The Big 12 Conference this semester was a symbolic and historical time for Texas Tech in many ways. Aside from the exemplary performance of the men’s basketball team, two Red Raiders were honored at the 42nd annual Big 12 Conference of Black Student Government in February for their historical accomplishments.
Stephanie Odigie, a senior political science major from Dallas, was awarded the Barbara Jordan Award for leadership and community service, making history as the first student from Tech to win such the award.
Caleb Morris, a junior English major from Arlington, was elected in February as the public relations and secretary chair for the Big 12 Council on Black Student Government, making him the first student from Tech to hold a position on the council.
According to University of Missouri’s Big 12 Legion of Black Collegians website, the Big Eight Council on Black Student Government was created in 1977 to provide black students a forum to discuss similar experiences and problems they had at their individual schools.
The conference grew in 1997 to include four Texas institutions, therein forming the Big 12 Conference. The Big Eight Council of Black Student Government then officially changed its title to the Big 12 Council on Black Student Government.
Although the historical program has been around for over 40 years, Odigie said Tech had only been formally inducted into the council in 2018.
She and Morris said the council had made several attempts to contact Tech to become a part of the conference for several years with no success. In 2017, Morris and other members of the Black Student Association were some of the first black student leaders from Tech to attend the event. Only a year after Tech’s 2018 induction, Odigie and Morris made Tech history with their individual accomplishments.
As a serving member on the Student Government Association, Odigie said one can already see the impact of its historical recognition on the Tech campus. She said not only are more students interested in being a part of the conference, it is bringing more recognition for the Black Student Association.
“It opens a lot of doors for opportunities as well, because we are looking at SGA. When they heard Caleb was on the council, they thought BSA was doing something right,” she said. “That means more SGA money and funding for BSA, because it shows that clearly at least they’re going and bringing something back. It means more funding for future conferences.”
Morris echoed these thoughts and said for a long time at the university, there has not been many opportunities for black students, so his and Odigie’s awards have, in a way, broken a ceiling to allow more black students to accomplish groundbreaking feats.
“If you don’t know something is there and that an opportunity exists, then there is no way for you to move towards it or achieve it,” he said. “So, now there are other people that can serve on BSA’s board and aspire to be on the Big 12 Council. It is just another stepping stone to give the black community another voice to make a change on campus.”
Mica Curtis-Wilson is a faculty member and coordinator for the Mentor Tech program on campus. She also served as an adviser for the Black Student Association during its travels to the Big 12 Conference at the University of Missouri in February.
Wilson said the conference was necessary for students to attend because it teaches life skills ranging from money management to navigating life at a predominantly white institution. Wilson praised Odigie for her commitment to community service and Morris’ initiative and role in planning the conference.
“‘I think that anytime a student of ours is recognized on a scale that’s larger than our school it is always an achievement. It is truly my pleasure to be able to serve students that are doing something bigger than themselves,” she said.
Odigie plans to attend law school and become a social justice attorney with the goal of working for a firm, she said. The Barbara Jordan Award has helped affirm her goals and future plans.
“Since I plan to become a social justice attorney, and I believe Barbara Jordan went to law school and was a big advocate in her community, so I feel like me winning the award made me feel good, because it felt like I was doing something,” she said. “Once I have that law degree, I’m actually going to be doing something to help out the community.”
Morris’ position with the board will allow him to open doors for the next generation of black students, he said. It will also bolster his future plans in the field of education.
“I love education, and I love kids, so I plan to go and start off teaching when I graduate,” he said. “Get my certification and stuff, teach high school and then work my way up, because eventually I do want to be in the political sphere, because I want to be secretary of education one day.”
The opportunity to be on the council shows how much he cares for his community and those within it, Morris said, which aligns directly with the fundamentals of education. As the public relations officer on the council, he urged Tech to offer more knowledge about opportunities and adequate help to allow more students of color to attend events and conferences, such as these.
“There are all these other organizations that aren’t minority organizations that are going to conferences,” he said. “It should never be put in question should BSA go to the conference, that’s out of the question. It is what should we do to get them there, and what can we do to help them prepare.”