Heritage and history months are celebrated around the world to honor the culture, achievements and contributions of a specific heritage or group of people. These months range from celebrating Hispanics to African Americans to women to LGBT pride, and many such celebrations take place here at Lehigh.
These months are a time for the campus to come together to recognize, learn and appreciate all that a specific culture or group of people has to offer. Celebrating different heritage and history months can be important for campus life. It supports a more inclusive campus environment by spreading awareness through the celebration of previously, as well as currently, marginalized groups. Moreover, these months celebrate the diversity among the Lehigh community.
“Personally, I feel that different heritage months are important because they can highlight the accomplishments and struggles of groups that most people on campus do not often think about,” said Jeff Heflin, one of the co-chairs of the Pride Network.
Heritage months can encourage and stimulate students to be aware of and think about groups of people different than their own. It can challenge people to think outside of their comfort zones and be conscious of the hardships other groups have endured. Events and celebrations engage and teach students about a group of marginalized people in fun and interactive ways.
“I would hope that everyone at Lehigh recognizes how many histories have been erased, oppressed and lost in America and that we all have a responsibility to hear and learn those histories,” said Rita Jones, director of the Women’s Center. “As a member of an institution of higher education, we all also have an opportunity to share and learn different histories.”
While the months prompt awareness, they also spark collaborations among groups across campus. These groups come together in support of one another. For example, the Women’s Center works with different groups and departments on campus to highlight their work during Women’s History Month, which takes place in March.
“We are involved in a variety of ways, from co-sponsoring events, to publicizing existing events to help other groups and organizations, to leading discussions on intersections…for example, of race, ethnicity, gender and sex,” Jones said.
The Pride Center also engages in this collaborative spirit by co-sponsoring LGBT History Month, which will be celebrated in October. This year’s LGBT History Month emphasizes intersecting identities.
“Often, LGBT people of color face even more disadvantages than white LGBT people or even non-LGBT people of color,” Heflin said. “Janet Mock, a trans-woman of African-American and Hawaiian ancestry, will be one of the speakers coming to Lehigh next month to help highlight these issues.”
The first heritage month celebrated at Lehigh is Hispanic Heritage Month, which started on Sept. 15 and will continue through mid-October. Latinopalooza, presented by the Hispanic/Latino Heritage Month committee, kicked off the month on Monday. Local art companies, students, slam poet Elizabeth Acevado and Comedy Central’s Ruperto Vanderpool celebrated the Hispanic Heritage Month in the Asa Packer Dining Hall.
The committee is presenting several other events that are scheduled for the remainder of the month, such as “Mexican Muralism and its Hemispheric Impact”, “Sabado Gigante!” and the “¡Educate! Community Service Event.”
Katherine Iturralde, ’16, a committee member, expressed how impressed she has been with the Lehigh community’s support of Hispanic Heritage Month.
“The fact that we were able to reach out to so many different organizations, from Latin Dance to the Melismatics to Lehigh’s Improv Comedy Club, was amazing in itself because it showed how interested students were in joining in on the celebration of such a culturally-rich month,” she said.
Following Hispanic Heritage and LGBT History months is Native American Heritage Month in November. February is Black History Month, and April is Asian-American Heritage Month.
These months challenge the campus to examine how the community views these groups, not just during their respective months, but also throughout the entire year.
These months require extensive planning and preparation, done mostly by students through different committees. Students are instrumental in procuring speakers and planning events. For example, NPR’s Maria Hinojosa is one of the upcoming speakers for Hispanic Heritage Month.
“Students who plan and participate (in these heritage and history months) are super excited,” Jones said. “They live their passion and get to share their passion with others. It’s really quite contagious.”
This contagious atmosphere is expressed in students across campus, who understand the importance of these months.
“It’s important that people of all heritages feel comfortable, appreciated and involved on campus at Lehigh, and celebrating these specific months is a great way to do that,” Kate Salava, ’15, said.
Ellen Moroney, ’16, agreed, saying, “It helps to make people from all backgrounds and heritages feel more comfortable on our campus.”
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