At issue: Black History Month on campus
Our take: The college needs to formally recognize the celebration
Emerson College lacks its own formal commemoration to honor Black History Month. At the moment, there is little indication of the school’s attention to this month-long celebration that observes black individuals and their history in all countries that recognize it. Parades, celebrations, and memorials commemorate black individuals who contribute to the advancement of our country. Yet at Emerson, an institution that prides itself on diversity, there is a shocking lack of campus-wide acknowledgment for Black History Month, and we can’t find a difference between our campus in February than in any other month.
While the school has a black president, M. Lee Pelton made little effort to highlight Black History Month and failed to even send a campus-wide email to acknowledge an important time for a student population that is 3 percent black. Instead, celebrating the black community is left to student organizations. Two weeks ago, Emerson’s Black Organization with Natural Interest, or EBONI, held their second annual BLK Out Fashion Show to honor Black History Month. The organization also hosted an open mic night and a gala to recognize its 50th anniversary.
The lack of a campus-wide celebration can leave minority students feeling unheard and unrecognized. This week’s POC columnist, sophomore Melanie Curry, said, “… it seemed as if Black History Month became overshadowed.”
The college’s website states the school’s belief that “inclusive and academic excellence are not possible without full engagement with diversity across all areas of the college.” The college devoted the same web page that states this belief to diversity and inclusion updates, starting from 2011. Yet Emerson still enrolls few students of color. Even though we have an overall diversity rank of 237 out of 2,475 universities and colleges in the U.S., according to the 2018-19 college Factbook, only 36 percent of our undergraduate student population consists of people of color, including the 11 percent of international students.
The Beacon is not spared from the lack of diversity that plagues our entire campus. Coming into the spring semester, the majority of our applicants for staff positions were white, and as a result, our current staff operates with few people of color. Our five-person editorial board includes two people of color. Even as we are writing this editorial at the tail end of Black History Month, we recognize that we only have one black reporter on our reporting staff.
We are taking steps to ensure the voices of people of color on campus are being heard. We want to be mindful of the number of minority voices published in our paper and continue to offer our publication as a space for them.
Last semester we asked international students to write op-eds about their experiences at the college and the shortcomings they faced, and this year one of our regular opinion columnists is an international student. This semester, the Living Arts section started a POC column that highlights a different minority writer on campus each week.
The reality is that the newsroom and the college will not instantly become more diverse. Acquiring a more diverse pool of applicants to enroll in the college and to join the Beacon will inevitably take time. Nonetheless, our efforts to include more minority voices should start immediately. The college should take the time and effort to recognize the celebrations of people of color, especially like Black History Month, and continually provide a platform for their voices.