Black History Month events aid in desire for connection, understanding

Cook Carillon Tower against background of green, red, black and yellow stripes, to indicate Black History Month
While most events were virtual, several in-person events helped students feel connected, leaders said.
Image Credit: University Communications

The celebration of Black History Month on campus looked different in February than in previous years but the desire for community and understanding remained.

Most events planned to celebrate the culture, traditions and accomplishments of African Americans were held remotely. Juanita Davis, assistant director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs, said some events were held in-person, with limited capacity, which helped students better connect with each other.

"There was such a level of excitement when students could see each other and connect in-person," Davis said. "That does not often happen when a group meets via Zoom."

Nykia Gaines, assistant vice president for federal TRIO programs, said the TRIO programs took a holistic approach to celebrating Black History Month to connect with students where they felt most comfortable: social media, hybrid programs and newsletter updates.

"During these tumultuous times, I wanted to ensure Black History Month was not forgotten," Gaines said. "TRIO has a very racially and ethnically diverse student population; each year, I am amazed at the relationships our students have for one another, regardless of their background."

Jesse Bernal, chief of staff to the president and vice president for Inclusion and Equity, said the events held throughout this month were critical to understanding the Black experience on campus. 

"It’s important that these discussions and education not only happen during one month but continually," Bernal said. "Through President Mantella’s Network of Advisors for Racial Equity, Grand Valley is committed to institutional change, more education, and greater representation that elevates the voices and experiences of our Black community members.

"In a time of being physically apart, now is an opportunity for us to continue to deepen our own self-awareness of the experiences of those who are different from us as well as our connection to all those who call Grand Valley home."

Chasity Bailey-Fakhoury, associate professor of educational foundations, said February as Black History Month helps to center Black students as they consider their histories while charting a course toward their futures.  

"Black History Month activities during this pandemic allow students to locate themselves within a diverse collective identity, foster a sense of connectedness, and sustain a commitment to excellence and progress," Bailey-Fakhoury said.

Social Media

Because so many events were remote, the university's social media accounts highlighted Black trailblazers at Grand Valley throughout the month, including the first students of color to earn degrees from the university.

Joan Burch, Annie Jacobs and James Moore graduated in 1967. Their legacy continues today with the Burch, Jacobs & Moore Diversity Teaching Excellence Award, presented by the Pew Faculty Teaching and Learning Center and recognizing faculty whose teaching advances and encourages inclusive excellence.

Other social media initiatives included sharing an events video and several "60 for 60" videos highlighting faculty members; a student takeover of Instagram is planned for February 26.

a Black student receives a diploma during the 1967 commencement
Joan Burch, Annie Jacobs and James Moore graduated in 1967; they were the first Black students to earn Grand Valley degrees.
Image Credit: University Archives