Black History Month

John Hult

John Hult

With Black History Month beginning this Friday, SDSU students will have several chances to broaden their horizons. The Office of Multi-Cultural Affairs and the Program Council have organized seven programs over the course of February to commemorate the event.

The first installment in the month-long activity schedule will take place Wednesday night, when opera singer Phillip Mentor comes to Jacks’ Place to perform Negro spirituals. He starts at 7 p.m.

The programs give students the opportunity to see another side of African America culture, Assistant Director of Multi-Cultural Affairs C.D. Douglas said.

“Coming from a rural environment, you sometimes get caught up in MTV and the music then abide by those fictional characters and the role-playing,” Douglas said. “The individuals are just trying to make money, and they are playing those characters.”

The spirituals have many different meanings, as well. Kari Vadis, program coordinator for the the Office of Multi-cultural affairs, pointed out that there were some things hidden just under the surface of the songs.

“Some people say that abolitionist ideals and underground railroad messages were encoded into the songs. But beyond that, they are a spiritual communication of people in captivity,” she said.

Black History Month does carry great significance to African American students and faculty like Douglas and music professor Ricky Crawley. But with so many SDSU students leaving South Dakota?one of the whitest states in the country?after graduation, these programs give students some history of the people they may be working with every day.

“Learning about diversity is incredibly important,” Crawley said. “You might end up in a situation where you’ll be around a group of people that you’re not familiar with, and then the question is?how well can you adapt? If a student cannot go in and work in a different environment with different people, they’ll run into a lot of problems,” he said.

Douglas pointed out that the number of students who identified themselves as African American on their student profiles hovers around 37, but the numbers can be misleading. Many students with parents of different races do not wish to identify themselves exclusively as “African American,” although they are seen that way by society.

The campus picture is more colorful than students may think. Crawley, who grew up in Virginia in an all black neighborhood, sees a lot of diversity on the SDSU campus.

“I think the school is very diverse, especially considering how isolated we are from bigger areas. I look around and see a lot of foreign students, Asian students and black students mixed in with the caucasian students,” he said. “So that tells me that someone is trying to reach out to these minorities. It’s not just lip service to be putting on these programs?there seems to be some action.”

Hank Greer, an African American freshman majoring in pre-law, pointed out that SDSU does seem to be a welcoming place.

“I haven’t run into any racism at all,” Greer said. “That was one of the things I was looking at on my campus visits, and everything seemed to be pretty well in check.”

His sentiments were echoed by Haitian grad student in plant science Martine Zemy.

“I’m the only black student in most of my classes, but it has never been an issue,” she said. “People look at you more as a person than as a black person.”

Freshman Theater and Psychology major Alexis Bartholemew says that most students are still not used to dealing with minorities.

“There is still concern about how to talk to someone of a different race. I don’t think people always understand that its not always what you say, but how you say it that matters,” she said.

C.D. Douglas has a simple solution for students who are not used to dealing with any minorities.

“The best assumption to make is that you can make no assumptions. Everyone gets into stereotypes, but remember?we’re no different than you are. Everyone is different. Just get to know the individual as who they are, then you know that individual.”