Peters: Black Legacy Month at Dartmouth today
It’s funny to think about the changes that we have all witnessed on this campus. Four years is the perfect amount of time to see and quantify change, especially in a small community such as Dartmouth. It becomes even more intriguing when we reflect upon the fact that most changes we deem as “noticeable” are ones we either strongly agree or strongly disagree with. As someone on my way out of the College, the changes I remember are probably vastly different than the ones you have noticed. I was recently interviewed by a focus group on meaningful moments of my college experience. I talked about my professors, my friends, the acts of student-led activism I was involved in, the events and speakers I will always remember, but something that really stuck out to me was the creation of Black Legacy Month.
During my freshman year from 2014 to 2015, as surprising as it may seem, there was no campus-wide nor campus-sponsored celebration of black history during the month of February. Fortunately, ’18s are now the only class that went without the now incredibly well-funded and supported celebration, though not many know that this programming was not always present on Dartmouth’s campus. “Heritage months” are now accepted as part of normal life here at Dartmouth, such as Latinx Heritage Month in the fall and Asian Pacific American Heritage Month in May. These types of programming have been intermittently present here before but were not sustained, the funding redirected elsewhere and no one the wiser.
When I came to this school from my small and southern town, I came with the expectation that the Ivy League was going to have everything! “If Panama City, Florida has heritage months, Dartmouth has to have them,” I thought. I did not even consider that Black Legacy Month would be left out of the equation. It seemed like such a normal and elementary occurance that when February 2015 came around, I looked up, and to my surprise, noticed there was no programming. To most of my older classmates, February was “V-February,” not Black History Month. It seemed that the school had decided that the events were mutually exclusive and that people should be happy with one and not both.
While the V-Feb campaign, which promotes gender equity, was and is ever important, isn’t there enough money and potential thought power to share Dartmouth’s time and resources? Of course there is. Dartmouth has an endowment of almost $5 billion and a talented student body, faculty and staff. The students and Dartmouth community should not have to choose between V-Feb and Black Legacy Month, and now, finally, they don’t. But these collaborations and the creation of Black Legacy Month and others like it did not just fall out of the sky and appear. They took a lot of commitment, vision, support and effort.
On the last week of February 2015, my fellow classmates Thery Badin ’18 and Marcus Gresham ’18 and I got together and decided we wanted to have a celebration of black history. We applied for money from the Afro-American Society and spoke with Dia Draper, then-interim assistant dean and advisor to black students at the Office of Pluralism and Leadership. We got a whopping $400 for our event. It was not much but that did not matter to us. We ordered an assortment of chocolate truffles, got sparkling cider with plastic champagne flutes and balloons and shipped in elementary school Black History Month posters. We asked African and African American studies and history professor Derrick White and then-Thurgood Marshall Dissertation fellow Alphonso Saville to speak. It was small, but it was the beginning. OPAL hired a new assistant dean and advisor to black students, Kari Cooke, and she really elevated the program, creating special programming and space for black students.
It is now 2018, and Black Legacy Month is approaching once again. We are now a Special Programs and Events Committee funded entity, and our presence has grown. It is beautiful that there are black students at this school who never had a Dartmouth without Black Legacy Month, but it is important to remember that Dartmouth will not blink an eye if those types of programming disappear. If in 10 years, we come back and see that this type of programming has continued, in whatever form, I will view that as a victory.