Campus celebrates diversity
February is a month of culture, history, and diversity, otherwise known as Black History Month, but this year the celebration at Carnegie Mellon extends beyond African and African-American cultures. This year’s events include a wide spectrum, from Renaissance-themed Late Nights and gospel concerts, to lectures on Islamic history. The events provide the opportunity for the Carnegie Mellon community to learn from speakers, professors, and other students.
The planning for Black History Month (BHM) started last November and involved the collaboration of different groups on campus, many of which are student-run.
According to the coordinator of Student Development and of BHM events, M. Shernell Smith, there was a goal from the beginning of planning to expand contribution and participation beyond the obvious groups to bring more diversity to the events.
Jessica Smith, the programming assistant of Multicultural Initiatives in Student Development, spoke excitedly about student participation and the effort to include Carnegie Mellon students of all cultures and ancestries.
“Participation in BHM events is usually excellent with regard to the campus population that has a personal connection to the culture,” she said. “However, the challenge resides in getting people of non-African ancestry to participate in BHM events. If people hesitate to participate in events because they are not familiar with the culture, that’s all the more reason to come and learn something new.”
Jessica said that another goal addressed during planning was community empowerment, in addition to using resources outside of campus and within Pittsburgh. There was also a focus on cultural identity, combining an understanding of student experiences with an eye on future possibilities.
This month kicked off with the fifth annual Black Caucus Reception Friday, Feb. 1.
Evan Frazier, alumnus of the Heinz School class of 1997 and president and CEO of Pittsburgh’s Hill House Association, gave the keynote address in Rangos 2 and 3 in the University Center.
The Hill House on Centre Avenue hosts events and neighborhood initiatives aimed at underprivileged families and children. In his speech, Frazier told students of the immense rewards available from giving back to the community.
The lecture on the history of Islam in the African-American community was given by University of Pittsburgh faculty member Arif Jamal on Feb. 5. The lecture was a first-time collaboration between the Muslim Students Association (MSA) and the Office of Student Development for BHM.
The lecture was unique to this year’s BHM and aimed to emphasize the prevalence of Islam in the United States.
“Islam is not a foreign religion in the U.S.; rather it is among the old religions here. It tells them [the black community] a big part of the history [of Islam in the U.S.] that affects what they are now,” said electrical and computer engineering graduate student and MSA member Basil Assadhan.
“The fact that MSA came to the BHM committee shows that connections in unlikely places can be made,” M. Shernell said. “The collaboration on the event shows the campus community spirit of bringing together multi-cultural organizations and empowers other groups to see what they can contribute to the campus community.”
The BHM events included the collaboration and planning of several other student groups.
UC Late Night Renaissance, hosted by Black Graduate Student Organization (BGSO) on Feb. 9, featured student performances, including gospel and R&B, poetry, and more.
Brandon J. Carson, president of BGSO and a Heinz School graduate student, emphasized that students at Carnegie Mellon are part of a greater citywide community, and that oftentimes a sense of togetherness is the draw for people of all cultures to come to events. Carson spoke of large participation that brought together students from University of Pittsburgh, Point Park, and Duquesne. He also recognized the value of “focusing on the event,” not the people you expect to show up.
Some of the week’s events were brought back from prior years due to popular demand as some students had complained that recent BHM celebrations on campus had been lacking. The gospel concert “Redefined,” held on Feb. 10, was one such event.
This week’s coming events include a number of other student performances.
“Students bring so much energy to events,” M. Shernell said.
Fati’s Last Dance, written by graduate playwright France-Luce Benson, will be showing in Purnell through Feb. 23. The event is appropriate for BHM, as it displays Haitian-American culture.
The School of Drama is also performing The Piano Lesson by Pittsburgh native August Wilson. The play opens Thursday and runs through March 1.
Students are also encouraged to participate in open forum events throughout the week.
On Feb. 20, SPIRIT is hosting a discussion of the Willie Lynch Letter, a controversial document that emerged on the Internet in 1990. Held in Doherty Hall 1112 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., the discussion will center on the piece and its effects on society today.
“BHM gives the opportunity for cultural conversation and should encourage people to think how they can continue the conversation even after the month is over,” M. Shernell said.
“BHM should not only be celebrated in a specific designated place or time, it should be a conversation piece for people to take into their daily lives.”
The schedule for BHM is available at (www.cmu.edu/news/archive/2008/February/feb4_blackhistorymonth.shtml).