UWO honors Black History Month

Cory Sparks, Editor in Chief

Jesse Jackson speaking at Kolf Sports Center
Courtesy of University Archives
Jesse Jackson, civil rights activist, minister and politician, speaking at Kolf Sports Center during his campaign for the democratic nomination for president.

Black History Month is here, and UW Oshkosh will be celebrating, remembering and educating all month long with a variety of on-campus events.

The Black Student Union and African American Studies program are teaming up to organize these events.

The theme for UWO’s Black History Month programming is summed up in a succinct yet powerful statement: more than words.

Starting on Jan. 31 and continuing through Feb. 28, UWO is holding a variety of online and in-person events meant to educate those attending.

Dr. Alphonso Simpson Jr., the director of UWO’s African American Studies program, said the events are not only great in variety, but in interactivity as well.

He said that through these communal experiences that anyone can attend, so much can be learned about Black history and its significance.

“Students attending any of these events would get the opportunity to interact with many of the speakers, panelists, and/ or organizers of these events,” Simpson Jr. said. “This, in turn, would open up for them a greater understanding of why Black History Month is such a celebrated time for all people.”

Dr. Damira Grady, associate vice chancellor for Academic Support of Inclusive Excellence and university diversity officer, said the importance of having educational outlets on Black history increases exponentially when considering the lack of education on the subject in some districts.

She also said it’s important to spend Black History Month learning about successful Black figures in addition to the issues of slavery, racism and civil rights commonly brought up synonymously when the topic of Black history arises.

“We will have students who reach our doors that haven’t had the opportunity to learn about important movements such as the civil rights movements and injustices that have impacted the Black/African Americans in our society,” Grady said. “[There] is also an opportunity to go beyond stories of racism and slavery and spotlight Black achievement and contemporary Black social problems.”

Jayla Ross, the president of the Black Student Union, said she sees Black History Month as a celebration of perseverance and complexity.

“Black History is about celebrating who we are and the obstacles we have overcome throughout the years,” she said. “Our culture is highlighted through our style, music, talent and linguistics.”

Simpson Jr. said he sees Black history as pivotal because without Black history, U.S. history and the world around us today are not the same.

“Black history is U.S. history,” he said. “There are so many things that we take for granted today not really knowing that they were the inventions, discoveries or accomplishments of African Americans.”

Simpson Jr. will be moderating a variety of events throughout the month. One of those will be on Feb. 10, where five Black leaders in police departments around the country give their experience as a minority in a predominantly white workforce.

On Feb. 23, Simpson Jr. will be monitoring a pair of discussions with panelists traveling from around the nation.

The first discussion is called “The Imaginary Middle”, and it’ll be held at 5:30 p.m. In this discussion, educating bodies from Wisconsin and Alabama will exchange anecdotes and information about teaching Black history in schools where the majority of the student body is white.

The second discussion of the day, called “The Struggle to be Recognized”, will take place at 7:30 p.m.

During this discussion, church leaders talk about the historical importance of Black people in the Bible.

Simpson Jr. said he’ll find “The Imaginary Middle” rather intriguing since he is in a similar situation, being a black professor celebrating Black History Month at a predominantly white institution.

“The roundtable discussion on ‘The Imaginary Middle’ is going to be quite interesting because in a sense it will mirror some of what I face here at UWO,” he sai

d. “Being that UWO is a predominately white institution, it can sometimes be very difficult to celebrate African American Heritage if nobody sees it as worthy of serious academic conversation.”

He also added that there are a few topics of discussion he’ll be looking forward to in particular.

“Some of the topics I plan on discussing with the panelists are issues of scarcity of personnel, lack of resources and/or support, issues of sincerity within their own academic communities and how all of these things work together to make their teaching experiences more or less effective,” Simpson Jr. said.

Grady, whose job description includes doing what she can to create an inclusive environment for all, emphasizes the importance of taking time to get to know others from different backgrounds.

She also said that an inclusive environment stems from the feelings of others, so the only way to assure that everyone feels as if they belong, everyone should work to learn about other perspectives and personalities.

“We must take the time to learn from each other; this means taking extra steps to learn from those who are different from ourselves, keeping an open mind, and reserving judgment,” she said. “An inclusive environment means we all feel valued and equal; we must examine our vulnerabilities and understand other perspectives to achieve this.”

Ross believes that another way to continue creating an inclusive environment with diverse backgrounds is to continue to have different organizations come together to organize events.

Not only that, but she also stated that students can make a variety of connections with one another during these collaborations.

“This will create a space for students to recognize and learn more about each other,” she said. “Collaborating with other clubs on campus will draw more people to put their networking skills to test.”

As for what students should be doing in their free time in February, Simpson Jr. has a suggestion that will help educate students in many different ways. A plethora of effort was put into the planning of these events, especially considering that UWO has at least one event for every day of the month.

“Check out ALL of the events that are listed,” he said. “Don’t just check them out, attend them! A lot of effort has been put in place to see these events happen on our campus.”

Students can go to uwo.sh/bhm to see the entire list of events planned for the month.