In 1992, four Syracuse classmates formed a study group. They had all been admitted to the iSchool and struggled with understanding this evolving education path and the curriculum that came along with it. At that time, the iSchool (then called The School of Information Studies (IST)) was amidst a transition. The school had initially focused on library studies but transformed into an information management and technology school. Some of the students admitted to the iSchool that year had applied to other colleges at Syracuse but instead received alternate-admission into the iSchool. Still, for various factors, they were encouraged to study at the iSchool with the option of transferring out later.
The four students, Jason Mills, Myra (Linen) Miller, Lisa Lindsay, and Anthony Percival, found that as students of color, they faced unique challenges and didn’t have the resources or network to guide them. And they noticed that many other students of color also needed help understanding what this school was and what it meant for them to study information management and technology.
But what started as a study group to help a few friends through some challenging classes developed into a support group that created opportunities for Black and Latino students within information management and technology. This was the start of the Black and Latino Information Studies and Technology Support (BLISTS).
“We started just with an immediate group,” says founding member Myra Miller. “Jason and I were in a class together, and that’s how we became great friends. Then Jason was in another class with Anthony, and Anthony, by extension, was in a class with Lisa. Jason and I first started having this conversation about how we needed to band together with some of our other friends who were also classmates and start to study the class material.”
The small group found comfort in each other. As the semester continued and exams came around, the four friends reached out to other classmates asking if they’d like to study with them. Then as they were assigned group projects, they stuck together, helping one another and sharing their knowledge.
“When we first had the conversation, I don’t think we were completely serious about starting an organization,” laughs Miller. “But when we saw the impact it was having amongst our friends, it just made sense. We decided, ‘We’re going to take a shot at this. We will meet with the school administration and see how far we can get.'”
“When we saw the impact it was having amongst our friends, it just made sense. We decided, ‘We’re going to take a shot at this. We will meet with the school administration and see how far we can get.'” – Myra Miller
Thankfully, the administration, led by Dean Donald Marchand and Associate Dean Barbara Settel at that time, saw the value in the group, and BLISTS became an official organization of the (now) iSchool in the Spring of 1993. And those four friends became the first executive board of the organization. Now, the group needed to think about growing and maintaining members. They made it a priority to not only study together but to continually seek out new students, offering guidance. They would let them know which courses to take and what professors were most helpful. They wanted to be accessible to every person of African or Latino descent. So instead of a membership application, a referral, or membership requirements, they decided that if a student was Black or Latino and took any classes in the iSchool, they were automatically a part of BLISTS. They were welcomed to attend any event the organization offered and to seek out assistance as they needed it.
“If you came to one study session, that was fine. If you came to every study session and meeting we had, that was fine too,” says Miller. “I would say that our membership was fairly in line with any incoming class of Blacks and Latinos. We easily communicated with 30 plus students our first year. And by the time we were in our senior year, it was well over 100.”
While BLISTS continued to support Black and Latino students at the iSchool, the founding members didn’t want the much-needed mentorship and support to stop after graduation. As Black and Latino iSchool graduates entered the workforce, they were still facing challenges and could use a network of individuals for guidance. Around 1998, the group started hosting alumni conferences every April. This conference was a chance to keep the network growing and provide alumni with the opportunity to connect.
“People change in their adult career probably four or five times, and keeping those connections is extremely important,” shares Miller. “We not only reach back to the younger generations and the students on campus, but we also make sure we are looking out for one another in our alumni circle as well. And I’m extremely proud of that.”
Today, BLISTS is a student-run organization focused on educating Black, Latinx, and other students about information science and technology. The name has even evolved to The Black and Latinx Information Science and Technology Society, to better relay what they seek to accomplish. The organization provides computer literacy support and builds a corporate and alumni network to expose various employment or internship opportunities. After nearly 30 years of service and impact at Syracuse, BLISTS will be expanding to a national organization.
Daniel Scott, current BLISTS president, was part of the team focused on expanding BLISTS beyond Syracuse. Scott and the rest of the student e-Board recognized an opportunity to help Black and Latino students across universities and felt compelled to spread the BLISTS vision.
“This came from us talking about our experience interviewing with some companies,” says Scott. “When we would interview, we would be one of one or two Black or Latino people in the room. And we would connect with them because we didn’t see anyone else or feel comfortable with anyone else. It became a reoccurring theme when we’d visit companies for pre-interview and super day type events. We knew other people were experiencing this, and we knew that other schools have information studies programs. So why not reach out and see if we can build a better network beyond Syracuse?”
And that’s what they did. The e-board contacted their Senior Associate Dean at the time, Dr. Martha Garcia-Murillo, and she spearheaded reaching out to other deans at other iSchools. So far, 10 other campuses have expressed interest in starting their version of BLISTS. Scott says the group wants to start small, building out BLISTS one school at a time, and focusing first on schools within the Upstate and Central NY Regions.
“With everything that’s going on in the world, there are so many opportunities for us to drive our vision. We have decades of alumni support and experience, and we know there are systemic issues not just in tech but in general in the workforce and the country. And we have a unique opportunity to get more involved,” explains Scott. “We became a national society because we want to help build out that infrastructure on other campuses and let them have their own BLISTS legacy.”
What started as four classmates helping each other through a few classes has turned into a national organization geared toward helping Black and Latinx students find their place in information management and technology.
“I know we’ve been acknowledged in many ways before, but the fact that it continues to grow is absolutely overwhelming. One of the things we know to be true is that when we were students, we didn’t have anyone that we could reach out to who had these experiences,” says Miller. “Of course, 25 years later, the school is fully established and widely known, but it’s still critical to make sure we offer a hand or an opportunity to any of the students. When we have conversations with students, that’s our way of constantly saying to them, ‘We are connected.’ We have built this organization, this community, this family, and we want to make sure that no matter where or how far our tentacles reach, we are always connected.”
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