One month at a time

Student organizations work together to celebrate African American History Month

Story by Katy Macek, Staff Writer

While department and grocery stores are decorating shops with heart-shaped products and sugary sweets, for others, February is a month of more than just Valentines.

Feb. 1 kicked off African-American History Month around the nation, and student organizations are working with the Office of Multicultural Affairs to show how important this month is, not just to the UW-Eau Claire community but the nation as a whole.

Olympia Smith, public relations officer for the Black Student Association, said she thinks this month is more than just a reminder to the Caucasian population of  its ancestors treatment of African American people.

“It is a month to celebrate how far the Black community has come in our history,” Smith said. “Sometimes the younger generations forget where they have come from, and it is important to appreciate what past generations did for us.”

Anyone can be a member of BSA, and she said because of how close members have come planning events and eating dinners together, it is like having an extended family on Eau Claire’s campus.

Working together to prepare for this month, Smith said they have come up with many events to celebrate, including student panels on topics such as “interracial dating” and “the black male experience” as well as a spoken word event later  this month.

Jesse Dixon, Director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs, said African American History Month, as well as months promoting awareness to other cultures, are important because they aren’t always taught in school.

“One of the problems we as a country have, and it starts even in the K-12 system, is that most students, including students of color, are taught that European history is the only history that exists,” Dixon said, “but the history and success of this country is built on the combination of people from multiple different areas.”

Student organizations are important to have on campus because they provide students of all backgrounds and cultures an opportunity to connect with each other,  Dixon said.

“One of the things that often happens in an environment that is predominantly of people from European descent, when they leave this area they don’t know how to interact positively with people from other communities because they’ve never taken the time or had the opportunity to do so,” Dixon said.

Dixon himself was a member of BSA when he graduated from Eau Claire in 1993. He said it is an opportunity for people to reach out and interact with one another.

Meron Tefera, a junior originally from Ethiopia and member of the African Student Association (ASA), said she joined the group because her friend, now president of ASA, decided to restart the group and get involved on campus.

ASA has been around for a few years, but she said after a while the members graduated and it ceased to exist. It began functioning again this year.

“The main reason I joined the organization is to get to know other students from different parts of Africa as well as the world,” Tefera said. “Since most of the members are studying abroad from different parts of Africa, we all miss our homes and this organization helps us come together and help one another while sharing our culture and traditions.”

As for African American History month, Tefera said her organization is working along with BSA to perform a dance and hold a poetry reading to celebrate.

“The Eau Claire community should be aware and celebrate Black History Month in order to show respect to the people who made a difference in the world while embracing the diversity of races,” she said. “It teaches the communities about the history of people of color and how they made a difference.”

All events this month are posted on the Eau Claire homepage and run throughout February.