Black Awareness Month enjoys limited success

By By Emily Miller

By Emily Miller

At the U, the beginning and end of February mark the onset and closure of Black History Month.

Programming at the U for the month-though somewhat meagerly attended-was packed with an impressive lineup of speakers and panelists, politicians, artists, photographers, filmmakers, writers, poets, faculty and local community members.

“This country could not have been established without black people. If you took away their contributions, there would be no America as we know it,” said Al Young, one of the presenters.

Attendance was low for many of the events, but students and organizers were still optimistic about the benefits of holding Black Awareness at the U.

Vice President for Diversity Karen Dace said the small turnout at many of the events might partially be because advertising and publicity for the month were inadequate.

“We could have pushed it more…These activities don’t have the [advertising] budgets. And it’s time. Faculty aren’t doing this as their job. They’re doing it on top of everything else,” Dace said.

U student Raquel Rasmussen said she thought the month was great. “You get to learn more about diversity, things you don’t learn in the classroom.”

Freshman Gregory Annis agreed that raising awareness about black experiences is a necessity at predominantly white institutions like the U.

He said Black Awareness Month is important. “A lot of white people have never had to learn these things before. They learn about black innovators. It improves the quality of our education and it improves relations between the races.”

Although the month tends to focus more on black Americans’ experiences, it also encompasses African, Caribbean, Indian, and other black American experiences.

For freshmen Athena Deng from Egypt and Patricia Malanga from the Congo, the month was educational, even if it didn’t apply directly to their own cultural experiences.

“[It] teaches me a lot about African-American experience here [in the United States]. I came from Africa straight to Utah, and people here are a bit close-minded,” Malanga said.

Both Malanga and Deng came to the United States to pursue higher education that is not typically available for women in their homelands.

Deng plans to return home after completing school. “I’ll go back a somebody,” she said.

Though they will earn respect for their educated status back home, Malanga said it isn’t always easy being a person of color at the U.

“You get spotted in classes if you don’t show up. You stand out. It’s hard because people don’t believe you can be educated because you’re a person of color,” she said.

Malanga said the month is valuable because it helps students of color overcome some of the obstacles they face in school by educating people about diversity.

“It shows Utah kids how the outside world is for blacks. The outside world is tough,” she said.

Black Scholars United moderator, Sara Hogan, attributed much of the success associated with diversity promotion at the U to former President Bernie Machen.

“Machen was a big change agent. The groundwork for diversity is here, but in order to have a campus community that has cultural competency, we need support. We need the push from the administration,” Hogan said.

This month’s events culminated with the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision in favor of school integration.

Wilfred Samuels, Black Awareness Month coordinator and professor of English and ethnic studies, pointed out that many students are ignorant of the benefits they have received as a result of the decision.

“As an institution for teaching and learning, this is part of our responsibility. We are developing young people who will go out and make a real difference,” he said.

Part of making a difference was expanding this month’s events to encompass the larger Salt Lake City community. Many events for Black Awareness took place outside of campus at the Distinctive Gallery of African American Arts and the Calvary Baptist Church.

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