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'We’re not only special for one month': Students reflect on Black History Month, MSU's celebrations

March 22, 2024

After Black History Month came to an end, Black students on Michigan State University's campus reflected on the ways in which MSU chose to celebrate.

Black History Month occurs every February and is used to give focused recognition to the efforts and contributions of Black people across history.

Criminal justice senior, Liaison and Co-Community Service Chair for MSU NAACP and Vice President for Successful Black Women of MSU Miselo Chola said that while having more coverage on Black student organizations was a pivotal move forward, it troubled her to see this support drop off after the end of the month.

“Obviously, we wish that they would do this as much as they do it for other registered student organizations throughout the academic year,” Chola said. “We don't just want our events to be highlighted during Black History Month— we want them to be highlighted all year round. However, this is a step.”

Chola noticed a lack of coverage of Black student organizations, even in a newsletter explicitly meant to highlight student organizations.

“Student Life and Engagement and Involve@State have a weekly newsletter; an RSO newsletter that goes out where, in that newsletter, they have org spotlight,” Chola said. “They give information about certain events. But what a lot of us who are black student leaders have noticed— I've noticed that our orgs and our events aren’t being highlighted in the newsletters and on bulletin boards. And if they are, it's a very small highlight compared to the bigger RSOs that are obviously more predominantly white.”

Economics sophomore Kaden Johnson said it is harder for students to connect with MSU when the institution won’t acknowledge racial disparities. He said he’d like to see more active recognition in the future.

“Going forward, definitely acknowledgement of some disparities or educational challenges that Black students or students of color have on MSU's campus,” Johnson said. “The amount of teachers that we have— most of them are white to be completely transparent. It's an easier connection for most white students because they have a teacher that looks like them.”

Johnson said the best way to support Black history is to learn from it and show said learning by implementing actions that makes MSU a safer space for students of color.

“Having more faculty and staff members who look like us so that we have better representation on campus and it's a little easier for us to adjust and adapt to being in this environment— that's where I would start,” Johnson said.

However, Johnson said, implementing safer systems at MSU shouldn’t be limited to just education. In situations involving racial discrimination amongst students, he said, there should be other oversight options apart from reporting, systems that aren’t purely reactive, but instead have an emphasis on active conversation.

“If it's reporting that there was discrimination, then okay— but what are the steps that the university is going to take,” Johnson said. “Are they going to investigate it? Are we going to talk to the person?”

Student affairs and administration first year graduate student Jakaira Lynn said she believes much of the disconnect between MSU and students comes from a lack of authentic intention from administrators.

“Be authentically intentional,” Lynn said. “Let's not put on a facade of how our schools should approach minority minoritized communities. Let's actually be intentional about doing it.”

Lynn said that it’s difficult to believe the authenticity behind MSU Black History Month plans because of the interactions from MSU leaders with students.

At a board meeting occurring on Oct. 27, 2023, students who voiced their opinions on the then recent letter from trustee Brianna Scott calling for the removal of now former board chair trustee Rema Vassar were referred to as a “mob” by MSU leaders.

“Why did a group of students get called a ‘mob’ at a board meeting and nothing was done about it,” Lynn said. “You do not care— you know what I'm saying? So now it just feels like everything that they try to do is a facade because you don't intentionally care. Why in the hell do you have a board member calling Black students a ‘mob’ when they are doing nothing but trying to voice their opinions?”

Lynn said a lack of effective community outreach was detrimental to getting the word out about Black history events. She said that more frequent emails from MSU were necessary because the focus of these events should apply to everyone.

“Everybody should be aware,” Lynn said. “Even though some people may not relate to it, you can still support in some type of way— or just even knowing about it and being educated; because education is key.”

Public policy graduate freshman LiChail R. Gaines said she found educating herself from a different perspective on Black history to be "rewarding."

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“The history isn't all oppression and sadness,” Gaines said. “There's so many great moments and things to highlight. So, I choose to during this month find the beauty within Black history rather than, you know, the regular conversation of oppression.”

Gaines said that she would like to see Black History Month events more frequently throughout the month but said that event planning was better than in the past. However, she noted that celebrating Black history shouldn’t be limited to just February.

“I think I would charge people, especially your readers, that they don't have to wait till February to learn or ask questions,” Gaines said. “I would charge them to start partaking in small ways. Whether that means visiting a Black owned bookstore or whether that means participating in a Black studies course— now that it's a major, there's so many classes out there.”

Gaines said that it’s ok to feel uncomfortable in these settings.

“It is okay ... because you being uncomfortable means that you are breaking your own biases and disrupting the norm,” Gaines said. “So, I would charge people, even as February ends, to continue to do the work necessary for a better world for us.”

Altogether, Chola said, support needs to extend beyond February.

“We’re not only special for one month,” she said.


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