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Here’s What It’s Like For Me Celebrating Black History Month At A PWI

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February is only 28 days (29 in a leap year), but it is loaded. From the happy birthdays I have to wish to my family and friends to Valentine’s Day suffocating me everywhere I go, it’s a lot. But one thing that subsides my February blues is Black History Month. Officially recognized in 1976, Black History Month is a month of celebration and observance of Black culture. After generations of oppression and discrimination, having an entire month dedicated to Black history was a big deal, which is why I take pride in the month every year. 

Growing up in a predominantly Black school district in Bowie, Maryland, Black History Month held a lot of significance in school for me — starting from kindergarten to senior year of high school. The month meant school-wide assemblies with performances of different songs and dances, parades where we dressed up as Black historical figures, and reports on Black history. But what made this special was that everyone participated in the festivities.

So when I got to college, it’s safe to say that I was disappointed with my university’s Black History Month efforts. And I’m not saying that my university — Loyola — didn’t recognize Black History Month at all. Yes, the Instagram post stating “Happy Black History Month!” illuminated my feed on Feb. 1, but from what I could tell, that was it. Throughout the month, there wasn’t that much celebration going on unless you were a part of the Black Student Association, which made an effort to have events that spanned across the month, ending in a big semi-formal event. Overall, Black History Month wasn’t really “mainstream” on my campus. 

My first Black History Month on campus in 2023, I had the privilege of joining my university’s chapter of Her Campus as a writer. It was time for my first writing assignment, and I struggled a lot with what I wanted my first article to be. During our chapter meeting, we had a brief brainstorming session for article ideas. This included going over current events and holidays coming up that would make good writing topics. As expected, Valentine’s Day ideas were the primary focus, with topics like romance movies and novels. Black History Month was not brought up at all. 

I felt a sense of disappointment at that. Black History was highly celebrated in my K-12 schooling, so not seeing it brought up as a holiday was confusing. But, I looked at the demographics of my clubmates around me: I was maybe one of two Black students in my chapter. So at that moment, I concluded that Black History Month wouldn’t be celebrated in my chapter. 

Rather than proposing a Black History Month article, I assimilated to the culture of the students around me. This caused a lot of internal conflict when I planned my first piece. I bounced between a list of Valentine’s Day nail designs or an editorial about the rise of e.l.f. Cosmetics. These were both good ideas that fit the platform, but it didn’t really fit me. I knew that with my first article, I wanted it to be true to myself. Although this was for a bigger website, I would be the one writing it. Therefore, choosing my own topic was the only option for me.

Ultimately, I chose to make my Her Campus debut by writing about something that was most important to me: books and Black history. I decided to highlight a few Black authors that were important to me. Black History Month is the perfect time to highlight these pioneers, and I knew that my part in the celebration would be to do so using their important work. At the end of the day, I felt proud of my efforts, but the feeling of disappointment lingered in my brain when I realized that I was the only one in my chapter who recognized Black History Month. No social media posts, no other articles, nothing.

With Loyola being a smaller liberal arts PWI, the ratio of Black students to white students is significantly disproportionate on campus. Besides Her Campus, other clubs like Student Government, Dance Team, or the school paper are also disproportionately represented racially. So it can be really isolating to celebrate a cultural holiday when your culture doesn’t reflect the campus.

By the end of the month, it felt like the Black Student Association carried the entire importance of Black History Month on their shoulders. Many of those who took part in their festivities were either a part of the group or were marginalized themselves. But why? Should the maintenance of Black history only be the responsibility of Black students? I would have to disagree. Black history is for everyone to observe and celebrate. Everything in today’s society is shaped by Black culture in one way or another. For instance, a big trend circulating social media, the “brownie glazed lips” were derived from Black women who started wearing brown lip liner and lip gloss. Also, many words that may be deemed as “Gen-Z lingo” are actually derived from Black Culture, such as saying “fam” or “tea.” Many of these concepts are used by everybody, but the history is widely disregarded. I don’t feel like you have to be in a particular group to celebrate that group’s holiday. 

So, I encourage students of all races to celebrate Black History Month. This could be by reading a book, attending an event, creating your own celebration, or by simply reading this essay. Black History Month not only celebrates the extensive history of Black Americans, but it celebrates the unity and liberation that comes with it.

Tyra Alexander is a National Writer for Her Campus, primarily writing about life, experiences, and academics. She is also a contributing writer at her campus chapter at Loyola University Maryland. Beyond Her Campus, Tyra is a Sophomore English Major and communications minor. She is a nonfiction editor for her campus' literary art journal, Corridors and is a copy editor for the school newspaper. In her free time, Tyra can be found reading a romance book (or two), dancing with her university’s dance company, or watching vlogs by her favorite YouTubers. She is a big fan of R&B and pop, with her favorite artists being Victoria Monét, Beyoncé, and Ariana Grande.