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Black History Month demands attention from students, people of all races

The following piece, written by the editorial editors, reflects the majority opinion of the editorial board.

When Miami's new president, Gregory Crawford, visited campus for open forums last week, he was asked about diversity. A faculty member questioned whether Crawford would increase engagement during Black History Month next year, remarking that right now, Kroger is doing a better job of acknowledging the month-long occasion.

Throughout the month of February, the Oxford Kroger has put up displays showcasing historical black figures and their achievements.

Countless other businesses and organizations are also recognizing Black History Month - on Feb. 1, Google's ever-changing banner featured an illustration of Frederick Douglass against a background of his newspaper, The North Star; Macy's stores nationwide are collaborating with "culture and fashion influencers," as well as activists, for panel discussions and receptions; Nike created a limited-time brand, inspired by black athletes whose proceeds will benefit the brand's Ever Higher Fund to provide mentoring to African-American youth.

With corporations, it is questionable whether the intent is to inform or just to increase sales. However, Miami is an educational institution - we should be doing everything we can to educate people about Black History Month. And unfortunately, this year, it doesn't seem we are doing much.

This February marks the 40th anniversary of Black History Month, which has been officially recognized by the U.S. government since 1976. Before that, black history was observed the second week in February to coincide with the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. This week of recognition began in 1926, thanks to Carter G. Woodson, a black historian and author.

Black History Month is given a lot of attention in grade schools nationwide. Most of us have memories of listening to Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech, reading books about slavery or putting on performances about historical figures like Rosa Parks.

But what about at Miami? February is drawing to a close, and it doesn't seem that Black History Month has had an impact on most students. In fact, it seems black history has been overlooked altogether, with limited university-sponsored programming.

Black student organizations may be doing more independently to recognize Black History Month. For example, the Black Student Action Association hosted a trivia night on Monday. But the lack of acknowledgment from Miami's administration is unacceptable.

It is frustrating to hear comments like, "Racism doesn't exist anymore, so why do we still have Black History Month?" or "Why do black people get a whole month devoted to them?"

Racism does still exist, and to try to dispute that is ignorant. It can be seen in poverty rates, college admission and retention statistics and current events like the multitude of policy brutality cases in the past few years.

There is a specific month devoted to black history because black history in the United States has been marginalized to the point that, if there is not a designated month, it won't be acknowledged.

Here at Miami, black students represent a small fraction of the population - they make up just 2.9 percent of the incoming class of the 2015 academic year. Disappointingly, this number has remained steady over the last 30 years, with black students accounting for 2.8 percent of the total in 1976, 2.5 percent in 1981 and 2.6 percent in 1992.

Regional campuses have a slightly larger black population, with black students representing 5.2 percent of undergraduates at Middletown and 9.3 percent at Hamilton.

But it shouldn't matter if there is one black student or 1,000. Black history isn't just for black students or black Americans. It is part of our nation's history. It is white people's history, too. And we need to acknowledge it.

People have a way of forgetting unfavorable parts of the past, like slavery, segregation and other forms of discrimination against African-Americans.

But any uncomfortable emotion it causes us, like embarrassment or guilt, is nothing compared to the oppression that black Americans suffered. We owe it to them to remember.

Years of suffering cannot properly be recognized through a film series, or a "soul food" night at a single dining hall. Miami needs to be more proactive with planning events to honor Black History Month.

There are opportunities for various forms of engagement. Perhaps an assembly where black students reflect on their experiences at Miami would be eye-opening to those of us who don't have to deal with the challenges being a minority student brings. On the other hand, students might be drawn to something more upbeat, like a performance honoring jazz and hip-hop musicians, and other icons that have influenced our culture.

In addition to more university programming, students need to take responsibility to educate themselves. We need to get out of our comfort zones and try to learn more about the diverse types of people around us.

Because, overall, the most important lesson to be learned during black history month - and every month, for that matter - is that while we should respect one another's differences, we have a lot more in common than we realize.