As part of the University’s celebration of Black History Month, my classmates and I organized an event that brought together four of the University’s distinguished Black professors. I’m glad it offered the University community an important opportunity to hear their voices.
March 2, 2021
I listened intently to Dr. Randall Horton as he read a poem by Thomas Sayers Ellis to a group of more than 30 University of New Haven students and faculty.
“All their stanzas look alike…except one, except one exceptional one. Exceptional or not, one is not enough…” he read. The poem, titled “All Their Stanzas Look Alike,” captured the essence of our discussion that night. There isn’t enough Black representation in academia because we face extra hurdles in order to acquire opportunities.
"We have to work harder than the person down the street from us just to get to the same place," Dr. Danielle Cooper, one of the other panelists said.
As I listened to the discussion unfold, I knew we made the right decision to host this event. These voices needed to be heard.
‘Really resonated with me’
As President of Honors Student Council this year, I challenged myself to effectively fulfill our organization’s mission: engage and educate the University community. So, to celebrate Black History Month, our organization wanted to highlight some of the Black faculty at our University. I helped to facilitate brainstorming and event planning for our feature event, which was titled “Black Excellence in Higher Education.”
While our members spent time coming up with questions, recommending professors, and creating marketing material, I sent an invitation to four distinguished Black faculty members asking if they would be interested in sitting on the panel. Dr. Randall Horton, Dr. Danielle Cooper, Dr. Robert Sanders, and Dr. Kendell Coker all promptly agreed.
Hearing our panelists speak so passionately about their personal experiences really resonated with me as I am always hyper aware of the way that I look. The curly afro that grows out of my scalp, the colorful headscarves I wear to represent my faith, and the color of my skin are all physical characteristics that make me stand out in the environments I work in.
‘You have to act on it’
Like Dr. Sanders, who spent his career in engineering, law, and now academia, I’m used to being in predominantly white environments. Because of this, I spend a lot of time building my confidence and telling myself that I deserve to be here and that I belong in my campus and work communities. So, when Dr. Coker shared that because he was one of the few Black people in his work environment, people often addressed him with a sort of heightened scrutiny, I easily related.
But the reason we ponder whether we deserve to be in the room or not isn't because we aren't good enough. It is because we often aren’t given a chance. Dr. Horton talked about his frustrations with the lack of minority representation in general, and at the University of New Haven, "you have to act on it, you can't just talk about [increasing diversity]. You have to make a commitment to get over that hurdle and then do something about it.”
Listening to our faculty speak out at our event solidified my passion to “do something about it,” and I remain motivated to help our University community become a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive one. I hope our student organization and many others like it inspire their fellow students as well as faculty to do the same.