Friendship. Mentorship. Advocacy. These are just a few of the goals of the Black Cadet Organization, a student group within the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets.

The organization started in spring 2019 as a way to bring Black cadets together. Today, the Black Cadet Organization (BCO) has grown into a group that offers support for any cadet who feels in the minority.

“With the rising number of Black cadets, and conversations I would frequently have with some other cadets, I realized that there was a safe space and umbrella organization lacking to provide the sense of community and togetherness which many of us were used to prior” to joining the Corps of Cadets, said U.S. Army 1st Lt. Eleanore Akwe, who graduated in 2019 with a degree in political science from the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences.

About 27 percent of the corps' 1,182 cadets are racially diverse, including the 3 percent who identify as Black.

That first year, Akwe and co-founder cadet Amoy Jones, now a senior in Army ROTC majoring in property management in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, found support for the Black Cadet Organization throughout the corps, from the commandant’s staff to non-Black cadets wanting to join.

Today, membership stands at about 80 cadets, said Jones, who will become a transportation officer when she commissions into the Army.

Cadet Tymon Wansel, a junior in Air Force ROTC majoring in industrial systems engineering in the College of Engineering, signed up as a freshman and said he hasn’t missed a meeting since.

“It was culture shock freshman year, adjusting to engineering, the corps, discipline. The Black Cadet Organization gave me all these friends, exactly the support I needed,” said Wansel, whose goal is to become a cyber officer in the U.S. Space Force.

In the last four years, cadets have noticed the corps growing more diverse in its enrollment. “You can see diversity efforts moving to the forefront of people’s minds,” said Cadet Angela Clay, a senior in Air Force ROTC majoring in meteorology in the College of Natural Resources and Environment.

Currently the regimental executive officer, the second-highest ranking cadet, she expects to start her Air Force career as a weather officer.

Through the Black Cadet Organization, “it’s been amazing to see people coming together to celebrate Black culture,” she said.

Coronavirus and the resulting limits on gatherings brought new challenges for organizations and slowed the Black Cadet Organization’s momentum during the fall semester, Clay said. But cadets have adjusted to the safety protocols and expanded their ideas of what a gathering can look like.

The organization has a slate of activities for Black History Month, including an Embracing Black Stories movie night and kicking off an alumnus speaker series.

Clay sees the organization growing into a resource for all cadets — “a place to talk, learn different skills, and become a well-rounded human being.”

A more formal organizational structure and a focus on mentoring younger cadets is key to that goal, said Cadet Amanda Wyche, a junior majoring in geology in the College of Science, who plans to become a chaplain in the Army after graduation.

“It’s not just about the BCO having a cookout. It’s about how are we going to have a positive impact on the community,” Wyche said. “How are we going to stand out?”

Wyche was inspired by Jones’ confidence and Akwe’s kindness (she had the nickname “mom”) and wants other cadets to have similar role models.

“After I graduate, I hope the BCO continues to provide a community for all cadets,” Jones said. “And I hope they will be more involved in the recruiting process to increase the diversity” of the corps. 

Follow the Black Cadet Organization on Instagram, @vtcc_bco.