By Neelam Chand, Office of Equity and Diversity
When black and African-American experiences are discussed in the United States and on college campuses, often times, it is in the context of Black History Month and Martin Luther King Jr. week. While this is still needed, these conversations tend to ignore the daily experiences of Black students and faculty.
The University of Utah’s Black Programming Series Committee (BPSC) was created in June 2017 and seeks to change the narrative around the black community at the U. The committee was formed by Portia Saulabiu, retention coordinator at Center for Ethnic Student Affairs (CESA) and advisor for the Black Student Union (BSU) and Romeo Jackson, Masters student in Educational Leadership & Policy and program coordinator for the Black Graduate Student Association at the U.
Saulabiu was inspired by the collective support for black students from communities and institutions on other campuses across the nation. She thought to herself, “we need to create an initiative that supports the black community while working to retain black students, staff and faculty at our institution.” This encouraged her to collaborate with folks across campus to create a program that aims to support Black students on academic achievement, social justice issues, career preparation and readiness.
To accomplish the goals of the Black Programming Series, the committee consists of the three major Black groups at the U: Black Student Union, Black Graduate Student Association and the Black Faculty and Staff Association as well as allies on campus that may also be doing Black specific programming.
“The committee formed to address the lack of black specific programming on campus for black people to participate and attend. It’s a way to bring siloed Black organizations on campus to create programs together instead of on their own and amplify black voices,” Jackson explains.
Saulabiu adds, “Creating Black specific programming will center blackness, highlight black struggles, be a mechanism to engage current students and interested students to come to campus — so they know there are spaces for them, bring black communities together, retain black students and faculty in a joined effort and hopefully this committee begins to drive that.”
The BPSC is a way for groups and people to come together and build an intentional black programming series with the goals of:
- Increasing the visibility of blackness at the University of Utah;
- Building community and relationships across student, staff and faculty;
- Working smarter not harder, by building partnership and coalitions beyond financial support;
- Coordinating efforts to prepare black faculty, staff and students for career and educational advancement; and,
- Serving as a reminder that the work of honoring, celebrating and remembering Blackness is a campus wide task
In efforts to engage black students, staff and faculty, Saulabiu is coordinating a social media campaign, #DoItForTheCulture, which provides the culture of Blackness to be amplified, acknowledged and appreciated at the University of Utah. The campaign encourages all black students, staff and faculty to express what Blackness means to them and pride for their blackness by taking a photo while wearing traditional clothing, accessories, critically conscious t-shirts from their culture and posting it to social media sites using the hashtags #DoitForTheCulture and #AmplifyingBlackness every Thursday. “The action of demonstrating and celebrating blackness can be empowering to a community that represents approximately 1 percent of our campus community,” says Saulabiu.
This social media campaign is not an invitation to appropriate black culture but does offer a way for allies to demonstrate their support in positive ways that do not make a mockery of blackness. Saulabiu hopes that this catches on throughout the year as there will be programs planned in the future that connect to this campaign.