Black History Month inspires panel discussion
Members of the Black Student Association talk about their experiences and ideas for a more inclusive campus
Black History Month is an annual celebration of African American Culture. During the month of February, people come together to honor and remember important people and events relating to the history of the African Diaspora. In honor of this year’s BHM theme — Acknowledgement, Recognition and Understanding — UND’s Black Student Association (BSA) held a student-led panel discussion on Feb. 6, 2023 to an audience of University students, staff and faculty.
For Precious Dada, the Vice President of the BSA as well this panel’s moderator, Black History Month is an important time of reflection and reverence.
“To me it’s about honoring and recognizing the roles that Black individuals have played in the past,” she said. “I believe it is a time in which we get to reflect on how far we have come on our way to achieving racial equality in the nation.”
The BSA, a student-run organization seeking to provide community and cultural awareness regarding people of color on campus and in the wider community, kicked off their packed Black History Month schedule with this four-student panel focusing on the Black student experience at UND and their ideas for a more equitable and thoughtful campus community.
Dada, a junior in the Interdisciplinary Health Studies program, said the BSA hoped that this panel would amplify the voices of marginalized students and allow for a continued dialogue on how improvements can be made by administrators and the campus community moving forward.
Over the course of the panel, members of the BSA discussed their own experiences on UND’s campus and how they navigate the occasionally challenging expectations placed upon them by the campus environment.
Barry Takwa, a senior majoring in Data Science, said that offices such as Student Diversity and Inclusion are “of paramount importance and without their existence, experiences at UND for minority students would be vastly different.” He also added that, for him, they were essential to “feeling welcome, normal and accepted.”
Dada said, “the most important aspect of holding panels like this is to create awareness,” adding that she hopes such events can help spur “changes that are beneficial to the promotion of diversity, equity, and inclusion on campus.”
This ideal was a main focus of the panel discussion, and the students shared their perspectives on how they and the University can move forward to cultivate this inclusion.
Myra Henderson, a senior majoring in English, says that her experience as managing editor for UND’s student-run literary publication, Floodwall, as well as her role in the English department’s Black Studies Project (BSP) have put her “in a position to amplify concerns and feedback, both positive and negative and make a call out to the campus community” for improvements, while also noting that there are administrative avenues for improvement that would improve the experience for the Black community.
Henderson described the ways she felt the University could improve its approach to diverse populations. “I think recognition is something I really struggle with on campus,” she said, including “recognition of the impacts of difficult events that are going on locally and nationally.
“It can be tricky to navigate traumatic events like this, but it’s important to not only bring attention to them but also let students know there are places and people they can go to when they need to work through their experiences,” she added.
Improvements could be made to the messaging associated with traumatic news related to local and national racial dynamics, Henderson suggested. In addition, access to campus support systems for BIPOC students currently is limited and could be broadened, she said.
Grace Mulinga, a sophomore studying Air Traffic Control, spoke on the duality of the Black experience at UND, relishing the opportunity to contribute to a better environment for future Black students while also acknowledging the emotional burden associated with the process.
“To know that the things we’re doing here will help future students better maneuver through their college years is really rewarding,” she said of her own engagement in improving UND’s inclusivity practices. However, she also acknowledged that for many Black students, “it’s kind of difficult and taxing knowing that we are a minority, our voices are much smaller. There’s a lot of difficulty that comes with helping others.”
Barry Takwa, who is also a member of the African Student Union, said that he similarly finds the process rewarding.
“I’ve always made it a mission of mine to try to teach people about things like Black history, different aspects of the black experience in America,” Takwa said. “And it’s important to get people to show up when our organizations hold events like the African Student Union’s African Culture Night or the Feast of Nations, especially people who aren’t minorities. They’re people who can benefit from these events, so they can learn more about us and what we have to offer.”
He concluded that “it’s going to help break down those barriers, eliminate ambiguity and biases and poor judgement. That’s why I think it’s important to bring more people into our environments and why educating people is the right thing to do.”
The BSA, along with the African Student Union, have been making conscious efforts to celebrate their community and bridge cultural gaps to create a more cohesive and unified campus community. For example, the organizations hosted the successful Culture Fest last fall in conjunction with other student groups, including the Japanese Cultural Association and UNIDOS (Uniting Nations to Inspire Diverse Opportunity in Society).
Dada said that they plan to have more events in the future, including additional panel discussions, but for now they’ve got a busy month. The BSA alone has held two events for Black History Month during the first week of February, with three upcoming events including a movie and game night and a Black History trivia night to be held in the next few weeks.
For more information on dates and times for BSA’s Black History Month events, refer to UND’s BHM event calendar below.
Students interested in joining the BSA can visit their student org webpage.