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Dean's Blog: Understanding the past to build a brighter future

Dean Fernando Miralles-Wilhelm
Dean Fernando Miralles-Wilhelm

According to Ronald Reagan’s presidential proclamation, Black History Month is “a time to celebrate the many achievements of blacks in every field, from science and the arts to politics and religion. It not only offers black Americans an occasion to explore their heritage, but it also offers all Americans an occasion and opportunity to gain a fuller perspective of the contributions of black Americans to our Nation. The American experience and character can never be fully grasped until the knowledge of black history assumes its rightful place in our schools and our scholarship.”

Monday, February 1st marked the start of Black History Month, a celebration that every U.S. president has officially designated since 1976 as an opportunity to highlight significant contributions by the African American community.

Did you know the commemoration’s start had local origins? First celebrated as Negro History Week since 1926, the concept of promoting achievements by Black Americans and other peoples of African descent was created in part by noted Virginia-born and Harvard-trained historian, educator and publisher, Carter G. Woodson, (yes, nearby Woodson High School’s namesake). This History article describes how it evolved from the second week in February to the month-long commemoration we have today to help expand our understanding and build a more inclusive culture.

This year, the College of Science will honor and celebrate prominent African American scientists from the past, present, and future. Throughout the month, in addition to highlighting prominent historical figures, we are sharing achievements of African Americans from across scientific disciplines as a way to inspire our scientific community while highlighting opportunities across the Mason campus to engage and build connections.

In addition to sharing these fascinating stories across our social media channels [Instagram, Facebook, Twitter] the university and the college will bring many other opportunities to help build your understanding of this affinity group. For example, Mason University Life will host reading groups on books for professional and graduate student staff & faculty that are designed to help us on our anti-racist journey.  Reading groups in Spring 2021 will include shared facilitation by all group members. Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist is our common read this semester and will be provided to participants at no cost. Look for the recent email which shares the details of this semester-long initiative. Want to participate? You can fill out the form here to sign up (by COB, February 15th).

A recent Naturearticle The missing colours of chemistry, noted "The racial disparities that permeate society have become much more visible -- particularly to those who typically have not suffered from such inequities. They have recently been highlighted by the increased profile of the Black Lives Matter movement and protests against police brutality, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic, which has been found to disproportionately affect certain communities, notably Black people. Inequality and racism also prevail in scientific institutions." We are pursuing specific efforts to address inequality and access, within the College and across Mason.

In our learning community, I will always encourage you to take steps to learn more, do more and be more. What can you do to grow? Read the book, explore the accomplishments we highlight, even share the stories on your own social channels or within conversation with friends, family and colleagues. The more we recognize and celebrate our differences, the better we will be able to truly see, hear, and appreciate our diverse perspectives.