GVSU celebrates resilience during Black History Month


GVL / Annabelle Robinson

Rachel Matuszewski

On a predominately white campus, Black students and students of color face trials their classmates and professors may never fully understand. Still, these students have continued to stay resilient during these situations. Office of Multicultural Affairs intern and student ambassador Paulasia Sims says the word resilient makes a statement. 

During the month of February, the Office of Multicultural Affairs will be hosting a series of virtual events to celebrate Black History Month. This year’s theme is the Resilience of Black Americans, which aims to express the ways Black people have triumphed over obstacles and teaching students how to be vocal when help is needed. 

I think this year it’s an eye-opener for everyone,” Sims said. “This is the time for us to really come together as a community and as individuals and think about the changes that we could make if we were collectively together.”

Events taking place throughout the month include a keynote speaker, Cle Jackson, president of the Grand Rapids chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. 

Jackson will have students revisit things they have experienced while giving special attention to strategies that can be used for the future. More talks include Talk Back Tuesdays, Black Masculinity, Conversations of Color, and Black Trivia Night. Black“haus”tion is an event where graduate students will explain the hardships of being professional and an academic at GVSU. Sims will join students on the panel Black Voices: Better or Worse to share her experiences in the classroom. 

“Even being the only student of color in your class, I’ve experienced that and I didn’t realize how much the experience would hold weight over me,” Sims said.

But Black History Month is not only about allowing all students to be heard. It is also about broadening students’ knowledge of Black history in our country. 

“It is a vibrant part of our American story,” associate professor in Educational Foundations, Chasity Bailey-Fakhoury said. “In a nation that has suppressed this history, it is important that Black history is told and celebrated to redress past wrongs, help us understand our present moment, and guide our future as a nation.  Unfortunately, many U.S citizens do not fully understand our American story.  We have been miseducated, misinformed, told half-truths, and out-right lied to about our nation’s history so it becomes important that the centering and telling of Black history occurs on historically white campuses because it is still not woven into the everyday K-12 curriculum; college may be the first time many students are exposed to Black history beyond slavery, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Rosa Parks.”

Discussions surrounding personal experience have the opportunity to open students’ and faculty’s’ eyes to racial injustice and begin to learn from Black and students of color. 

“I think sometimes because we all have our own unique experiences, that we don’t realize that others’ experiences are different from ours,” associate director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs Juanita Davis said. “I’m hoping that we will create some empathy and understanding connected to everyone’s lived experiences.” 

Beyond Black History Month, Bailey-Fakhoury recommends a variety of resources for students to stay active in racial justice. There are several opportunities on GVSU’s campus, including enrolling in African and African American Studies (AAAS) courses offered, reading books and watching films from the University Libraries, and attending events sponsored by the Office of Multicultural Affairs. For ways to stay involved within the Greater Grand Rapids Area, Bailey-Fakhoury suggests reaching out to the Grand Rapids NAACP, the Urban League of West Michigan, or the Grand Rapids African American Museum and Archives. 

Yet, Bailey-Fakhoury also provides ways to fight racial injustice on a personal level. 

“There are myriad ways that students can actively promote racial justice: engage in deep introspection to uncover and deconstruct their own stereotypical, racialized beliefs; continue to be students of Black history, arts, and culture; attend events that further their knowledge about racial justice movements; have difficult conversations with loved ones about racism, anti-Blackness, & how to dismantle these systems; support & engage in local organizing efforts; find their political voice and advocate for racially just policies & legislation just to name a few,” Bailey-Fakhoury said. 

Sims hopes students will lean into resilience and use their voice to do better when it comes to racial injustice on the college campus. 

“I’m hoping to teach students to not be afraid to speak up, to know that your opinion is valid, your experiences are valid, your voice matters,” Sims said. 

Access to the virtual events can be found at https://www.gvsu.edu/oma/black-history-month-celebration-24.htm