Black History Month has been celebrated every February since 1976.
At Lehigh, the Office of Multicultural Affairs has decided to approach Black History Month differently this year. Their intention is to shift the focus of Black history to Black trauma and excellence instead.
Clara Buie, associate director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs, said they took the stance of shifting from Black History Month to Black Excellence Month because the term excellence itself is important.
She said the Office of Multicultural Affairs’ shift from Black History Month to Black Excellence Month gives not only Black students, but all students with marginalized identities the opportunity to empower themselves by preventing the use of deficit language as it relates to their identity.
“We felt that it was more important that we talked about Black self-sufficiency and Black creativity,” said Chad Williams, director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs. “There are enough stories about Black trauma and pain, so we wanted to take a different approach.”
The Office of Multicultural Affairs has held, and will continue to hold, conversations about race during their weekly Virtual Community M-Room, every Thursday at 12 p.m.
Buie said students, faculty, staff and community members have joined in for those conversations. The first talk was about the word minority.
Buie said embracing the term minority makes her feel empowered, but she does not want to continue to use the word because she considers herself part of the global majority.
“We are not looking for everybody to embrace that term, but what we’re doing is trying to give options to folks and open the eyes of people that view BIPOC as a very small number, when we are in fact a much larger group on a global scale,” Buie said.
Williams said Black History Month should be celebrated every month, not just during February.
“I don’t fall into the camp that says, ‘Let’s put a special emphasis on this February and not all Februaries,’ because if we are going to be honest about the contributions of Black folks, we need to understand that every single month is Black History Month,” he said.
Nande Trant, ‘22, co-president of Lehigh’s Black Student Union, said she doesn’t think the month is more important for them, but she feels other non-Black people are more aware.
“It’s because the whole world woke up and is acknowledging the injustices that have been happening to Black people for so long,” said Savanna James, ‘21, co-president of the Black Student Union. “Do I think that it is being treated as if it is more important? No.”
Williams doesn’t think Black people should be so obsessed with white people’s receptions of Black Excellence Month since they are making their own decisions on when and how they celebrate.
Buie said the heightened awareness and receptiveness of Black History Month among non-Black people is not the reason for the shift to Black Excellence Month.
Williams said the Office of Multicultural Affairs is on a mission to collect stories of Black excellence at Lehigh.
“When we think about Black excellence, we go far out and bring up incredible names and people who have made amazing contributions, not realizing that we have the same incredible people who are or have been a part of our institution,” he said.
Trant and James said they are working on plans for a brunch giveaway in honor of the Black Panther Party.
Trant said they want to bring awareness and acknowledge the organization because most people don’t know about it. Trant said the Black Panther Party was helpful to the Black community when the government wasn’t.
Trant said she is concerned about the university’s negligence in the acknowledgement of Black History Month.
“The only celebration happening is from the Office of Multicultural Affairs and cultural organizations,” she said. “I would like to see the higher ups of the university’s administration actually put out more effective programming.”
Buie said she understands that students have busy schedules, so if the events being held do not fit their schedules, they should let OMA know so the right moments can be found.
“We need everyone to be a part of these conversations to understand each other and our differing perspectives so that we can uplift our community,” she said.