An important organization at the McIntire School, the Black Commerce Student Network (BCSN) actively assists current and pre-Commerce students interested in business, offering related networking and educational opportunities. Motivated by a desire to create positive change while mentoring fellow students on their individual paths, the group has a history of serving as an inspirational touchstone for predominately Black students at McIntire and beyond.
We spoke with two 2019-2020 officers of the group, President Latrell Lee (McIntire ’20) and Vice President Ciara Blackston (McIntire ’20), about their experience in BCSN, its aims, and how it helps foster a sense of community for its members.
What role does BCSN play in the Commerce School?
Lee: BCSN ensures that all Black Commerce/pre-Commerce students know what resources they can access in order to achieve strong academic success and optimal professional development. We make sure that our members know good habits that can help them do well in prerequisites; we also connect our members to a plethora of Fortune 1000 and Fortune 500 companies.
I like to think of BCSN as a good introduction to the Comm School and business in general for Black students. We have the ability to create a strong community within McIntire of Black intellectuals who are eager to change the world and approach business with a very non-traditional lens, which I love to see as president.
Blackston: BCSN plays a fundamental role in recruiting and maintaining the Black student presence within McIntire. We take pride in mentoring Black students from the time they enter UVA until graduation, and we have numerous successful Black alumni who represent the power of our organization in molding the next generation of Black businesswomen and businessmen.
Why is BCSN important to you personally? How does it contribute to your overall McIntire student experience?
Lee: I’m all for representation and challenging the norm. When I got into McIntire, I definitely thought about making the most of my experience. At the same time, however, I wanted to make sure that I was lifting others as I continued to climb. I always thought about the next student who came from a similar background who needs some type of assistance but may be a bit afraid to ask for help. I also think that BCSN truly helps McIntire become a better place. Historically, Black people have been underrepresented, so we want to make sure that we can change that.
Blackston: BCSN is important to me because I love the community aspect of BCSN. Being in McIntire as a Black student can be isolating because it’s not uncommon for me to be one of the only black students in my classes. Thankfully because of BCSN, I always have a community to come back to.
How have you participated in the student org in your respective positions?
Blackston: As vice president, it is my responsibility to help coordinate the organization’s special events and ensure we are keeping the Black pre-Commerce community engaged with our events as much as possible.
Lee: My role is to steer the ship. I have to always make sure that we have a strong structure in place and that we all maintain our consistency. A lot of what I ask for starts with me as the leader. I always look forward to being the best version of myself so that this organization can thrive. I have to say that without my fantastic executive board, I highly doubt that we’d be as successful as we’ve been so far. But to answer your question in specifics, I do a lot of work on the back end, making sure meeting agendas are up to par, linking up with members of McIntire administration to see where there are areas of opportunity, and just generally being a role model in UVA’s larger Black community.
What are some recent successes that the organization has had?
Lee: We launched an event called the “Be Empowered Campaign,” in which we gave Black students the opportunity to network with McIntire alumni and celebrate Blackness in the business world and entrepreneurial world. We also had events that went into detail about networking etiquette, jobs available in different industries, and, of course, general networking opportunities with large organizations.
What events does BCSN have planned for this semester?
Blackston: BCSN had a personal finance event at the end of January meant to help non-Commerce students prepare for life after graduation. We also have a lot of events planned for Black History Month.
Lee: This semester our plan is to focus more on community building, so expect to see lots of events tailored toward empowerment and learning about history as it relates to McIntire. We’ll still have our traditional events that include talks about personal finance and even a celebration for Black students admitted into McIntire, but we also plan to take things up a notch. Be on the lookout!