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BSU and Africana Studies Reclaiming Black Excellence

Black History matters year-round

EWU+professor+and+director+of+the+Africana+Studies+Program+Dr.+Scott+Finnie+speaking+at+a+2013+luncheon.+Finnie+has+been+teaching+at+EWU+since+1993.
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BSU and Africana Studies Reclaiming Black Excellence

EWU professor and director of the Africana Studies Program Dr. Scott Finnie speaking at a 2013 luncheon. Finnie has been teaching at EWU since 1993.

EWU professor and director of the Africana Studies Program Dr. Scott Finnie speaking at a 2013 luncheon. Finnie has been teaching at EWU since 1993.

The Easterner archives

EWU professor and director of the Africana Studies Program Dr. Scott Finnie speaking at a 2013 luncheon. Finnie has been teaching at EWU since 1993.

The Easterner archives

The Easterner archives

EWU professor and director of the Africana Studies Program Dr. Scott Finnie speaking at a 2013 luncheon. Finnie has been teaching at EWU since 1993.

By Kaisa Siipola, Eastern Washington University

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Black History Month involves more than just highlighting historical events and learning about slavery and the civil rights movement. It highlights historical accomplishments and contributions of all Africans and African Americans.

“Black History Month isn’t just a month, because I am black all the time,” Black Student Union representative Tethliach Chuol said. “It’s a whole life for me.”

The BSU is assisting the EWU Africana Studies Program during Black History Month in hosting events that revolve around a “Reclaiming Black Excellence” theme.

“Our history has been torn away and ripped away from us for hundreds and thousands of years because the majority of people want us to feel as though we don’t have great history,” BSU Vice President Felicia Muhammad said. “So reclaiming black excellence for Black History Month means to show a different image than what is generally promoted during Black History Month.”

Muhammad said it feels rewarding to be an advocate for students of color.

“It’s important to have someone that not only stands above you, but stands with you and promotes a positive image too,” Muhammad said. “A lot of positive things that come out of African American communities, come from adults, so I feel like we really need students to show positive roles of students.”

Edna Dwyer, who serves on the BSU events committee, said she found BSU welcoming when she first arrived to EWU in 2016. Dwyer said she wanted to join because she wanted to be closer to people that she could relate to and develop connections with people that she had something in common with.

According to Dwyer, being an advocate feels empowering, not because of power over anyone, but because she has other people who are looking up to her and are able to relate to her.

BSU President Gracia Alzoubeir said that she got back into the swing of things after Muhammad invited her to BSU, because she was affiliated with a BSU organization in high school.

“Being in Africana (Studies) and being in BSU, you’re surrounded by people who share the same views as you, that not a lot of other people that you go to school with do,” Alzoubeir said.

Alzoubeir also discussed how the month’s theme helps fight stereotypes African Americans face.

“Reclaiming black excellence is being more than what everybody wants to label black people as, like we aren’t just entertainers, athletes or criminals,” Alzoubeir said. “We are all students here, we all work jobs and we are on scholarships, there are poets, professors, teachers, and we don’t have to just fit into those three categories.”

BSU club representative Michael Davis comes from a diverse background and didn’t know about these types of conversations when he was growing up. Davis said he thinks that having this month is important, because students get to really go over people and events besides Martin Luther King Jr., the civil rights movement and Malcolm X, which are typically highlighted.

“Going over these types of things is satisfying because it makes it where I can talk to other people and other people are interested in these type of things because not everyone wants to talk about or have these type of conversations, but it’s an important part of history and as a student you’re here to learn more,” Davis said. “When we have events talking about these things it gets people to know more and appreciate the black community more, so as a whole it makes it to where the black community can appreciate itself more.”

Davis was not aware of BSU through any announcements or advertisements until he was informed of it by Alzoubeir.

“At EWU I see them doing a lot of diversity things to try to get more people and I appreciate that,” Davis said. “As much as they want diversity, we also need to have the clubs be represented because that’s where you’re going to learn everything, you can have all the people on campus and stuff and that’s cool, but at the end of the day we are all people.”

There is room for improvement regarding the representation of students of color on campus by having more collaboration between clubs and organizations, according to Davis.

The BSU collaborates with other minority group organizations on campus, but not many. The EWU Jewish Club, the Native American Student Association, MEChA, the EWU Multicultural Center and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion are the only groups that ever reach out to BSU to collaborate on events, according to Alzoubeir.

Dr. Scott Finnie, EWU professor and director of the Africana Studies Program, said that he can personally contribute to the individual development of students that goes far beyond the classroom setting. Finnie said he hopes to “enrich their intellectual thirst as well as their pride for a segment of people that have typically been kept out of mainstream America.”

Finnie referred to two meanings behind the theme of “Reclaiming Black Excellence.”

“The narrative voice by the participants of black history rather than the observers of black history,” Finnie said. “The flipside is that it points to the contributions that have not been given the historical recognition that is due and has transcended the typical historical point of view of perspective that African American history is about victims of history rather than contributors of history.”

Finnie said he hopes that students gain something during Black History Month by attending events that are presented by BSU and the Africana Studies Program.

“I hope that they get a spark in their curiosity, in their appreciation and in their desire to carry out their own personal research to reclaim their understanding of the truth of African and African American contributions, achievements and inspiration to create your own legacy and determine your own destiny,” Finnie said. “Black History Month is not a spare tire, but it’s really a basic contributing factor of the American fabric and it should point to our need to grow and develop into a collective historical consciousness where differences are not seen as a liability but are seen as a strength.” •

This story was originally published on The Easterner on February 21, 2019.

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