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‘Black history is American history’: Community discusses importance of Black History Month

| Wednesday, February 17, 2021

In celebration of Black History Month, Notre Dame professors have pledged themselves to educate students of all studies on issues related to art, monuments and material culture, segregation and integration, civil rights, race and politics, race and ethnicity and race and human behavior.

One of these professors, Dory Mitros Durham, associate director of the Klau Center for Civil and Human Rights in the Keough School of Global Affairs, voiced her desire to see a change in perspective from the Notre Dame community. Durham said that in looking at an institution’s stance on social concerns, one must identify first what makes them different. What makes Notre Dame different, to her, is “our Catholic mission.”

Because of the University’s faith-driven mission, Durham encourages students, faculty and administrators to, along with her, “put racial justice front and center, making it imperative to our faith.”

Durham said “reframing and retaking this issue as one that is inescapable for us as a Catholic institution” adds necessary urgency to the problem. With faith, Durham believes the Notre Dame community can address the inequalities that persist in society.

Transitioning to the significance of BHM in 2021, Durham addressed the social unrest of 2020. She noted the critical change last year brought,

“It had been a year where people who weren’t necessarily paying attention to racial justice issues were now paying attention — at least a little bit,” Durham said.

On the other hand, she stated that “people who were paying attention are now paying attention at a much deeper level.”

Even so, Durham said it is ludicrous to tie this issue to 2020 alone. Racial injustice is no new topic; for decades, there have been documented, racially motivated police killings.

“It seems almost silly to be talking about the emergency of social justice in a 400+ year struggle in the United States,” Durham said.

Durham then said that although 2020 is over, the fight for racial equality is far from that. As coverage of these events slowly leans off, Durham reiterated that the problem of racial injustice still exists. She said Notre Dame students are called to get involved, if not fully dedicating themselves to the issue, then by finding ways to get more people involved.

Durham believes students should do what they can in the time they have. She encouraged them to “take every moment of opportunity to grab the attention of those who are willing to be apart of this movement for racial equality.”

In addition, she said she would remind students that there are professors on campus at all times, willing to talk and educate. Professors in these fields “do not exist just when there are protests out on the quads,” she said.

Even so, she cautions students who seek to celebrate this month to not “think that [you] can just section this off and do a little something with it for a while and then move on.”

Korey Garibaldi, assistant professor of American Studies, echoed Durham’s sentiments on the importance of viewing Black history outside of the month of February.

“Black history is American history and transnational history,” he said. “It is not something that is limited to a month or a particular course.”

Garibaldi explained the benefits of thinking about Black history all the time.

“If Black history isn’t something that is conceptualized as one month, there becomes a stronger opportunity to facilitate and encourage racial pluralism,” Garibaldi said.

Although often forgotten about, it is the seemingly insignificant actions, that have the power to create positive change, Garibaldi said. Among these actions is taking into consideration what is taught in the classroom.

“We all have to make sure we are not teaching racially homogenous curriculums,” he said.

These subtle changes — thinking in terms of how communities and institutions are conceptualized — which stem from a collective effort, allow for social progress, Garibaldi said.

Transitioning to the responsibilities Notre Dame students have, Garibaldi urged each member of the community to ask themselves the following: “How diverse are your reading habits, social habits and professional habits?”

Doing so, in addition to “speaking up, thinking about the ways that different experiences can be represented, and taking that message out into the world,” is how Garibaldi believes real change manifests.

N’Kaela Webster, senior and president of the Black Student Association (BSA), said the organization’s goal is to bring further awareness to Black history and host tri-campus events at Notre Dame to bring the community together.

Webster said she calls on individual action and motivation. She said true education begins with the individual “wanting to know more and then pursuing different opportunities to do so.”

Webster recommended students stay up to date with the activities BSA and the various clubs that fall under BSA host throughout the academic year.

Although the COVID-19 restrictions make it challenging for clubs to continue hosting events, the lack of in-person events should not be an excuse to not pursue education on racial injustice, Webster said, as there are still platforms to use for continuous education — including the pages [email protected] on Instagram, YouTube and Facebook. All are easily accessible resources Webster said “everyone should be using.”

The most important aspect that this month highlights, Webster said, is the importance of “bringing everyone together.”

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