By Joanna Sperapani
Elm Staff Writer
February is Black History Month across America, but there may not be too much evidence of it at Washington College. It is an issue that has many considering how events celebrating the month can become more visible throughout campus.
Assistant Director of Intercultural Affairs Tya Pope said, “I noticed that there is a stark difference in how it’s recognized [compared to previous institutions]. I haven’t seen anything formal from the president or any upper administration acknowledging it. I haven’t seen any effort — and this may just be a lack of publicity — to hold events outside of the Black Student Union (BSU). That’s the only group I’m aware of that’s doing anything to commemorate the month. That’s kind of shocking, and it’s unfortunate. All of the pressure goes on the BSU to do something for Black History Month. I don’t know if that’s necessarily fair, because it’s a pretty small population of students and they’re not the only ones that need to know black history.”
This year, members of the BSU are putting together events such as the Kick-off Dinner in Hodson Hall on Feb. 1. Organized by the students and assisted by the Dining Services staff, the event raised awareness for important African-Americans and provided an array of food from majority black cultures. The BSU hopes to make the event an annual one.
BSU Vice President Taylor Johnson said, “We didn’t want to stick to stereotypical foods; we wanted to do a wide variety of cultures, such as Caribbean, and bring in any type of food that people wouldn’t normally think of as African or black culture related.”
The BSU is hosting four movie nights every Tuesday. The movies were all chosen by the students. Next up is “The Great Debaters” on Feb. 21 and “Friday” on Feb. 28. Both are in Norman James Theater and start at 7 p.m.
There is an Alumni Panel today in the Hynson Lounge from 6-8 p.m. that the BSU hopes will provide minority students with a forum to discuss issues of race on campus.
“It’s a bit like a part two of the #WACLikeMe discussion last year,” Johnson said. “The conversation is going to be between the alumni of color and our current students of color, coming together and expressing similarities. We want our current students to be able to talk to people they can relate to, who have experienced racial tensions on campus and can give them some ideas on how to get through that.”
Pope spoke on the need for change. “It’s certainly not all on the administration. It’s everybody’s job because it’s everybody’s campus and community. I know that the BSU feels that extra pressure to put on some events that commemorate the month and gather a wide array of people, but they also have the problem of people don’t always look at their events and say, ‘Oh, is this open to everyone? Can I go?’ There is a need for a space for students of color, there’s a reason that they have a BSU, but they’re not interested in being isolated. They want to work with the wider campus community. It’s a lot of work.”
Johnson said, “I think we definitely feel pressured to do something to celebrate it, because if we didn’t do it, who would? But we’re not at all playing the blame game, because the fault is on everyone, even some on BSU.”
Dr. Jean-Pierre Laurenceau-Medina, assistant dean of students and director of Intercultural Affairs, is hoping to implement a new system that will help the College more fully celebrate Black History Month. At his previous institution, Dr. Laurenceau-Medina organized a yearly planning committee that worked on events for Black History Month and garnered campus-wide support.
Dr. Laurenceau-Medina said, “I’m well-versed and experienced in forming a planning committee, and having faculty, staff, and students serve on the committee…We would come up with a theme and then a series of programs related to it. The BSU is on board with wanting to do a comprehensive celebration next year. Next fall, the plan is to have a committee that will work towards February 2018. I’m very excited about getting it going and working with the students, and two student co-chairs that are to be determined. I think the planning committee would alleviate some pressure put upon the students to organize the celebrations of the month all themselves.”
In the past, Dr. Laurenceau-Medina’s celebrations included events such as a Black Arts Festival, Open Mic Night, and various panels on black issues.
“Hopefully, next Black History Month will be totally different,” he said. “We’ve [Laurenceau-Medina, Pope] had many conversations with President [Sheila] Bair about creating panels on diversity and inclusion in the future… I think the planning committee is a great suggestion, as we never want to do things last minute, especially with Black History Month, because we want to make it a big deal.”