Students: Western ignores Black History Month
When walking through campus in February, did you notice anything about Black History Month?
Western’s Black Student Union, along with other students, have observed a lack of recognition of Black History Month from the university.
“Western’s lack of recognition just shows how shallow their quest for diversity and cultural inclusiveness is to minority communities and the community as a whole. Diversity to Western is about accepting applications and putting numbers on their brochures,” the Black Student Union said in an email. “Blacks and other minority groups are only numbers to Western. Their focus on diversity is limited to the brochure they hand out.”
The union held a Black History Month Kickoff event in collaboration with the African-Caribbean Club along with faculty and staff of African descent Feb. 3. The event served as an opportunity for black students to meet black faculty and staff. The groups discussed creating a mentorship program for black students.
“I don’t think it would be shocking to anyone that [Black History Month] is not a priority for Western. The general population in this area and the faculty; everything reflects a lack of blackness.”
Black Student Union President Nathaniel Williams, Associate Dean of Woodring College of Education Karen Dade and Director of Western’s Counseling Center Shari Robinson organized the kickoff. Around 30 people attended.
Dade shared her thoughts regarding how a mentor program can assist black students and increase campus diversity.
“Affinity grouping and activities, and role-modeling by black professionals help black students in sundry of ways to experience school more positively, and further assists in recruitment, retention and academic success,” Dade said in an email.
To bring further awareness to Black History Month, the union teamed up with Associated Students Productions to show free movies on campus that “teach black culture in a multitude of ways,” the Black Student Union said in an email. “The Pursuit of Happyness” was shown on Feb. 7. And “Moonlight” will be playing at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 28 in Arntzen Hall 100.
“There has been no outreach or response from Western. We promote ourselves publicly, yet they see our hard work and do not reciprocate,” the union said. “It should not be the black student’s responsibility to educate and promote Black History Month on Campus.”
Western has made some efforts to promote Black History Month.
Rise Up: An Activist Conversation was put on to honor Black History Month, Director of Communications Paul Cocke said in an email. The event featured four writer-artist-activists, who engaged in dialogue on intergenerational movement-building and its connection to art and protest.
Western Reads, a campus-wide reading program that promotes intellectual engagement, and Justice Speaks, a program centered on facilitating discussions on social justice, hosted a Black History Month event Feb. 8. Around 300 people attended, Dawn Dietrich said, associate professor of English and director of Western Reads.
Cocke also mentioned Western’s successful Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrations.
The university has had a formal MLK Planning Committee for three years. Prior to the committee’s establishment, MLK events were organized by offices such as the Center for Service Learning, Cocke said.
“The MLK Planning Committee in meetings this year has discussed the possibility of the university celebrating Black History Month, perhaps incorporating the MLK Day celebration in some fashion,” Cocke said. “The discussion touched on the fact that there may be all sorts of events and activities occurring during Black History Month that might be relevant.”
The planning committee will probably reconvene fall quarter, Robinson said.
The Western AS Bookstore has recognized Black History Month with a Black History Month book display. All 20 books on display are being sold at a 20 percent discount. Signs posted around the bookstore say, “20% OFF History & Social Justice books to celebrate Black History Month.”
Western Today began running “Black History Month: Did you know?” facts on Feb. 22, in the daily campus-wide emails. The idea for the facts came from a discussion on Black History Month in Black Student Union’s club meeting on Feb. 21. Robinson attended the meeting and shared the idea with Cocke.
“Other institutions have done these Black History Month facts. I knew that coming from my last institution. I was like, ‘That’s something we can do easily,’” Robinson said.
Western’s efforts have gone unnoticed by some students, but the university’s predominant whiteness has not.
Previous Black Student Union member and senior Marya Draw, a French and political science double-major, hasn’t observed or felt a theme of Black History Month around her.
“I don’t think it would be shocking to anyone that [Black History Month] is not a priority for Western. The general population in this area and the faculty; everything reflects a lack of blackness,” Draw said.
Thinking back to her time with Black Student Union, the main thing the club was concerned with during Black History Month was celebrating not with the campus at large, but within Black Student Union and the black community on campus, Draw said.
“I think, at least when I was on the board, the discussion was like, ‘Let’s focus on ourselves, not impressing the donors, not impressing faculty and the president. Let’s do something that feels good for us, where we can have the spotlight and really reflect on what we want and what we want to see,’” Draw said.
Senior Andrew Chan, a human services major, had similar thoughts.
“I wouldn’t say I’m the most involved student, but I’m on campus almost every day and haven’t seen anything, like posters, to promote [Black History Month],” Chan said.
Chan thinks the university should celebrate races beyond the white majority.
“I understand that’s the main student body, but we still need to recognize the minorities and the people who don’t necessarily have the largest voice in the community,” Chan said.
Chan thinks Western could acknowledge Black History Month by having professors assign class readings by black authors.
Sophomore Rowan Salton, a Fairhaven student, hasn’t noticed an acknowledgement of Black History Month on campus.“I don’t think the school has put much emphasis into Black History Month at all. A huge part of that is because of how white our campus is. I think there’s just not enough visibility for any type of cultural values here,” Salton said.