It’s February which means on the University of Miami campus, we’re celebrating Black Awareness Month. This is a time for everyone to formally recognize the achievements of black Americans and celebrate their history.
Though traditionally UM is a predominantly white institution, we boast diversity in many different ways. When it comes to overall diversity, we score a 92 as compared to the national average of 60.66, according to College Factual. We are ethnically diverse too, with almost half of our student population identifying as Hispanic or Latino. However, we still have one of the lowest percentages of black students compared to other universities in Florida. 7.8% of UM’s students are black or African-American. UF is right behind us with 6.2% while Florida State University has 8.3% and the University of Central Florida and the University of South Florida are roughly 11.1% black.
While recruiting more diverse students will take time, what we can do now do is acknowledge the black students that are already enrolled at UM. How can we pay homage to the alums that have made UM a better place? Our university has a tremendous amount of black history and honestly, we should be ashamed we don’t know more about it.
Our school was desegregated on January 31, 1961, after the Board of Trustees voted to “admit qualified students without regard to race or color beginning in the summer of that year.” Additionally, UM served as a consultant for school districts in South Florida as they began the process of desegregating.
UM’s first black graduates faced continuous strife from their white counterparts but that didn’t stop them from creating change on campus. Among the first black UM students, there were 14 people who marched into the office of Henry Stanford, UM’s third president, and demanded that the administration do more for black students. They were all members of United Black Students, which gained formal recognition in 1967 and is the oldest black organization on campus. These trailblazers helped implement institutional changes to the school by calling for more black student enrollment and scholarship opportunities, as well as more black representation in faculty.
Now, the dream of those 14 black students has been mostly actualized. Black enrollment is higher and there are a number of scholarship opportunities for black and low-income students. UBS is a central force on campus and serves as a support group for most black students. In 1961, UM had just a little over 70 black students enrolled. Today, that number is significantly larger. In a month dedicated to the history and achievement of these students, do what you can to honor them.
Attend the events that are being put on for Black Awareness Month. UBS, Multicultural Student Affairs and other organizations have been hosting different events all month. If you haven’t attended any, show up and make sure your presence is felt before the month ends.
Learn the history of black folks in this country and on this campus, and don’t just put this information in the back of your mind. Internalize it and put it in context. Keep it in your peripheral view as you interact with black students in this particularly sensitive political climate.
And lastly, don’t limit your efforts to just Black Awareness Month. Be aware of black issues and the complexities of blackness for all other 11 months of the year– our black students have no other choice.
Editorials represent the majority view of The Miami Hurricane editorial board.