Tony Daniels, interim assistant director of the Black Student Services, has a question for students at CSU.
"Why haven't you, or why wouldn't you, participate in Black History Month activities?" Daniels asked. Black History Month will occur in February, and organizers are looking for ways to engage the entire campus, not just black students.
Daniels and Will Wooten, the president of Black Definition, a student organization dedicated to advancing black culture and society at CSU, posed the question to a small leadership class Daniels teaches. The result, they said, was a spirited conversation that ended with three students attending a brainstorming session for Black History Month promotions on campus.
"From the start, we told them to be honest, (and) they were as honest as can be," Wooten said. "They didn't hesitate in what they said."
Daniels said students had concerns ranging from intruding on black students' territory to the nature of the black-student associations available on campus.
"We had people saying, you know, 'I'm not sure if I'm going to walk into a Black Panthers meeting," Daniels said with a laugh.
Daniels assured students that they are always welcome in the Black Student Services office, room 204 in the Lory Student Center, or at Black Definition meetings, held at 5 p.m. every Wednesday in the student center Art Lounge.
Black Definition is planning an events calendar for Black History Month and hopes for input from non-black students on the creation, marketing and promotion of these programs, Daniels said.
Many students, he said, feel that black history is only for black people.
"Black History Month" implies within its title which group of people it is targeting as participants, and because I am not affiliated with the group, I would feel like I was attending something I was not officially invited to," wrote freshman business administration major Erin Yemm in an e-mail interview.
Yemm, a white student in Daniels' class, attended a Black Definition meeting after Daniels and Wooten spoke to her class.
But black students feel that majority students should learn about black history.
"It's not just black history. It's everyone's history," said Chantel Reed, a member of Black Definition.
Khala McAfee, a black senior English major, agreed.
"The same way I have to learn about George Washington, everyone should have to learn about George Washington Carver," she said.
Students also expressed a concern that they would be intruding on areas or events that were aimed exclusively at minorities.
"I didn't want to feel as though I was intruding on an event or meeting that was not intended for me," wrote Tyler Will, who also attended a Black Definition meeting.
Once again, black students say this is not the case.
"I would say anyone here that I know has been very welcoming," Reed said of the Black Student Services office. "It might be intimidating, but everyone's really nice."
She acknowledged the difficulty of entering an area or event where majority students suddenly become the minority, but she said the experience could be beneficial and help majority students understand minority experiences.
"Them being the minority that one time is what we feel day to day on this campus," she said. "People should know what it feels like."
"It's my situation in reverse," she said. "Every time I walk into a classroom, I feel this isn't my sanctuary."
In an effort to increase majority student participation, Daniels has helped organize a speaking series leading up to Black History Month, sponsored in part by Black Student Services.
Tuesday evening, students attended to a speech by criminal attorney Rick Jones about minority voting. Jones' speech, "Did Your Vote Count?" was held at 6 p.m. in the student center North Ballroom.
Daniels said the turnout, which included black and white students, administrators, employees, and admissions officers, was encouraging.
On Dec. 7, another speaker, Dr. Walter Kimbrough, the vice president for student affairs at Albany State University, will speak to CSU students about hazing-like problems in black fraternities and sororities. Kimbrough is scheduled to speak at 6 p.m. in the LSC's East Ballroom.
"Politics, Greek life – just about anybody can relate to that," Daniels said.
Great possible pull-quote:
"The same way I have to learn about George Washington, everyone should have to learn about George Washington Carver," -Khala McAfee, senior, English major.