The Collegian
Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Black history month celebrations fail to educate

Students question Black History Month commemoration's lack of historical focus, but express gratitude for the University of Richmond's recognition of black history.

Junior Ray Googe said he had not had an interest in attending any programs.

Googe said he felt that many students were indifferent toward Black History Month. "A lot of people feel like we don't do enough," he said. "The celebrations are superficial, and they don't have a lot of opportunities for us to actually learn about black history."

Googe mentioned the Heilman Dining Center event had offered foods that the university "thought black people liked."

Googe said African-American history was not in history books or taught in school, and if someone wanted to learn about it, he or she had to go elsewhere. The university's celebration of Black History Month should contain more history of "less-publicized black historical figures," he said.

Googe admitted the university had a tough job planning the month's events. There is no particular, definable black culture, he said.

"It is a tall order to ask any institution to represent a whole culture," he said.

Junior Adwoa Asante said the university had done a satisfactory job of promoting Black History Month. "I think they do the best they can with the resources they have," she said, "but I think there's more that can be done. There's not enough around campus to remind people that this is Black History Month and how important that is to black people and the trials and tribulations they have overcome."

Asante said she would definitely make people more aware that Black History Month is not a random month in the year. "People value this month to make sure we have freedom now," she said. "It has not lost its meaning over time."

Asante said the events didn't attract the same involvement from all racial groups.

"It's not anyone's fault," Asante said. "There's such a stigma with Black History Month and the name that it disconnects a lot of people wanting to participate. I think sometimes people feel scared to reach out."

Asante said she felt many events had lost appeal over the years, because she said attendance had been lower. It's not about what Black History Month can teach, she said, but about how many people go to learn.

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"The university can't do everything on its own," she said.

Senior Cheleah Jackson said Black History Month was becoming more important as the minority population increased on campus.

"There's a connection that stems from being a minority on campus -- I recognize who those people are, but that's not the extent of the friendships I've made on this campus," she said. "That's another reason to appreciate black history."

Jackson said her favorite aspect of black history was the sense of pride it inspired.

"Black history means me being able to be successful and flourish at U of R; it's me standing on the shoulders of those fighting, reaping the benefits and privileges given by those who struggled before me," she said. "It lets me be myself and express myself."

Richmond has done an amazing job in growing as a university and giving the students what they want for black history programs, Jackson said.

"UR takes the responsibility to make this time special so everyone, not just minority tudents, can learn about black history," she said.

The downside for Jackson was the lack of student voice, she said.

"I wish students would actively participate in the planning of programs," Jackson said.

Junior Asia Foreman said she felt the month was a success. Foreman said: "In general, Black History Month is a time to reflect back and see how far we've come as a country and remember the people who made it possible for me to go to school. Everything is equal now, which is nice."

Foreman said she had heard many students say they wished the event was a bigger deal. "I know a lot of people complain it is stereotypical and separates the black community from other communities on campus, but I think it is well received," she said. "Making it more open to having everyone be involved outside of the black community would be more of a learning process."

Foreman agreed with Googe about the various black cultures, but disagreed with him about the university's approach. Foreman said the issue was not accuracy.

"They do the job of talking about current black culture," she said, "but I wish they would do more looking back in time."

The problem is that the focus is on culture, not history, she said.

"I've had a good experience with Black History Month," Foreman said. "There may be flaws, but there are flaws in everything, and the school does try really hard to be as accurate and inclusive as possible."

The university has sponsored 13 events this month in honor of black history, including the kick-off dinner in the dining hall, a black arts festival and a conference on personal development for women of color, according to the Office of Multicultural Affairs website.

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