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Black History Month urges students to reflect on past, present

By Lana Pochiro, For The Miami Student

This month, multiple organizations and offices at Miami celebrate black history with a wide range of programs and events.

Starting with a screening of the film "Dear White People" at 6 p.m. Feb. 11 in the in the Armstrong Student Center Wilks Theatre, events will continue through February and into March.

Juanita Tate, director of Divisional Diversity Initiatives in the Office of Diversity Affairs (DAC), said the events were too numerous to fit into a single month.

One of the largest and longest running events, the 26th Annual African American Read-In, will take place from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Feb. 19 in the Howe Writing Center in King Library. This year's theme, "Movies, Music and Migration," focuses on the history of the Great Migration. The read-in features multiple mediums of expression and creates a casual atmosphere for celebrating black history and culture.

In the past, Miami University Gospel Singers have led songs and cast members from last year's production of "Crumbs from the Table of Joy" performed scenes.

Academic Resident Librarian Jennifer Natale said she believes it is crucial for King Library to engage its patrons in resources with diverse stories and information.

Humanities and Social Sciences Librarian Jenny Presnell noted that Miami University Libraries' Diversity Committee works to encourage exploration of difference. Those in charge of selecting new books for the libraries work carefully to provide a multitude of stories, opinions and information sources.

"We feel that it is really important for those who use our library to discover those viewpoints and to preserve those viewpoints," she said.

Other areas on campus are engaging in discussions about black history, diversity and race as well. The Miami University Art Museum will host Black Voices: Spoken Word and Potluck dinner 2-6 p.m. Feb. 22.

Assistant Director & Coordinator of Diverse Student Development in the Office of Diversity Affairs and DAC Adviser Yvania Garcia-Pusateri hopes this programming will engage students in a larger dialogue about the climate at Miami.

"We're in an institution that is 89 percent white. So how do we really navigate those conversations?" she said. "How do we navigate conversations about students being the only black or brown face in a classroom or being the only international student?"

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Recent national events have sparked the beginning of these conversations.

Garcia-Pusateri said he was excited to see Miami take a more active stance on issues by posting a photo of a student-lead die-in demonstration in solidarity with protests in Ferguson on Miami's Instagram account. The picture received both praise and backlash. Comments on the photo posted by students reflected the malice and prejudice still present on campus.

Garcia-Pusateri mentioned the sometimes hostile climate is evident in other spaces as proven by the anonymous letter against international students and a quick glance through Yik Yak.

She believes the Miami community could do more to step away from stereotypes and notions of tradition in order to change the culture on campus. She hopes to see these events expand into more dialogues.

"I think it's great to talk about Dr. King. I think it's great to talk about Malcolm X. I think it's great to talk about Rosa Parks, but there are so many more people with various identities that are part of this struggle," she said. "With civil rights, it's not just this African American/black issue; it's a Latino issue; it's an Asian issue; it's a women's issue; it's an LGBTQ issue."

Asli Soylem, DAC director of Public Relations and an international student from Istanbul, believes that more importance should be placed on explaining why diversity is important in everyday life. As an international student, Asli encourages domestic students to reach out, embrace differences and begin a conversation with students from different places and with different identities.

"The change starts with people and our relationships with people," she said.

Tate and Garcia-Pusateri agree that a change at Miami must include students more actively participating and seeking out information about diversity and inclusivity.

Garcia-Pusateri believes engaging students not normally involved in diversity-related topics is crucial to changing the culture at Miami. She encourages students to step outside of their comfort zone and attend events.

Tate works with professors to promote ODA events in their classes. She also hopes that students will want to learn and explore black history and attend the various events, even if they are unfamiliar with the topics.

"It has to be on the students as well as us providing the programs - everyone has a role to play."