February is recognized as Black History Month, a time to celebrate Black culture and to honour the legacies of Black people who have changed the course of history. At McGill, several campus groups have organized events throughout February centered around Black History Month and the nuances of the university experience for Black students.
This year, events taking place as part of the celebration of Black History Month at McGill are being officially orchestrated by three groups on campus: the Black Students’ Network of McGill (BSN), the Social Equity and Diversity Education Office (SEDE), and McGill University itself.
Adding to the excitement surrounding these activities was the institutional recognition of Black History Month by the McGill Senate in 2017. As Chidera Ihejirika, Project Manager for the Vice President External of BSN, explained, “the fact that we are able to legitimize this celebration was a stepping stone in embedding Black History Month into McGill campus culture.”
BSN, in conjunction with SEDE and McGill, has hosted many events this month pertaining to different facets of Black culture, both in academia and beyond. On the first day of the month, CKUT, McGill’s campus radio station, dedicated twelve hours to Afrocentric programming on a show titled “Black Talk.” The broadcast included music, news reporting, and editorial content from Black students in relation to their lived experiences and their relationship to the Black community at McGill.
On February 15, BSN organized an advanced screening of Black Panther, the highly-anticipated Marvel movie which features an entirely Black cast. Other events planned for Black History Month include the Black Women in Leadership speaker series hosted by BSN and the McGill Women in Leadership Association on February 22, and on February 23, Soul Sampler: A Taste of Gospel will be held at the Newman Center of McGill University. Additionally, BSN is hosting weekly coffee hours every Friday in the BSN office.
Other organizations at McGill like the African Studies Students’ Association (ASSA), the Caribbean Students Society (CSS), and the McGill African Students’ Society (MASS) have also been working to promote events related to Black History Month. Starting February 1, ASSA has published weekly Facebook posts that celebrate Black individuals, and is hosting a screening of an African film on February 22. Additionally, CSS participated in the McGill International Students’ Network’s (MISN) International Food Festival on February 15, sharing Caribbean cuisine with McGill students.
Despite the many events designed to honour Black culture and history at McGill this February, the university has faced criticism for only officially recognizing the celebration of Black History Month in 2017. As the Canadian Government designated February as Black History Month in 1995, some students feel that McGill has not done enough to promote the celebration of Black history and culture.
Reem Bushara, Vice-President Internal of the ASSA and Secretary for CSS, applauds BSN and SEDE for their rigorous commitment to planning and promoting Black History Month. However, she added that “other McGill bodies can and should be doing more to support Black History Month initiatives in order to acknowledge and celebrate the history, culture and experiences of Black people and Black students at the university.”
Bushara, now in her third year at McGill, explained that her experience as a Black student has not always been easy. “I moved to Canada for university from a predominately black country, and I can definitely say I have never felt so hyper-aware of my blackness in my life.” She went on to say that events like Black History Month serve as “a reminder of the fact that Black people are powerful and beautiful and intelligent. To celebrate and reflect on this, within the same university setting where you often feel marginalized, is very empowering.”
For non-Black students who wish to engage with Black History Month, Ihejirika encourages practicing respect: “In terms of non-Black students, I expect what I expect every day of my life: respect for the richness of Black history and the cultures and traditions that come with it. If you are not Black and you are interested in celebrating Black History Month, there is a way to engage without appropriating, disrespecting or mocking blackness.”