrella organization for all of the school’s Black undergraduate groups, was formed. With the formation of this new organization, the Black Student League relinquished all political responsibilities, and began to shift its focus to the cultural and social issues that faced the Black Penn community.
Now BSL ultimately serves as the hub for the Black experience at Penn. By providing programming, mentoring, and service opportunities, BSL aims to galvanize black students to engage with the campus and local community.