Written by: Alyssa Hodges, O’Neill Criminal Justice major and student assistant for the O’Neill Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
On the surface, Black History Month sounds like a great opportunity to celebrate Black history and culture–but why are we limited to one month? Initially, Black History Month was designed to be a week-long celebration of Black culture in public schools but has since been extended to the month of February. Black culture is much too prominent, important, and ever-changing to still be restricted to the shortest month of the year.
It is important to teach the full history of African Americans and to celebrate it throughout the year. Most students in America are taught history through a white European lens from K-12. That was certainly the case for my initial education as a child.
Growing up as a biracial woman, I was surrounded predominantly by white people in an upper-middle-class suburban neighborhood. It was always hard to find where I fit in because I never seemed to be Black enough or white enough–I am quite literally placed right in the middle. I found myself straightening my hair for years trying to resemble more closely what I saw in my community, though it never felt right. Something was still missing. The more I began to learn and dive into Black culture, the more I felt like I was discovering a part of myself that had been neglected for the greater part of my life. Being Black is beautiful and something that deserves to be embraced and celebrated.
When I enrolled in the DEI Dimensions of Diversity certification course in the fall of 2021, I never thought it would provide me the opportunity to work with the O’Neill Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. I didn’t feel like I had enough knowledge or experience compared to other people in this space. After talking it through with some friends and family, I began to realize that I was qualified because I have both lived experience and a passion to further educate myself to help others.
My new position as the student assistant with OODEI will be the launchpad into what I believe will be a long and fulfilling career. The older I get and the more experiences I have in life, the more I realize that not only am I at a disadvantage because of my intersectionality but so are the people I love and care about the most. I want to have tough conversations to educate people on the importance of DEI on campus, in our communities, and throughout the world.
Right now, I’m using my personal and professional experience and knowledge to help create a safe space for students and faculty by helping to launch the Indianapolis branch of the Students for Equity in Public Affairs. SEPA Indy is a student-led organization that will offer a welcoming space for students to engage in diversity, equity, and related issues. We will work to support intersectional identity development and exploration, community development, and support that builds up underrepresented, disenfranchised, and marginalized people through research, advocacy, and action.
Having SEPA Indy on the IUPUI campus can have a huge impact on the students who join, the O’Neill School, and IUPUI. Creating a more diverse and equitable university helps us all. That’s why SEPA Indy membership is not limited to minority students or O’Neill students–it is open to all students at IUPUI.
Students can join by contacting the SEPA Indy advisor Ellise Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org, during a tabling event in the Student Center, and at organizational events.
By getting involved, having difficult yet meaningful conversations, and doing real DEI work, we can stop putting Band-Aids on things and start evoking real change for the Black community here and throughout our nation.