Despite the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, Black History Month celebrations across the Shippensburg University campus have come together and made opportunities for growth, learning and unity more accessible than ever.
Black History Month has become a coalition this year, according to Diane Jefferson, the director of the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs (MSA).
“We’ve come together, it’s all in one place, finally, so folks can see the different programs that are going on,” she said.
A variety of initiatives and events led by students, faculty and campus organizations are taking place at SU during Black History Month. Black History Month celebrations including student discussions, celebrations of Black music and art, and month-long programming and resources are listed on the Shippensburg University website.
Stephanie Jirard, SU’s chief equity, inclusion and compliance officer, said the online Zoom environment made the events more accessible than previous year’s celebrations. Normally a person might be able to make one or two events but are pulled in different directions on campus with classes and meetings, Jirard said. With online platforms and the addition of some shorter events, there has been a much larger turnout and increased participation, according to Jirard.
One of these is the faculty-led initiative, “Let Every Department Shine,” which was held on Thursdays and Fridays for 30 minutes each week. Members of different departments met to discuss notable and historic Black individuals in their disciplines. While limited to certain days and times because of faculty schedules, the virtual accessibility of the initiative allowed for more participation from faculty and students.
Officials will continue the initiative for Women’s History Month, Hispanic Heritage Month and Pride Month, Jirard said.
Students have also stepped up to the new challenges presented this year, working with campus organizations and student organizations.
The “Black History Take Five” campaign, which started and runs through Friday, allows students to enter a five-minute video answering the question, “What does Black History Month mean to you?”
The African American Organization, the A.C.T. committee and MSA are running the campaign.
Jefferson encouraged the entire student body to participate. Winners can receive $100 for first place, $75 for second place and $50 for third place, and the winner will be announced at the Black Tribute Experience Sunday, Jefferson said.
Jirard said an important aspect of Black History Month at SU is that it goes beyond one month and has a deeper impact than just what is accomplished during it.
“What I hope the larger campus community finally realizes in this time of racial reckoning in the country, is that Black history is American history and American history is Black history. It’s not something we do for a month and forget,” Jirard said.
All across America people are having sustained conversations, Jirard said. Locally the SU campus is making breakthroughs in understanding race and moving society forward.
Jefferson agreed and added that whether people want to or not, they will have to embrace Black history.
Not learning to embrace Black history while still in college is cheating yourself out of a valuable opportunity, according to Jefferson. She said to be the best you can be, you need to learn about the history of other people. The bubble of college allows students to engage with and understand others. Black History Month at Shippensburg University is one of those safe spaces for students to learn before they graduate, Jefferson said.
Black History Month events are still happening this week and a list of the events, their scheduled times and locations can be found ship.edu/about/diversity/celebrate-diversity/.