Black Action in Public Policy Studies (BAPPS) was founded by four Black women in 2017 because there needed to be more intention in the creation of Black spaces at the Harris School of Public Policy. 

In the two years since BAPPS became an officially recognized Harris student organization, the group’s reach has expanded while the philosophy at its core—making sure the voices and perspectives of Black students are represented—has remained consistent. 

Asia Canady, MPP'19
Asia Canady, MPP'19

“We realized that there was a minority student group for people of color, but we also really recognized that Black issues specifically don't always fit in those catch-all identity groups,” said Asia Canady, MPP'19, the co-founding President of BAPPS. “As Black people, we needed our own space to process, to reflect, to mobilize around issues that are unique to our experience.”

There are approximately 30 student organizations under the Harris umbrella, and a handful of them are specific to the exploration and representation of minority identities. Minorities in Public Policy Studies (MiPPS) has roots that stretch back to the 1990s at Harris, when MiPPS first informally organized in order to combine the interests and goals of now defunct student groups AALAANA (African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, and Native Americans) and the Black Policy Forum.

“It was very important this organization be created because the founders felt that the organizations that currently existed in Harris for minorities, even though they were great spaces, they weren't Black spaces, and they wanted to create that Black space,” said Alexis Pearson, MPP'20, current BAPPS president.

Prior to BAPPS’s founding, there had not been a “consistent critical mass” of Black students necessary to maintain a specifically Black student organization, the founding president says. 

“That was something that we struggled with because there was pushback from the Harris Student Government—'What if there are no black students?’” Canady said. “We deeply believe in Afrofuturism, that Black people are alive, they're well, they're thriving, and that there will be a critical mass of Black students. But it also highlighted this idea that might not have been a priority for Harris.”

Canady said she and her co-founders, Kiara Jackson and Emnet Tafesse, both MPP'19, and Andrea Lee Koch, MSCAPP’19, began brainstorming the idea for BAPPS as early as their Harris orientation in 2017. Considering Harris’ placement in Chicago’s South Side Woodlawn neighborhood, the founders of BAPPS wanted student life at Harris to reflect the values of the population it sought to serve through policy initiatives. 

BAPPS was founded as a distinctly feminist institution, and the Black feminist lens through which the original founders established has expanded to that of a black queer feminist lens. 

Alexis Pearson, MPP Class of 2020
Alexis Pearson, MPP Class of 2020

“Issues that affect Black women affect Black men,” Canady said. “The issues that affect queer Black people affect Black men, Black women, Black children. And so it's really just this idea of being intentional and whole, and we value that. We value all of our unique identities within our one overarching identity.”

Alexis Pearson, MPP Class of 2020, was a first-year MPP candidate when BAPPS was officially recognized as a student organization in 2018. She inherited the presidency from Canady when the founding president graduated in 2019.

She’s focused her presidency on community building and education. Twice a week, BAPPS meets up with the School of Social Service Administration’s Black Student Association for what the groups call a “weekly workflow.”  The two trade off hosting, giving  people an opportunity to come together and study, do homework, or simply give their brains a break.

“It's open to everyone,” Pearson said. “We send it to the Booth School of Business, we send it to the medical school, the law students...we collaborate with them a lot.” 

Black students at various professional schools have collaborated on events, as well. 

“I want all of our programming to be a way for us to develop a stronger community as Black people at Harris, but also to develop a stronger community and connection with the other Black students at the University of Chicago,” Pearson said. “I've been pushing for us to develop relationships with other Black organizations and younger Black students and other universities that have Black students to show that we're all connected, trying to work toward similar goals.”

On February 21, BAPPS co-hosted the Black Professionals Mardi Gras Ball with the Black Law Students Association at the University of Chicago School of Law. Hosted at Black Bull’s Botanico Room in Wicker Park, the ball was a networking event and celebration organized to bring together the black graduate students from across the University of Chicago in order to build personal and professional relationships  across disciplines and celebrate diversity.

This was the second year the event took place, but BAPPS’s first time participating in its planning and execution, in keeping with Pearson’s plans to expand the Black community Harris students can consider themselves a part of. 


“Our goal has always been to bring the Black community at UChicago together,” said Marina Mehrtens, Black Law Students Association Chair and JD Class of 2021. “ In my role, I had the opportunity to reach out to all of the different schools and organizations, BAPPS included. Alexis and I worked together to figure out how they could be involved and how we could together bring this event to life.”

With this year’s mixer falling the week before Fat Tuesday and Mardi Gras, the organizers wanted the event to reflect this celebratory time of year that coincides with Black History Month. 

“We wanted to make sure we had the spirit of celebration and community that Mardi Gras represents,” Mehrtens said. “Alexis and BAPPS helped us, and engaged their own communities so that we could have as many members of the broader University of Chicago graduate student community here as possible.”