Black History Month at HBCU: Is UVI Living Up to the Hype?


ST. CROIX— Black History Month at a Historically Black University should be a grand event, but many students feel the University of the Virgin Islands is not doing enough to acknowledge the importance of the tradition this year.

UVI students acknowledge the importance of Black History Month to them and to our community. Even when they are unaware of its origins, they understand the importance of upholding the tradition of the celebration.

Black History Month was initialized as “Negro History Week” in 1926 by Dr. Woodson and was expanded by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) to encompass an entire month in 1976.

In 1986, the observance of Black History Month was passed into law and has since been a symbol of the accomplishments of African Americans.

When interviewed, over twenty students admitted to feeling as though UVI could be doing more this February to really highlight the achievements of African Americans and embrace the spirit of Black History Month.

“It is a celebration of everything that was done to pave our way,” SGA President Sophia Johnson said. “It should really be celebrated more than just one month out of the year.”

“Black History Month means freedom. It is a way of saying ‘we matter, we are here,’ and of allowing our actions to show who we really are,” said Gabriel Lawrence, a senior member of Brothers with a Cause.

The Black History Month display at Counselling and Career Services
The Black History Month display at Counseling and Career Services

“I believe Black History is very important to our culture,” senior Jermaine Tavernier said. “We could find more creative ways to celebrate.”

“Black History Month is about recognizing all the great people that came before us,” sophomore Kennisha Grant said. “We are not really doing enough; UVI could do more.”

“I like to be wowed during Black History Month, and I am not being wowed,” junior Pamela Muhammad said.

These seem to be common feelings among the UVI community.

Judith Rogers, Director of Libraries at UVI, said Black History Month is “an opportunity to celebrate the contributions of blacks to the development of the world overall.”

“It is a time to reflect and let the past motivate you to move forward and stay away from negativity,” said Paulette Jarvis, a recent graduate of the nursing program.

“If we want to shine the blacks, we need to shine our history,” Gabriel Lawrence said. “We would not be where we are today without it and we need to improve our efforts.”

But is UVI coming up short in honoring and observing Black History Month, or are students simply too busy or unwilling to take part in the events that are taking place?

Paulette Jarvis said, “I never have time to participate on campus, so I don’t really know what’s going on.” She admits that she has heard of some events happening on campus, but she does not pay them much attention. She is simply too busy to participate.

This seems to be true of many students on campus.

According to Sophia Johnson, “the biggest challenge in planning any event on campus is actually getting them involved.”

In an effort to encourage UVI students to participate, the UVI libraries have had 34 African Arts Panels on display all month long.

Students can stop for a few minutes at a time and learn something about Black Heritage.

Many members of the UVI community have stopped to admire the exhibit.

African Arts Display at the library on the Albert A. Sheen campus. -Arige Shrouf
African Arts Display at the library on the Albert A. Sheen campus.
(photo credit -Arige Shrouf)

Judith Rogers hopes students will “engage with the exhibit and learn from it.”

“Too many phenomenal contributions go unknown,” Rogers said. “It is for the students, but we can’t do it on our own; there needs to be collaboration for us to have a well-rounded curriculum.”

This month there were several activities on campus that highlighted the accomplishments of African Americans.

On Monday, Feb. 9, Student Government Association hosted an event outside student activities which highlighted the contributions of George Washington Carver.

SGA makes peanut punch outside student activities in honor of George Washington Carver.  (photo credit - Arige Shrouf)
SGA makes peanut punch outside student activities in honor of George Washington Carver.
(photo credit – Arige Shrouf)

According to SGA Vice-President Janelle Royer, the 30 person turnout met their expectations and she felt accomplished simply seeing the students enjoying a cup of peanut punch and dancing to the music played by the DJ.

But a 30 person turnout is rather big for UVI.

When SGA hosted its event in honor of Ben Carson on Tuesday, only ten students participated in the brain dissection at the RT Park.

Students watch as biology students, Nakeisha Prantice and Chenae Allen, dissect sheep brains.   (photo credit - Arige Shrouf)
Students watch as biology students, Nakeisha Prantice and Chenae Allen, dissect sheep brains.
(photo credit – Arige Shrouf)

The annual Man-Up event hosted on Wednesday was followed up by a tribute to the inventor of ice cream, Augustus Carver, on Thursday. Both events had much larger turnouts than other events this month.

This month Counseling and Career Services is also hosting a quote contest and several clubs and organizations have hosted movie viewings.

There will likely continue to be more small events throughout the month, but if students are not participating, will it ever be enough?

“We are doing as much as we can and as much as we think will be successful and have an audience,” Judith Rogers said.

Sophia Johnson said, “We are doing our best to create an interactive environment this month. We are trying to focus our efforts on stuff people will like and participate in.”

Gabriel Lawrence said he suggests we really take this time this month and use this opportunity to “show and shine the Blacks.”

We need make the most out of Black History Month this year and every year to come. This is an opportunity to make the university community acknowledge why it should be “proud to be an HBCU,” Lawrence said.


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