Texas Woman’s University, through the office of Diversity, Inclusion and Outreach and its partners, is celebrating Black History Month with a series of events and discussions aimed at honoring the legacy of African-American culture.
For more than four decades, America has honored African-American legends with the national celebration that is Black History Month. The holiday grew out of “Negro History Week,” a holiday created by what is now known as the “Association for the Study of African-American Life and History,” in 1926. College campuses have long played a pioneering role in honoring Black History Month, with many universities’ recognition of the holiday predating President Gerald Ford’s national declaration in 1976. Today, TWU administrators continue these long-held traditions with education remaining at the center of university observance.
“Some of these months have been made into nationwide celebrations and, as an institution of learning, we’ve adopted the importance and significance of why these events happen and why they’re important, especially when we look at TWU as a diverse campus,” Michelle Prudhomme-Coleman, Associate Director of Diversity, Inclusion and Outreach, said in reference to culturally historic events.
DIO, through independently-developed programming and partnerships with other TWU departments, has taken the lead in planning Black History Month events for students. Events hosted, at least in part, by DIO this year include the annual Soul Food Dinner in collaboration with Chartwells; a film screening of “Southside with You,” a docudrama detailing the beginning of Barack and Michelle Obama’s relationship; and “Survey Says: Black History Month Edition,” a trivia game aimed at educating participants about African-American history.
Prudhomme-Coleman said that, in developing programming, she and her colleagues aim to achieve harmony by approaching projects with diverse groups in mind.
“We try to balance covering events from a social lens, an awareness lens, a celebratory lens and an educational lens,” Prudhomme-Coleman said.
Just one example of how DIO has applied that philosophy of a multi-tiered approach to this year’s Black History Month program is Tuesday’s film screening, according to Prudhomme-Coleman.
“This year, we did a film screening about the Michelle Obama and Barack Obama story, trying to show our students – especially those students who represent those particular identities – a different lens that society sometimes doesn’t get to see in a healthy way.”
Prudhomme-Coleman also emphasized that programming is tailored to students every semester.
“When we look at events, we always keep the student in mind,” Prudhomme-Coleman said. “In choosing, it’s usually based on the feedback of the students and us doing different focus groups […] and asking our students, or faculty and staff, ‘how would you like to get involved in the future?’ so that we are expanding our lens in terms of the needs of our campus.”
Because of the often-contentious nature of discussions revolving around cultural identity, Prudhomme- Coleman said that a deliberate approach based on inclusion is key to providing meaningful experiences for students of different backgrounds.
“I think sometimes, even with these kinds of events that happen across the months [like Black History Month], the challenge is that some groups feel left out,” Prudhomme-Coleman said. “You have to have balance in order to make change; and you have to let people know that [although] we have challenges and things to overcome, we cannot stay stuck in one place if we’re going to make progress.”
Prudhomme-Coleman said that, in her view, this year’s Black History Month programming has been effective in engaging students because of the collaborative approach used to create the events.
“I think an event is definitely successful when I see the diverse faces in the audience that…want to come to be allies or want to come to be a support to our campus,” Prudhomme-Coleman said. “When I can create a space and an environment for a student to feel welcomed
included, that indicates success.”
Prudhomme-Coleman said that, for her, the desire to create those spaces goes beyond professional aspirations, allowing her to make events like those in celebration of Black History Month special experiences for students.
“I think there is some aspect of this work that has to touch you at your core, from a personal lens as well,” Prudhomme-Coleman said. “I like to bring topics that speak to the spirit of a person and speak to their humanity also.”
Black History Month events can be found on the TWU events page.