Daily Egyptian

Black History Month events to focus on declining African American enrollment

Former Sen. Roland Burris shows his book on July 22, 2015, to Kia Smith, right, a junior from Chicago studying journalism, and Rashionda Carlisle, a senior from Belleville studying social work. Burris said the reason he has passion for SIU is it gave him the tools he needed for his career, but he wants to ensure black students after him have similar opportunities. “There is racism in our society,” Burris said. “There are students living in poverty conditions and we are trying to uplift our whole race of people. Those of us that have been fortunate enough to get a college education to compete in society in spite of racism, we have to make sure that our pipe line is still there.” (Daily Egyptian file photo)

Former Sen. Roland Burris shows his book on July 22, 2015, to Kia Smith, right, a junior from Chicago studying journalism, and Rashionda Carlisle, a senior from Belleville studying social work. Burris said the reason he has passion for SIU is it gave him the tools he needed for his career, but he wants to ensure black students after him have similar opportunities. “There is racism in our society,” Burris said. “There are students living in poverty conditions and we are trying to uplift our whole race of people. Those of us that have been fortunate enough to get a college education to compete in society in spite of racism, we have to make sure that our pipe line is still there.” (Daily Egyptian file photo)

The Student Programming Council and Multicultural Resource Center have organized a series of events for Black History Month in hopes of raising awareness of declining black enrollment in public universities.

The events begin Wednesday and exemplify the national theme “The Crisis in Black Education,” which was coordinated with Association for the Study of African American Life and History.

The theme is meant to celebrate diversity, which the director of the Multicultural Center called the “true meaning of being American.”

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“The crisis began with slavery,” said Lanel Love, assistant director of the Multicultural Resource Center. “Shortened black enrollment in schools have remained the norm in America well into our own time.”

U.S. Department of Education statistics show since 2014, African American enrollments in higher education have decreased by more than 270,000, or 6.6 percent. With declining enrollment in Illinois universities because of the budget impasse, university officials are worried about black enrollment regress.

“If black enrollment were to decrease, it would be a step back for not just our school, but the entire country,” said Elizabeth Lewin, associate chancellor for diversity.

Lewin also said public universities are allowing the crisis to persist by ignoring the reduction in the number of black students. She said cultural heritage celebrations like Black History Month are essential for “grabbing the public’s eye.”

“America is solely made of diverse ethnic groups,” Lewin said. “Once we forget that, we forget who we are.”

Although fewer students earn degrees in Africana Studies each year compared to other fields of study, according to state education data, the need for these programs is intensifying.

(Jack Havemann)

Rev. Joseph Brown, a professor in Africana Studies, said institutions such as Western Illinois University and Eastern Illinois University are discontinuing programs for philosophy, women and black studies which is critical for educating students on America’s diverse culture groups.

“I think that the educational experts need to start off by assuming that it’s better to tell people the truth about the problems in society to help figure out the solutions,” Brown said.

Brown also said the crisis black students experience spans from the trauma of their own history, making it essential that students of color have access to the truth of their history.

“As a teacher, I need to teach each student in my classroom to be successful in their lives and not in mine,” Brown said. “The material I teach should reach out to everyone’s cultural issues and backgrounds.”

Shadashalin Pierce, president of Black Togetherness Organization, said the events planned for Black History Month are meant to educate the campus community on the history of black students, as well as inspire them to overcome obstacles.

“There’s a huge lack of resources for black students, especially in inner cities,” Pierce said. “The events will shine a light on that.”

Activities throughout the month will include panel discussions focusing on mental health issues, lack of resources and the state budget impasse, Pierce said.

“We just want students to communicate to each other at these things,” Pierce said. “That’s how we find each other’s similarities.”

(Jack Havemann)

Pierce said there will also be film and documentary screenings with the goal of highlighting the struggle black Americans have faced while obtaining their degrees. A month-long art exhibit, “Black Art: A Visual Dialogue,” will be displayed in Morris Library to “showcase the beauty of the black culture,” Pierce said.

“This theme couldn’t have come at a more perfect time,” Pierce said. “We need to remember our differences now more than ever.”

The complete schedule of SIUC’s Black History Month events and activities can be found here.

Staff writer Olivia Spiers can be reached at [email protected], 618-536-3325 or on Twitter @_spierso.

Staff writer Diamond Jones can be reached at [email protected], 618-536-3325 or on Twitter @_dimewrites.

To stay up to date with all your SIU news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.

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