Panel debates importance of Black History Month



KAT MEYERS / The Journal
Students Gabriall Moore and Jay Robinson and Multicultural Center associate Rene Murph speak to Webster students and the community about Black History Month and the impact of black culture in contemporary American politics in the University Center presentation room on Tuesday, Feb. 22.

(Webster Groves, Feb. 24, 2011) A panel discussion on Black History Month drew a full crowd and passionate opinions about black culture on Feb. 22 in the Presentation Room of the University Center.

The panel was sponsored by the Association for African American Collegiates (AAAC) and featured three speakers taking questions and leading the discussion with interested students and administrators.

“We wanted to ask students questions and get real answers from them,” AAAC vice president Jay Robinson said. “How do we use Black History Month? Should we be teaching black history differently?”

Panel members included Robinson, Rene Murph of the Multicultural Center and cultural anthropology professor Jung Bum Kwon. The panel, which took questions from students as well as leading audience discussion, addressed student concerns that black history wasn’t taught as part of American history in public schools.

“To me, it seems to separate black history from American history, or white history,” said Robinson, a senior double major in video production and English. “It feels almost like a form of segregation.”

Black History Month is often treated as black history in America, Murph said.

“We are talking about the U.S. when we talk (about Black History Month), but black history is global, just like white history or Latin history or Asian history,” she said.

The discussion grew more intense when students and panel members were asked to consider how their families and communities promoted racial and cultural history. One question posed by the AAAC read, “Are our communities taking the necessary steps to promote and preserve black culture with the new generations?”

Robinson, a member of the St. Louis desegregation bus program, said there was “no tolerance for diversity in my community.” Robinson said small black communities “are not always accepting places for people that are different.”

Assistant Director of the Multicultural Center Niki Parres believes changes in the education system begin with students.

“We hold events on black history, and they are nearly empty,” Parres said. “When events draw no students, we don’t run them again the next year. As an administrator I can say that you have the power, you pay the tuition. You define the conversation and the direction.”

Parres said concerned students take a greater role in the administrative decisions at Webster University, including taking part in the upcoming Delegate’s Agenda.

“You have a campus president that has open office hours for students to come talk about their concerns, many campuses don’t do that,” Parres said.

The panel addressed racial stereotypes, community attitudes, popular music and even the election of Barack Obama in addressing all the modern-day issues affecting black youths in America.

The final question posed by the AAAC was directed at the audience, “So, what are you going to do about it?”

“Don’t act like a victim, act like a victor,” said Steward Stiles, sophomore music vocal and education major. “If you see something you don’t like, or you don’t agree with, don’t just complain. Go do something about it. It’s college. This is where things get done.”

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