By: Kayley Weeks, Staff Writer
This year, the Intercultural Student Engagement (ISE) Center has organized a variety of events for students to celebrate Black History Month. “Black History Month is about history and the future, and connecting the roots where we come from, to see where we are going. We need to recognize not only past injustices but past revelations and achievements, and pay homage to those who came before us to make our lives a little easier today. The future is recognizing new generations. We are constantly educating and paving forward for our students,” said William Johnson, the Director of Intercultural Student Engagement at USM.
The events, including trivia, lectures, viewing parties, grab and go giveaways, bingo and more, have both educational and social aspects. Johnson and David Lewis, the head of Student Engagement Leadership, worked together to brainstorm the events which can be found on the USM homepage throughout the month of February.
Throughout the planning process, Johnson focused on the different programs he had experienced as an undergraduate and graduate student of color, while Lewis framed the social aspects. Johnson and Lewis bounced back and forth ideas until they came up with a calendar full of different and engaging events.
In order to bring awareness to these events, Intercultural Student Engagement has partnered with USM’s marketing department. Students were pleasantly surprised on Feb. 1 to see Black History Month taking over the USM website’s homepage. Marketing also worked with Intercultural Student Engagement to create 308 USM Black Lives Matter t-shirts to give away to students for free. The t-shirts will be available during one of the surprise giveaways listed on the calendar.
The event planning formula has constantly been changing due to COVID-19. “We recognize that programs that were social, that had prizes, or were more engaging were more successful,” said Johnson. “It’s been a trial and error, there are definitely some programs that were not as successful.” Black History Trivia and Black, Game of Accomplishments: Civil Rights Leaders, and grab and go giveaways are examples of the more successful events that have been held so far.
Madeline Paradis, who is the Grad Assistant for social media, played a huge role in selecting who to highlight for the 28 days of Black Excellence. This segment, featured on the ISE’s Instagram page, highlights a different historical black figure every day of February. Paradis chose not to highlight stereotypical black people, such as Martin Luther King or Rosa Parks. Instead, she went out of her way to educate herself by finding the poets, the scientists, and those who we don’t often see in the spotlight. Paradis selected a mix of people that are well-known and others who might be brand new to us.
The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. People were shocked and inspired to see Black History Month plastered across the USM homepage. This is unusual programming, because many people weren’t expecting these efforts from Intercultural Student Engagement in previous years.
Johnson believes that this conversation is important this month, because “we are in constant conflict. There’s a level of natural ignorance of not understanding a different perspective and with that ignorance comes a level of fear and judgement. There’s a part that is biological and there’s a part that is learnable, but it is also unlearnable.”
Johnson hopes students are having fun, and seeing meaning behind what the ISE is doing. He also hopes this conversation triggers curiosity, “I think that one of the greatest lessons is curiosity because it will motivate students to go and educate themselves,” said Johnson.
If you missed the events at the beginning of the month, there are still some events left to attend. On Tuesday Feb. 23 Powerful Black Women Trivia will be held on Zoom 7pm-8pm, Thursday Feb. 25 the documentary “Hate Crimes in the Heartland” will be available to watch at 7pm on Zoom, and the final event will be a Watchmen Series Viewing Party 1pm-4:30pm.