By: Amanda Dee – Social Media Manager
For 39 years, February has been dedicated to black history in the U.S. For three years, February also has been dedicated to the University of Dayton on campus.
This December, the Student Government Association passed the resolution “Expression of Concern Regarding the Marginalization of African American Students,” which specifically addresses sentiment that “I Love UD Month overshadows Black History Month.”
Junior communication major Kwynn Townsend-Riley, SGA’s African-American student representative for the Campus Unity Committee, co-sponsored this resolution as part of her self-described duty “to just relay the concerns of African-Americans to SGA” in the hopes that SGA can help “eradicate those issues.”
Townsend-Riley said I Love UD Month and Black History Month cannot coexist.
“I understand that we probably do need money from alumni, and we probably do need as much connection with our alumni as possible,” she said, “but out of all the months in the whole entire 12-month calendar, February is recognized as a national month for African-American people and it’s not just African-American history; it’s also history in general.”
Assistant Director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs Carlos Stewart, however, said he believes the two campaigns can coexist. Executive Director of University Events Paula Sideras, a member of Stewart’s Black History Month committee, has collaborated with OMA to cross publicize I Love UD Month and Black History Month.
The Office of Advancement, Stewart said, is “sensitive to what students are feeling.”
“If someone does want to say to me, ‘Oh, you know, [I Love UD Month’s] just a campaign. It’s not a big deal,’ Townsend-Riley said. “But as you can tell due to the recent die-ins, the fact that many students only know about Martin Luther King and don’t know about Angela Davis or they don’t know who Nelson Mandella was, [there’s] an issue. And Black History Month is at a time when everyone can be properly aware of who actually attends this campus.”
On Dec. 10 in front of Kennedy Union, students silently protested the court rulings of recent deaths of young black men, including Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in a die-in.
After the protest, anonymous UD students posted to the social networking site Yik Yak with comments:
“As a white student I am embarrassed to say I even go here. The false sense of community UD has created is sickening. The disrespect I witnessed today is unbelievable.”
“As a black student I am embarrassed to say I even go here. The false sense of community UD has created is sickening. The disrespect I witnessed today is unbelievable.”
About 89 percent of UD’s student population is white and about three percent is black, according to the 2014 Annual Survey of Colleges.
For the three percent, Black History Month, Steward said, is a “time to celebrate them.”
Junior business major Tiara Jackson, student engagement assistant of OMA, is a member of the Black History Month partner Black Action Through Unity (BATU), whose goal is to ensure the three percent are heard.
“Some people might feel like that’s not an issue. Some people might feel like the black community should plan their own month or some people feel as if the school should do it,” Jackson said.
“I would personally fight for having more events or having the school be able to guarantee more black history events for students because [the university] moving I Love UD Month to another month doesn’t mean they’re going to focus everything on Black History Month.”
On Jan. 22, Vice President of the Office of Advancement David Harper met with representatives of SGA and OMA, including Townsend-Riley and SGA Director of Campus Unity junior political science major Ian Edgley to address the issue.
I Love UD Month, Harper explained, is “a focus engagement plan and campaign” for “building the relationships with the university and strengthening engagement of our alumni base.”
“We want the best outcome for Black History Month and the best outcome for I Love UD Month we can possibly have,” Harper said.
Edgley said they were told it was not “the malicious intention to overshadow Black History Month.”
“Historically, the university has done other campaigns in February,” Harper said. “There are a lot of couples who met at UD, and, with Valentine’s Day, thematically it fit in February.” February, Harper added, is also a “month of momentum” in the “heart of the men’s basketball season.”
The meeting resulted in an agreement that the Office of Advancement will create a “comprehensive portfolio” of all its communication involving Black History Month. The SGA representatives will create an “executive summary” on Black History Month to propose solutions, whether those solutions are further integrating the two campaigns or dedicating certain times in February strictly for Black History Month.
The group will reconvene in March, Harper said.
“That’s what’s great about UD: Students being able to speak their truth, and, for some students, theirs is saying, ‘Hey, we haven’t been doing enough,’” Stewart said. “I think black students on campus standing up [for feeling marginalized] should give other students an opportunity to stand up for whatever it is they believe in.”
“These are my flames, my will. It was Dr. King’s will, his flames that kept him strong. And they’re keeping me strong, and they will never go out.” – Excerpt from “Peaceful Flames,” a poem by first year computer science major Myles Patterson.
For a calendar of Black History Month events, visit the OMA event calendar at udayton.edu/studev/dean/oma/index.php.