A message from the Nicholson School’s Assistant Director of Inclusive Culture and Associate Professor, Jennifer Sandoval, Ph.D.
Welcome to the inaugural Inclusive Culture Conversation! Each month I will be a contributor to Nicholson News, highlighting an issue relevant to inclusion and equity. The format will include a short introduction to a topic (jump to Black History Month below) followed by questions/calls to action and recommendations for further engagement. I’d also love to lift up the wonderful work I know many of our students and faculty are engaged with in this realm. Please feel free to send any updates and suggestions to me at Jennifer.firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to this ongoing dialogue as we move the Nicholson School forward to being a true space of equity and belonging.
As we enter 2021, I am continually reminded of the inadequacy of language to capture complex lived experience. To say the last year (or several years) brought systemic racism and injustice to the forefront of public discourse erases the longstanding calls from communities of color, and specifically Black and Indigenous communities for not merely awareness, but action. Historians, artists, activists, and many others have provided education about the violent history and resulting systemic inequity in this country through many channels. As we arrive at February and Black History Month it is as important as ever to center these stories in our conversations, our classrooms, and in our efforts toward equity and inclusion. It is past the time for us to acknowledge the role of higher education institutions, including our own, in perpetuating the harmful status quo.
February is Black History Month
Black History Month is the result of work by historian Carter G. Woodson after he attended the 50th anniversary celebration of the 13th amendment in 1915. He founded the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History (ASALH) to highlight the erased achievements and contributions of Black people and communities in the United States. He gathered partners to support the work leading Omega Psi Phi to start “Negro Achievement Week” in 1924. According to ASALH the events were held in the second week of February to align with the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. The impact of the week grew exponentially and in 1976 President Ford declared February “Black History Month.” While the month itself is an important recognition of the ways in which the dominant telling of U.S. history has failed the Black community, we must continue to push for larger changes so that non-Black people do not relegate all information about Black experience into 28 or 29 days a year.
Calls to Action
If you are incorporating information about Black history into your conversations, classes, or special events this month, here are a few things to consider:
- For non-Black folks – don’t be afraid to be honest about your own evolution in understanding Black history and share ways in which you are taking a proactive approach to self-education and championing equity.
- Embrace a dialogic approach in discussion of Black history, centering non-White voices
- Often Black History Month events and information focus on a few individuals who have become part of a comfortable story about Black and African American experience in the U.S. While the well-known leaders and moments can be valuable entry points, their positionality was often the result of massive community organizing and supported by the labor of many who were not deemed palatable for the national spotlight. Don’t rely on the stories that are easiest to find or tell, but rather engage complex and difficult realities.
- Use a trauma-informed approach when discussing Black history in your conversations and classrooms. Do not assume everyone will have the same experience talking about the violent reality of slavery and racism. These exchanges can be difficult at best, and traumatic at worst for Black and African American students.
- Be sure to include positive Black experiences, not just the very real and important stories of violence against Black and African American people in the U.S.
- Look for videos and engaging material that scholars and creators of color and organizations have prepared and incorporate those into your spaces beyond February and think about how to use these moments to advance equitable treatment of Black lives in every context.
- Continually reflect on the language you use to talk about identity and Black and African American experience, as it is dynamic and evolving! (e.g. use enslaved person, not slave)
- Share what you learn and what you do in your events and classrooms with others!
*Special thanks to Strategic Communication Ph.D. student Darius Lana for being a thought partner in the above list!
Recommendations for further engagement:
- Listen: 1619, The New York Times hosted by Nikole Hannah-Jones
- Read: Stamped From the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi; Black Futures Edited by Kimberly Drew and Jenna Wortham
- Watch: African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross from Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
Published February 1, 2021.