Black History Month to be led by center
The university’s Black History Month celebration will be out of the Africana studies department’s control for the first time in 44 years.
Sapphire Cureg, director of the Center for Inclusive Excellence, told Joseph Brown, department chair of Africana studies, in a Nov. 8 email that it would be in her best interest to take initiative in Black History Month’s program development because all history and heritage month programs are now her responsibility. Cureg said the decision is a part of Chancellor Rita Cheng’s plan to coordinate each resource center’s activities within the Center for Inclusive Excellence, which is the umbrella for the Black, LGBT*Q and Hispanic Resource Centers.
“The decision was made to unify every department into a central house,” she said. “Africana studies will be a key player in this unification process.”
Cheng could not be reached for comment.
The Black History Month programming committee members started a petition to keep the program within the Africana studies department and gained more than 300 signatures the first day.
“The entire situation is just heartbreaking and hurtful because the Africana studies department has done a great job coordinating all of the events,” said Kwalee Kemp, coordinator of the Black Affairs Council and member of the Black History program committee.
The Center for Inclusive Excellence is a part of the university’s student life and intercultural relations department. Peter Gitau, associate vice chancellor of the department, said he does not intend to take the program away from the Africana studies department.
“Members of the committee are welcome to be a part of the planning because we want to review all previously decided plans as well as discuss additional ideas for the celebration,” he said. “We want them to understand that they now have extra hands throughout the process.”
Gitau said all of the departments included under the Center for Inclusive Excellence must respect the fact that the center now exists and aims to bring all of the center’s groups together rather than have them work on separate projects.
“The Black History Month celebration is not the only area we have incorporated into the Center. We’re working closely with the Native American History Month as well as several Hispanic heritage programs,” he said.
Kemp said the month-long celebration’s plans were nearly finished before the change was announced, and the money was allocated to the event but has since been taken from the Africana studies department and placed back into the College of Liberal Arts budget.
“The issue isn’t about uniting everyone. It’s about control and putting everything under the authority of one person,” she said. “We worked with the Native American History Month last year on our own, so we don’t need anyone to force us to come together.”
While the change is meant to bring different groups together to plan the same program, some students are upset that the events were taken away in such a late stage of the planning process.
Dominique Cottman, a senior from St. Louis studying Africana studies and a Black History Month planning committee member, said she thinks the change was made unprofessionally.
“Africana studies is the foundation of Black History Month, and for us to have done all this planning just to have it snatched from under that foundation is just hurtful,” she said.
The Africana studies department falls under the College of Liberal Arts.
Cottman said she thinks the decision is part of the administration’s plan to slowly diminish the Africana studies department.
“They’re taking the month away from the experts, which will take away the culture and spirit of the celebration,” she said. “They have to recognize everyone’s differences and realize that the best people to put on a celebration of a certain culture are the people who actually are that culture.”
Arielle Smith, a senior from Chicago studying social work and planning committee member, said she thinks it’s sad the Center for Inclusive Excellence didn’t include students within the group win the decision.
“What they refuse to realize is that (the students) are who is important here because we’re the ones paying tuition,” she said. “It shouldn’t be about their ego or feelings. It should be about us and how we feel about it.”
Smith said trying to include everyone isn’t bad, but different races and cultures have different needs.
Brown, who was director of the Africana studies department for 10 years and has been the department chair since 2010, said the university’s decision is disappointing.
“The reorganization is disappointing to me, but I will continue to work for our students, my department and this community to the best of my capacity,” he said.