1st Gala Ball dazzles BSU

The Black Student Union of the University of Iowa showed off its style and camaraderie at the Graduate Hotel.


Philip Runia

The Gala Ball’s Homecoming King and Queen, Dilon Goncalves and Charity Ratcliff, wear their crowns with pride.

Philip Runia, Art's Reporter

On the night of Oct. 19, the Graduate Hotel buzzed with excitement and the bass from the University of Iowa Black Student Union’s first Gala Ball. The ball was preceded by the event “Black to Campus” at the African American Cultural House, or Afro House, at which the 50th anniversary was commemorated in the ceremony.

At the ceremony, students, faculty, and staff spoke and sang about their love for the Afro House. Singer and student Kalina Bland kicked off the ceremony with the black national anthem, “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing.” She was followed by Voices of Soul, the UI gospel choir. Chairs full, many in attendance craned across the standing room to witness the event; the line was out the door.

The rest of the ceremony consisted of speeches from members of the university community, including Vice President for Student Life Melissa Shivers and faculty members. Perhaps most notably, several student leaders lifted up their voices to praise the Afro House and its influential history, employees, and impact.

The ceremony came to a close around 4 p.m. after the unveiling of a poster and plaque commemorating the Afro House’s status as the oldest multicultural organization at the UI and its 50th anniversary. The poster was hung on the wall in the central room, and the plaque was hung by the front door. Guests were encouraged to read them, visit with the speakers and other guests, and partake of the food provided.

The Gala Ball was organized in part by UI senior Khaliyah Randle. Dressed in what she called “Broke-Girl Chic,” she ran the cash box, collecting $10 per person.

“I’ve been thinking of doing this for a long time,” Randle said. “We need a space to organically be ourselves. In college, we don’t have opportunities to dress up, and people of color are not often on Homecoming courts. This event is to show that we’re special, too, and we might just have our own court.”

I arrived in a simple look with black leather stack-heel boots, high-rise, gray-checked wool pants held up with a black belt, and a black long-sleeve. I quickly realized that I had arrived early, and slightly underdressed. CPT is no joke. Black folks from undergrad, graduate, and alumni status arrived in droves, fashionably late.

The fashion ranged from prom-style dresses to glamorous ball gowns. Most women adorned themselves in gold or sparkling jeweled pieces to accentuate their hair, makeup, and dresses. The hairstyles ranged from box braids to flowing curls to extra-long ponytails. Each look seemed to supersede the previous, as women marched down the aisle in heels to the ballroom. The outfits jumped from a purple pantsuit with an electric blue lip to a thigh-high slit dress covered by a full-length white fur coat.

The fellas stepped out as well, in more than their Sunday best. In men’s fashion, it’s hard to rise to the glamor of a ball gown, but the guys put up a good fight. In every direction I glanced in, I saw Gucci. Jackets with crazy prints and shimmer and gold chains adorned their torsos, while shoes totaling my tuition dollars fit their feet. Black Student Union President Takayla Al-Amin closed the door at 10:30 behind her purple snake-skin gown accented with a silver belt.

Everyone pooled in a dim room accentuated with candlelight. String lights adorned a white backdrop where couples were invited to take photos and show off their cultivated looks. Each outfit was meticulously planned and carried out to the hotel, to the delight of all attendees. Unique outfits were greeted with exclamations of praise and an obsequious surrounding of paparazzi-like peers. Yellow balloons floated above the floor, while attendees danced. The members of the sorority Delta Sigma Theta led a line of dancers through the crowd, set to the whoops of their peers. The brothers of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity followed in similar fashion.

If guests became hungry, there was a spread of assorted fruits and cheeses, spring rolls, mini-quesadillas, and honey-chipotle wings. Water was available outside in the hall.

After a voting period, the totals were counted to surmise who would be the Royals at Black Homecoming. The contestants included University of Iowa students David Ewing, Dilon Gonçalves, Shelby Campbell, and Charity Ratcliff. The court was chosen based upon their student-activity involvement. The crown went to Gonçalves and Ratcliff. Gonçalves was too stunned for words, but Ratcliff offered, “This is an ‘I see you, Charity,’ ” Ratcliff said. “I work hard to be a leader but feel like I’m unnoticed or not moving. This is a ‘good job, Charity’ from my peers in the black community. This means so much.”

The royalty and rest of BSU danced the night away to such popular songs as “Dreams and Nightmares,” by Meek Mill, and “Boo’d Up,” by Ella Mai, each eliciting shouts from the crowd. The room heated up, and I eventually took my leave from the excitement. The Gala Ball was a hit for BSU and for the black community. I’ll be watching for the next one.