The Birth of SUBA

Sharing history and the vision of Pete ’71 and Barbara ’74 Smith

OWU alumni Pete ’71 and Barbara Smith ’74 share their OWU experiences with students. (Photo by Chris Henchey ’14)

Members of OWU Professor Randy Quaye’s Black World Studies class listened with interest as Pete ’71 and Barbara McEachem Smith ’74 spoke about life at Ohio Wesleyan in the late 60s and early 70’s, on November 11, in the Monnett Room of the Mowry Alumni Center. The Smiths began their college journeys during a tumultuous time nationally, given the resistance to the Vietnam War, activities of the Students for Democratic Society, the Kent State tragedy, and several political assassinations.  Their world at Ohio Wesleyan, presented another set of challenges at a University they loved, but an environment in which less than two percent of all students were black.

“By the end of my freshman year, half of our black students had left,” recalls Pete. “It was time to make a decision—should we leave, or commit to stay and help make positive changes at OWU?” He and several other dedicated students decided to stay at OWU. With the help of the University’s former chaplain, Jim Leslie, Pete founded the Student Union on Black Awareness (SUBA). The students’ wish to have an organization with an allocated budget recognized by campus government, had been realized.

“By 1974, SUBA was an icon of social, cultural, and educational awareness for students,” says Barbara. “We felt empowered.” The protests among today’s young people about corporate greed is, believes Barbara, truly phenomenal.

“Complacency takes our society down. It is good energy that can bring about change and improvements.” Energy and dedication.

“Our hopes also involved an increase in the enrollment of African American students and professors, and the introduction of a Black World Studies course,” says Pete. Both Barbara and Pete as well as other students told their hometown friends about Ohio Wesleyan—and why they should consider applying to OWU.

“I admire both Barbara and Pete’s courage to stand true in their convictions and beliefs despite repercussions they faced as students,” says Terree Stevenson ’95, director of multicultural student affairs. “I admire their leadership to hold fast to their vision, and appreciate their tenacity for creating SUBA and the Cave, in Stuyvesant Hall, as a sanctuary for students. They are loyal alumni who have taught us the true meaning of ‘it takes a village… to recognize and support students.’ ”

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