The United States has long been regarded as the ultimate melting pot, a tremendous vat by which large throngs of race, culture and religion were once assembled to form a homogeneous clump devoid of the spirit and history that defines a people. But since 1926, the month of February has sought to dismantle part of that cultural-ball with the establishment of Black History Month.
Throughout the nation and at Northern Kentucky University alike, the month has impacted many by remembering the struggles, celebrating the accomplishments and preserving the cultural variance of African-Americans, past and present.
“Black History Month is an integral part to this campus,” said Priscilla Green, a senior Electronic Media Broadcasting major. “The programs that African-American-oriented groups instill allow us to reconnect with our past and each other.”
Groups such as the Black United Students (BUS), whose mission is to strengthen African-American students’ leadership skills and to seek social justice across the campus, is working in tandem with the African American Student Affairs (AASA) office throughout the month, according to BUS. president and junior EMB major Cierra Harris. The two groups have invited various speakers and scheduled 14 Black History Month events for February. This is a change compared to past years when NKU hosted only a handful of events centered on black history.
But AASA and BUS. realized it wasn’t enough and wanted to increase the events, Harris says.
“We wanted to have an impact this year in terms of our history,” Harris said. “After all, you don’t know where you’re going until you realize where you came from. Many dynamic speakers are coming in to ensure we don’t forget that.”
Although various groups are showcasing Black History Month, students like Green feel not enough is being done by the university as a whole.
“I see more fliers on the walls about Valentine’s Day than Black History Month,” Green said. “The university should do more to present icons of this month like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr.”
Too often black history is relegated to the confines of February, Green says. She contends that society should seek to make black history a part of every day living, and that that should begin at the university level and is indelibly connected to a strong African American community.
“People like Blanche Pringle-Smith and Michael Griffin were both huge parts of ensuring a strong African-American community at NKU,” Green said. “They both were dedicated to us knowing who we are and where we came from. It is because of them that many African-American students succeed at NKU.”
In the wake of Pringle-Smith’s recent termination, due to not getting along with new leadership (according to an NKU Corrective Form obtained by The Northerner) and the termination of Griffin as coordinators in the AASA offi ce, many students question the continuance of black history awareness on the campus.
“The AASA office must be kept stable and strong to act as a conduit for black history to the students at NKU,” said Brandon Hill, vice president of Students Together Against Racism (S.T.A.R.) and senior Integrative Studies major. “Right now, the mentorship and role models of that office are absent — this breaks the confidence of students.”
Although there has been recent instability in certain departments, NKU has enjoyed many years of growth among the African-American student body. The number of African-American students in 1989 was a paltry 1.26 percent of the entire student body. But, the numbers have incrementally increased to nearly 6 percent today, according to a document published by the Office of Instuitional Research at NKU. Hill believes the steady increase is due in part to successful re-branding attempts made by the university.
“In the past, NKU was perceived as a no knowledge university, as a redneck school and a preppy white school,” Hill said. “The university has done a great job to turn that around and made it appealing for more diversified students.”
With the increase in African- American students, it is imperative that they’re immediately directed to an organization on campus or they may suffer from alienation and lack of support, says Hill.
“Coming here for many students, it is their first opportunity to get a sense of the world,” Hill said. “As fellow black students, we need to reach out and help them be a part of the black community at NKU.”
Another way of ensuring success among the African-American student community at NKU exists within other programs, says Chelsea Nichols, publicist for BUS and a junior EMB major.
“AASA has a tremendous program called NKU ROCKS,” Nichols said. “It is required for incoming African-American freshmen, allowing them to familiarize themselves to the campus, as well as acclimate to college life a few weeks before the semester starts.”
R.O.C.K.S., which stands for Responsibility, Opportunity, Community, Knowledge and Success, is listed on the NKU Web site as a four year program that informs students of the history of black scholars, and gives guidance that enables success while attending a predominantly white university, among its many programs.
NKU is 86 percent white.
Although the recent instability of AASA has sparked many questions concerning the continuance of its successful programs, Nichols says it is the responsibility of the African-American students to safeguard their continuance.
“I feel like this month and all that it stands for, as well as all the programs of the university are up to us to continue,” Nichols said. “We don’t have Blanche (Pringle-Smith) and Michael (Griffin) anymore. So, the black students need to pick up the slack of the programs previously in place. In the long run, this will strengthen the black community at NKU.”
Story by Jeremy Jackson