Growing up across Idaho, Chelsea Butler saw every corner of the state, from the panhandle to Pocatello and Boise in between. Now as a junior at the University of Idaho in Moscow, she’s found a place to grow and thrive, taking advantage of opportunities for involvement, including reviving the school’s Black Student Union (BSU) organization.
As a high school student living in Boise, where her mother is a nurse, Chelsea almost attended college at a different institution, even attending an orientation. But a visit to Moscow with her family changed her mind.
"I chose UI because we came up here and looked at the campus," Chelsea said. "It was summertime, and I just immediately thought, 'This is where I want to be.'"
The people at UI also made a difference.
"I just loved the campus and city," she said. "The staff was so helpful. It seemed like they were concerned with what I needed and what was going on with me. It could have been anyone on campus – you could have asked them a question, and they would have been helpful."
As a new student, Chelsea slowly but surely found her way as a participant in UI's active student life.
"I noticed Native students, black students and others, and I thought, 'There’s a lot of diversity here,'" she said. "I like to be with different kinds of people. I definitely noticed that there are more multicultural events going on than I'd have thought."
Restarting the Black Student Union on campus meant contributing to that multicultural experience, and creating a support network for fellow African-American students. Chelsea serves as president of the organization.
"I just thought it was important for students who identify as African-American to know that there is an organization where they can come and feel comfortable and talk about the issues that they're facing as a student," Butler said. "We're here to support those students during their academic year."
Black Student Union members meet weekly to socialize, discuss issues and offer support. A "Soul Food Sunday" on the first Sunday of every month supplements that socializing with good cooking and shared culture. The BSU also organizes events that share aspects of the African-American experience with the broader campus community, including a recent Black History Month panel with faculty and staff that explored topics such as history, diversity and contemporary issues and challenges.
"It's been crazy how it's just multiplied," Chelsea said of interest and membership in the BSU. "For a while, almost every meeting we had new people."
The Office of Multicultural Affairs has supplied resources, meeting space and enthusiastic coordination for the revamped club.
"The OMA has been an immense support to us this semester," Chelsea said. "They helped us a lot with our event, we host our meetings there, and it's a place to meet and socialize. The faculty members are always asking us if we need help, if we need anything. They direct students our way for membership, too. They've been an extremely big help to us."
With a supportive student network in place, Chelsea has also found her footing academically. Curriculum opportunities helped guide her to a psychology major. She took a class on activity-based therapies for people with disabilities, and completed a practicum at a special needs class at Moscow High School.
"I really, really enjoyed it," she said. "I enjoy working with people and seeing their development and progress."
Her still-crystalizing future plans include the possibility of law school, where she's interested in studying topics such as Native law, women's and human rights issues.
When she's not studying or working with the BSU, Chelsea serves as a Vandal Multicultural Ambassador. She also makes time to volunteer with the Humane Society of the Palouse, a no-kill animal shelter, as well as Alternatives to Violence of the Palouse, a local organization that advocates for family and sexual violence victims and operates a hotline for vulnerable people, including women and children.
That service is an extension of her personal drive, and a reflection of the opportunities she's found in this new corner of Idaho. Wherever life takes her next, Chelsea is prepared to embrace the challenge. UI has played a key part in that growth.
"If you want to be in a place where people are kind and helpful, this is the place to be," she said. "There is something for everyone here, no matter what fits your personality. There are tons of things to do on campus, and it is easy to make friends. It feels like everyone just likes each other."