What We Must Acknowledge During Black History Month

Statue of MLK

Dear Wolfpack Community,

Sheri SchwabFebruary is Black History Month, and we are celebrating Black people as creators, inventors, pioneers and innovators, not only in the United States, but around the world. At the same time, older college yearbook photos of White students in blackface and Klu Klux Klan outfits are surfacing across the nation.

NC State is a microcosm of U.S. society and certainly not exempt from a history of these kinds of acts or the present day manifestations of racism and bigotry. We know, name and acknowledge this reality. Disappointingly, this past weekend, similar pictures were confirmed to be present in NC State’s yearbook, Agromeck, as recently as 1961.

While we may not be surprised by the existence of these pictures from that period, or the numerous contemporary examples, we are nonetheless hurt, distressed, frustrated, disappointed and fatigued. We cannot deny the very real and harmful impacts — particularly for Black students, faculty and staff, then and now — nor should we. We can, and should, face these truths while also amplifying and celebrating African-American people and countless others that have been marginalized in our schools, communities and nation. In fact, doing so allows us to remain steadfast and dedicated to co-creating a better, more just and equitable present and future.

To get there, however, we have to ask some critical questions. Is our campus community prepared to acknowledge the present day reality of harmful “-isms”and not relegate it to “history?” Can we, as a community, dedicate time and space to learn more about the truths of our past and present? Once named, can we acknowledge these uncomfortable realities and take purposeful action to pursue meaningful change?

We often hear calls for administration to “do something.” There is no doubt that leadership is a key factor in personally demonstrating our values, modeling expectations and ensuring community connections are fostered and upheld. In order to do that in meaningful ways, we are committed to not only acknowledging and honoring the great contributions by individuals like Irwin Holmes — the first African American undergraduate student to graduate from NC State — but also to listening, learning and seeking actionable change in as many ways as possible.

Each and every member of the NC State community is invited to join us in this long work. We are all capable of and responsible for “doing something” and challenging ourselves to do more than one “something.”

As the interim vice provost, I, along with so many others, remain committed to examining individual and collective histories and narratives and acknowledging the ways entire communities and groups have been gravely, notably and negatively impacted. While we at NC State are not exempt from earnest examination of the ways racism, bigotry and injustice manifest here, I know there are many people in the Wolfpack community who are deeply dedicated, ready, willing and able to make our present and our future different and better — even if we cannot change the past.

I invite you to check out the rest of this edition of the Diversity Digest to see opportunities to actively engage and learn more. Subscribe to the Digest to stay connected. Attend one of our university’s many workshops, programs and events focused on a variety of diversity and inclusion topics. Encourage a fellow student or co-worker to do the same. If you are a Digest subscriber, you might already be doing these things — consider bringing others along with you. It will take each of us doing something, each and every day, to make this change a reality.

Sheri L. Schwab, J.D., M.Ed., ‘97
Interim Vice Provost for Institutional Equity and Diversity
Title IX and ADA Coordinator
NC State University