Dear College of Science Faculty and Staff,
This is Black History Month, and a time to affirm our College of Science and Northeastern commitment to anti-racist policies, to a culture of respect, to action against systemic racism and towards equity. We are working hard, and I want to thank every person in the College who is participating in our sincere efforts to meet these goals.
In October 2018, I was invited by the MIT Black Students Union to chaperone their trip to Washington DC, marking the 50th Anniversary of BSU founding. It was a great honor that my students had included their white professor in this historic event. The trip was joyous and profound, and in considering Black History Month, I want to share with you two transformative aspects.
The first was a tour of the National Portrait Gallery, a fine museum where we encountered the brilliant artist Titus Kaphar. If you do not know of Mr. Kaphar, start with his TED Talk ‘Can Art Amend History? In eleven minutes you will get a new view of Black History. ‘What I’m trying to show you, he says, ‘is how to shift your gaze slightly’. Mr. Kaphar’s paintings, including his famous work Behind the Myth of Benevolence (2014) highlight racism in the most creative and pointed ways.
And the second was the time we spent in the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Here’s a context to start – the average transit time in most museums is 45 min, the average transit in this one is four hours. You begin in the windowless basement, entering the slave ships four hundred years ago, and you weep. With anger and horror that Africans were stolen from their homes, forced across the ocean to die, that people were sold like goods. What kind of humans could commit these horrors? I think that any Black person on this side of the Atlantic retains the right to be angry at the hundreds of years of slavery, and the continuing injustices against Black citizens.
But the Museum moves you along, through exhibits showing the oh so slow and grudging granting of rights to Black people in the United States. And then up, up ramps that move through the Civil Rights era, and up and up into the triumphs of African American culture. Into the stunning accomplishments of Black people in every sphere. From horror that will never diminish, the vibrant African American culture that emerged occupies the apex of the Museum. It is a Power that slavery and perduring racial injustice cannot quell.
People stay in the Museum of African American History and Culture for many hours because it catalyzes conversation and invites deep, open reflection. I think it is the most important Museum in our country. It is closed for COVID, but you can visit virtually for a range of activities celebrating Black History Month.
Black History Month has its origins in 1915, and expanded to a month-long observation in 1976. Our wonderful Associate Dean for Equity, Prof. Randall Hughes has compiled ways our College of Science is honoring contributions and achievements of Black scientists this month, as follows.
- We are excited to announce the Black History Month Science Symposium set up in collaboration with AD Kevin Thompson, on Feb 23, 12-1pm. This event will be moderated by current students Efosa Enoma and Nathalie Myrthil and will celebrate the achievements of four College of Science graduates: Dr. Camille Martin, PhD ’20, Ms. Crystal McKinnon, MS ’20, Dr. Mary Watkins, MS ’89, PhD ’94, and Dr. E. Leo Whitworth LA ’71, MBA ’94, DDS. Please register to join us for this important event.
- We invite you to share the stories of Black students, faculty, alumni, and colleagues, to be featured on our social media in the month of February. You can also contribute profiles to the African Americans in STEM Wikipedia Edit-A-Thon hosted by the National Museum of African American History and Culture and blackcomputeHER.org for National Engineering Week (Feb. 21-27) and Women’s History Month (Feb 28-Mar 6).
- We encourage you to take part in the 21-day Racial Equity Habit Challenge to learn about actions you can take to promote racial equity within COS and beyond. If you would like to participate in group discussions during the challenge, please contact AD Hughes.
Hazel Sive PhD
Dean, College of Science