To the Editor:
In a recent article by Ryan Milliken concerning “Black History Month,” a communication major argues that, “the school should do a better job of letting students know it’s Black History Month.” Although I’m not quite sure what he meant, I found the comment painful. A few weeks ago, American and New England Studies showed one of the most fascinating films of the post-World War II Hollywood era, a “true” story about an African-American doctor who passed as “white” in a small New Hampshire town in the decades before the war. Entitled Lost Boundaries, the film was a source of tremendous controversy although black critics at the time were divided about just how to read the film. The Portland Press Herald did a story on the film and Maine Public Radio carried a five-minute segment describing the film and its importance as the first publicly announced “race” film produced by Hollywood. Posters were sent to dorms, student affairs [sic], and placed around the campus. Many members of the Portland community were there that night, including Herb Adams who, along with Jerry Talbot, rediscovered the film a decade ago. Graduate students were there, one History Department faculty member was there, but, as far as we could tell, no undergraduates turned up.
The Free Press, which chose not to report the event (despite an hour-long meeting with a reporter and a press release in November) might have helped reach more undergraduates, but neither the University newspaper nor the individual departments can replace an interested and engaged student population. In today’s University, students are under considerable pressure to meet an ever-increasing number of demands. This is especially true for working parents attending school, and commuters who travel long distances to and from school. But still, when a third-year student in college says that he wasn’t aware that February is Black History Month, it does raise a number of questions about the intellectual life and culture of the University. And when he blames the University for “not letting him know,” I can only wonder when and how “the university” came to mean something other than the students who shape it.
Director, American and New England Studies