Since 1976, the United States has celebrated February as Black History Month. The purpose of this month-long celebration is to celebrate the accomplishments and contributions of black people throughout the history of the U.S., while also recognizing the systemic oppression of the black community by the state. In 2020, Drew has done more than ever to make sure this celebration gets the attention it deserves. These efforts have been, for the most part, a direct effort by the Black Student Union (BSU).
At the beginning of February, BSU announced their ambitious plan to celebrate Black History Month with a series of events that spanned all four weeks. The amount of work that has gone into thoughtfully organizing event after event should be recognized, especially considering that they partnered with multiple student clubs, departments and offices in an effort to highlight the intersectionality of black students’ lives.
The intersectional approach to Black History Month that BSU took in their programming should not be underestimated. Throughout their events, they made sure to bring awareness to the unique struggles of Afro-Latinxs and queer people of color. These events should not be dismissed as simple collaborations, but as coalition building amongst students of color at Drew. It is in the best interest of everyone to have more collaborative efforts to celebrate each other.
GRAPHIC COURTESY OF MARK WITTENBURG UNIVERSITY
With that being said, diversity programming at Drew has increased dramatically over the past year. A lot of it, we believe, comes from the direct efforts of Coordinator of Residential Engagement, Rachel Sawyer, who serves as an advisor for many of the cultural clubs and is in charge of diversity programming for Student Engagement. Additionally, the office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion has provided an incredible resource for student clubs, making sure they have the funds to implement the type of work that matters.
Drew should have more of these coordinated and ambitious events to highlight the lives of its more marginalized students. Another example worthy of notice was the Queering the Forest week in October, which celebrated LGBTQ+ students on campus. Long events such as this, events that include beautifully designed posters of Black activists and artists in every building or a massive rainbow balloon arch, are one of the ways we can ensure minority students feel supported at a predominantly white institution. If we continue the tradition of having a singular event to celebrate Black History Month, one night with good Latinx food to highlight Hispanic Heritage Month or one queer-centered event every once in a while, we are not changing the narrative. We are not highlighting the issues and the struggles worth thinking about.
Why is it important to have four weeks packed with events celebrating Black History Month? This question seems redundant in the light of the defacing of the Black Lives Matter sign in Seminary Hall on March 2018. Or the time that Madison had Blue Lives Matter flags all throughout Main Street (flags that go well with the decals some Public Safety officers used to decorate their cars). The question should instead be, how do we make sure that we are doing right by our black students every day, not only on Black History Month?