Black History Month: What Does That Mean to WCU

Black History Month is a time to share not only stories of influential African Americas, but also celebrate what being black truly means and how it is showcased in communities. Being at Western Carolina University, that might look a little different than in other places, geographically. Though WCU’s numbers are small, communities are strong and united because they must be in order to be heard.

This year, Martin Luther King Jr. Week and Black History Month have flowed into one large ordeal for Western Carolina. Every year the celebration of black excellence on campus seems limited to just one week in January during the celebration MLK as if that alone should be enough. Shortly after that week, there is an entire month dedicated to the observation of inspiring people and significant events for African Americans. It is obvious that Black History Month at Western Carolina is not something that is made a priority.

There is no denying that situations have occurred on Western Carolina’s campus that has been short of welcoming to the African-American community. For example, merely two years ago, the n-word was shouted from dorms in the Scott-Walker part of campus during the annual MLK march. It was then that the WHEE MATTER movement, led by Antonio Oakley (’19) and Tenae Turner (’19), began. Panels were created, demands to higher administration were drafted, and change was called for.

Due to this movement alone, changes have been made since.

  • A new African American Studies Minor has been created and is currently searching for Director for the minor
  • Diversity Statement was adopted and is now included in most syllabi.
  • Diversity EDU training (similar to HAVEN and Alcohol EDU) was added
  • The Community Creed was updated with better language surrounding diversity

These few successful changes brought a newfound, properly motivated push for more diversity on Western Carolina’s campus. Organizers drafted, and members spent the next year of checking in on developments. Despite the hard work of those heading the movement, many of them graduated, and so did the movement.

While diversity has increased in other areas, especially within the LatinX community, the same can’t be said for the African-American community. Starting at 6.7% of African Americans within the student body in 2016, to 5.5% in 2019. With this big of a drop in the past four academic years, what is to be said of what the African American population will look like a few years down the road.

Some predominantly black communities on our campus are National Panhellenic Council, Black Student Union, and Inspirational Gospel Choir. These communities were historically the spaces that African-Americans on campus felt safe and nurtured. Programs such as Project Care, a mentoring program for underrepresented students, exist in hopes of increasing the retention rates of minority students. These programs and communities offer a culture comfort, due to campus and surrounding communities lacking this representation.