story by RAEGAN STEFFEY photos courtesy of WKU ARCHIVES illustrations by JB CARTER

"The Voice is concerned with providing a bridge between minority concerns and the Western Kentucky University community at large and is a forum for discussion of issues of interest to both. The editors welcome contributions devoted to our purpose.”

-The Voice Newsletter

On the third floor of the Kentucky Building on WKU’s campus sit shelves upon shelves of archives. These captures of WKU’s past make themselves a home in cardboard boxes with lids that fit snugly, preserving the irreplaceable history inside. Several of these boxes hold within them the chronology of Black history on Western’s campus.

A single wooden table sits aside from the rest of the furniture, backed by a metal shelving unit and adorned with a small, cardboard box. Lifting the lid off, it is revealed that this particular box holds a certain selection of manilla envelopes, ones that delineate the history of Black organizations on campus.

Among the 10 or so envelopes are a collection of The Voice newsletter, a publication created and sustained exclusively by Black students, that was distributed on campus between 1983 and 1993.

Starting in 1986, each newsletter printed the publication’s mission statement.

“The Voice is concerned with providing a bridge between minority concerns and the Western Kentucky University community at large and is a forum for discussion of issues of interest to both,” according to the newsletter. “The editors welcome contributions devoted to our purpose.”

The biweekly newsletter usually spanned only a few pages in length, but it was packed full of Black-centric content. It covered an array of topics centered around expanding diversity such as giving voice to distinguished Black professors, providing resources to Black students and encouraging Black students to remain motivated at a predominantly white institution.

The students that composed The Voice were intent on carving out a place in WKU’s culture for themselves.

The Voice newsletter acted as a beacon for understanding and a place of positivity for minority students who may not feel seen or heard, especially in the late 1980s and early 1990s where people of color were even more heavily dismissed than present day.

Racial integration at WKU only began in 1956; 27 years later The Voice newsletter, headed by Black students and for Black students, began at a predominantly white institution, only a brief span of time into its primary steps toward desegregation.

It was headed by a core group of Black students who revolved in and out as writers and editors. The first mention of a student editor came in 1986, in conjunction with the mission statement. Lamont Jones Junior was the first student editor of The Voice newsletter. Before then, the Office of Scholastic Development held charge of the publication.

Jones is a historical figure of the newsletter in that he acted as the first student to grab hold of responsibility within the publication; his choice to take charge heralds him as putting the power of the publication into the hands of Black students, the ones who needed it the most.  Others rallied around him and after their eventual graduation, the newsletter ceased to release new publications.

Before this dissolution however, students published around 40 editions of the newsletter.

The Voice carried on both the intention of the mission statement formally introduced in 1986 and the striking design traditions for seven more years. More profoundly however, the publication chipped out a chasm in which Black students could write, create, lead and experience the powerful reverberations of belonging, advocacy and support.

While the legacy of the newsletter remains sealed away in cardboard boxes, the drive of Black students to continue to strive for equality and racial justice continues to this day as seen through other minority run organizations on campus, such as the Intercultural Student Engagement Center Academy. While The Voice and other student organizations at WKU have attempted in the past and the present to bring equality and opportunity for students of color, there is undoubtedly room to grow towards the goal of racial justice and equity.

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