The Black Student Union (BSU) and the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (ODEI) partnered up in February to organize several events in recognition of Black History Month. The events ranged from lectures, readings, panels and film screenings, culminating in the annual vigil “for Trayvon and All Those Before and After Him.”
These events are designed to include and inform Kenyon students of all backgrounds, as noted by the President of BSU, Michaela Jenkins ’19.
“I think that black history is a very relevant part of all Kenyon students’ experiences,” said Jenkins. “There’s not anything about Black History Month that is solely for black students to learn from, we can all take something from a part of this history because it’s a part of the history of the nation, in a part of the history of this planet.”
At the vigil, held on the steps of Rosse Hall on Tuesday night at 10:15 pm, community members stood in a group facing members of the BSU. It served as the final part of “Black Out Day,” where community members wore black in remembrance of Travyon Martin and other victims of police violence in America.
“It was incredibly powerful last year … they read the names of those who have died at the hands of police … because the list keeps getting longer,” said Jené Schoenfeld, associate professor of English and advisor to BSU. “It’s important to remember that police violence disproportionately impacts black and brown people and that is an ongoing issue.”
The vigil began with members of the BSU leading the crowd in the Negro National Anthem (“Lift Every Voice and Sing”). Then, for the next 40 minutes, each member read the names of civilians who had been murdered by the police since the current senior class had arrived at Kenyon.
“I think it’s a really important part of any conversation about Black History Month and black history to acknowledge that there’s a lot of joy in black history — and there’s a lot of pain in it,” Jenkins said, “and for me it’s always really important that we have the vigil remembered as the culmination of Black History Month, particularly through the lens of Trayvon Martin who was born Feb. 3 and died Feb. 26, so it kind of bookends the month in that way.”
Prior to the vigil, students of color participated in the #DayWithoutUs campaign, where they placed duct tape over their mouth or pinned a card to their clothing and remained silent throughout the day. These acts were meant to represent how contributions from people of color are routinely ignored. The campaign also included a sit-in in Peirce Dining Hall, where students sat along the walls of the atrium holding posters.
While the events in February are important for raising awareness and starting a dialogue, there is hope that these discussions will continue past the month.
“We [ODEI] hope that students will take time out of the month to reflect upon the importance of black history,” said Timothy Bussey, assistant director of ODEI. “But also recognize that conversations about black history or conversations about any identity within the context of a heritage month … are conversations that we should of course be extending throughout the duration of the year too.”
To continue the conversation, today there will be a lecture titled “The Fierce Legacy of James Baldwin: On Love, Race, and Sexuality” starting at 6 p.m. in Hayes 101.