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Saint Mary’s organizations host Black History Month events

| Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Black History Month is an important time to celebrate the achievements of black people while adding to a renewed sense of visibility and awareness for the black experience in America. Two Saint Mary’s organizations, the Black Student Association and the History Club, held events on Monday night to celebrate the historical and cultural contributions black people have made throughout history. 

History club president and senior Elizabeth Ferry said that while Black History Month is important, there should be a celebration of black achievement every day. 

“We should be amplifying black stories all year round,” she said. “But using February to focus on the contributions of black people and get their stories out there is really important.” 

The concept of a single month being devoted to black history has been debated for years. Junior Jazzlyn Kwapong said that while black history should be integrated with other U.S. history teachings, Black History Month forces all Americans to focus on the contributions of black Americans until they become as well known as those contributions from white Americans. 

Senior Hannah Simpson, president of the Black Student Association, said she feels that Black History Month is crucial, especially since the history classes she took in high school barely covered history pertinent to the black experience like slavery or the Civil Rights Movement.

Gina Twardosz | The Observer

Junior Healy Keenan gave a presentation on the contributions of black women throughout history as part of the College’s History Club’s Black History Month programming.

“When I grew up, I took AP U.S. History and talking about slavery took a week, max,” she said. “We’d breeze through it like it was nobody’s business. And I didn’t understand why — maybe it’s a difficult discussion from the educator side or maybe people just didn’t care enough to have the discussion. But we’re going to have these discussions now during Black History Month and make it a spectacle — we want you to see just how important these people are to American history because they affect our lives today.”

Simpson said Black History Month is a celebration of those who struggled to advance the rights of black people in America.  

“The reality is that we get to celebrate those who came before us and have done so much to pave the way because they didn’t have the same rights as we do now,” she said. 

Kwapong emphasized that the struggles of black individuals are not over just because Black History Month has become mainstream in popular culture.  

“I think it’s important to take into consideration that a lot of people think racism is dead or that injustice was so long ago,” she said. “Racism is a systematic thing and it doesn’t change just because it’s 2020.”

In honor of Black History Month, the Black Student Association hosted a trivia night Monday evening in Regina Hall. The questions were full of history about the achievements of black people and the contributions they have made to American society. 

Sophomore Akpedze Balo, who serves as treasurer for the Black Student Association, said that she planned for the trivia night to educate students about black scholars.

“I’m really focused on black intellectuals or scholars and scientists that people may not know at all because our history and textbooks are almost all whitewashed of all these famous people,” Balo said. “There are all these black people who have had great contributions to our intellectual thought within society — but not many people know about them.”

Kwapong said she feels these events are relevant because even though Black History Month has become popular, many who do not take part in the celebration of black history during February remain ignorant about the issues affecting black people in America. 

“People who don’t show up to events during Black History Month are not getting educated, so I feel that we should continue to host these events during Black History Month until people start to educate themselves on black history,” she said.  

On the other side of campus, history club hosted its own event Monday evening in honor of Black History Month. Junior Healy Keenan presented on the contributions of black women in Spes Unica Hall in order to educate and empower the students of Saint Mary’s.

“This was actually inspired by a rector at Fisher Hall who pointed out to me that black women aren’t really known for their accomplishments as we often study black men during Black History Month, so I figured it would be a good idea to represent black women in history,” she said. “I’ll be talking about the first established poet, the first nurse, the first college graduate, the first fastest women in the world and the first bank president.”

Because women are often removed from the historical narrative, Keenan said that through this presentation on representation, she wants to remind students they have the ability to do anything, despite the challenges and obstacles they may face. 

“I want students to take away from the presentation that we, women, are empowered and we can do anything we set our mind to through passion,” Keenan said. 

Ferry said that students who study history have a responsibility to advocate for the teaching of black history and the black experience. 

“It’s the historian’s job to listen and record the stories of underrepresented groups and make them known,” she said. 

Senior Mary Stechschulte, secretary of History Club, said that as an education major, she said celebrating black history is an important way to facilitate discussions between black people and white people. 

“History is so whitewashed — I want my students to see history as something that represents them as well,” she said. “Not a lot of schools really talk about non-European history, so I think having events where we really do focus on the history of black people is important because a lot of the time their historical contributions are skipped over.”  

Representing black people accurately in the classroom is also a crucial part of being an educator, Stechschulte said.   

“I’ve taught history to fifth graders who are black and showed them black historical figures and they’ll tell me that that’s the first time they’ve seen someone from history who looks like them,” she said.  

The takeaway from all these events, Simpson said, is that all people are encouraged to educate themselves on black history, regardless of their race. 

“We want people who aren’t black to show up to Black Student Association events because these conversations must happen and must continue to happen,” she said. “Come out to our events because we want to share our knowledge with you and socialize with you and engage in conversation and dialogue. Whether you agree or not, we understand that there are different perspectives in the world, that maybe you didn’t understand something then but you do now — if anything, you can learn.”

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About Gina Twardosz

Gina Twardosz is a senior English Writing and Communication Studies double major at Saint Mary's College. She's the co-editor of the Investigative Unit, a Saint Mary's social media liaison, and she occasionally writes for SMC News and Scene. Gina is a tried and true Midwesterner and yes, she does say "ope" often.

Contact Gina