The University of Dallas has often balanced its small size with an abundance of academic talks, campus forums and departmental events, each with a wide range of subject matters.
Nevertheless, as the month of February closes, one annual event remains almost entirely unexplored on the UD campus: Black History Month.
Identifying the absence of Black History Month events at UD is an observation that might easily provoke controversy. However, starting the discussion may also prompt UD students and faculty to enact what they come here to do: understand and articulate the complexities of certain issues.
Dr. Susan Hanssen, chair of the history department, defended the university’s less than robust recognition of the national month of remembrance.
“All across the country, you have Black History Month as a remedial attempt to make sure that everyone has had some exposure to the question of slavery and civil rights and the central role that it has played in our history,” Hanssen said.
Hanssen says UD does not need that.
“The University of Dallas actually has a hefty Core of classes that gives every student on campus –– regardless of their major –– an exposure not only to the entirety of Western Civilization, but also to the whole American story, with the slavery question and the Civil War at the center of American Civilization I and the civil rights question and Martin Luther King Jr.’s work right at the center of American Civilization II,” Hanssen said.
“So whether someone is a ceramics major or whether someone is a business major or whether someone is a philosophy major, they have to take history,” Hanssen said.“Within American history they have to encounter this topic [of black history]. So the extracurricular remedial quality of Black History Month is not appropriate to the University of Dallas.”
When asked why the university does not host Black History Month events, Student Programming at UD (SPUD) declined to comment.
Dr. Scott Crider, the associate Dean of Constantin College and a professor of the English Department, has a different perspective on the university’s approach. He believes the absence of Black History Month events suggests the UD community must expand its scope of interest to include an appreciation of black culture.
“The University of Dallas Core curriculum is a very good one, but it does not always incorporate –– even in a limited, representative way –– all of human civilization,” Crider said. “One of its strengths is also a weakness: a sharp focus on Western European culture.”
“Asia, the Middle East and Africa are mostly missing, of course,”Crider said. “But, because African-American culture is itself American and therefore Western, at least in part, it should have a greater place in our curriculum.”
However, Crider conceded:
“Through American Civilization I and II, the History Department does a better job in this than many other departments, including my own. I appreciate that students have read [the works of] Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King Jr.”
Crider, however, asserted that these works alone do not preclude the advantages of recognizing Black History Month.
“We could use Black History Month to remind us all that without a knowledge of spirituals, jazz and hip-hop, one’s musical education is incomplete; without a knowledge of Malcolm X, one’s American political education is incomplete; without a knowledge of Baldwin, Du Bois, Ellison and Morrison, one’s literary education is incomplete –– you get the idea,” Crider said.
As Black History Month passes by unmentioned and uncelebrated, UD’s silence prompts reflection, not for the sake of guilt, but for the purpose of evaluation and, potentially, proactive engagement with the university’s programming.
“I would encourage any students who would desire [Black History Month] programming in the future to reach out to the Office of Student Affairs,” Director of Student Affairs Seth Oldham said. “We would love to partner with you.”