WSU celebrates Black History Month

Gabriel Hathaway, features reporter

Winona State University hosted several events for Black History Month this February, celebrating diversity and raising cultural awareness. The events included several virtual events as a part of the university’s Expanding Perspectives series.
According to Associate Vice President of the Equity and Inclusive Excellence Office, Jonathan Locust, these events are for the entire campus population but focus on the contributions of people of color.
“Expanding Perspectives is not just focused on Black people,” Locust said.
The stories shared come from a wide range of perspectives and highlight some of the actions taken to help counteract negative narratives, Locust said. Some topics of the Expanding Perspectives series include one from an Indigenous chief talking about Indigenous cuisine, to speakers detailing jazz during the civil rights movement, to a Black man talking about his experience as the associate director of VIP/celebrity associations at the biggest hotel/casino in China.
“During Black History Month, we highlight stories and perspectives from people from underrepresented groups, specifically African Americans,” Locust said.
Beyond the Expanding Perspectives talks, there have been a number of other informational events. These included an open discussion about action steps to equity on Feb. 12, the Equity in the Workplace Symposium on Feb. 17 and the Engaged Ethics Conversation on the Feb. 23.
Locust commented on how impressed he was by the inquisitiveness of students’ questions.
“The students had phenomenal questions!” Locust said. “Questions relating to the material, questions you can tell they had done some reading.”
Events that expand knowledge and increase understanding about diversity is extremely important, Locust said, and he gives three major reasons for this.

First, to prepare people for an increasingly diverse population. Secondly, to increase understanding, build relationships and lower decisiveness. Finally, to help each other, and teach and provide avenues of support.
“By being able to build relationships, by people being able to share and understand perspectives, that really decreases the amount of decisiveness that’s out there,” Locust said.
Sally Rock, a second-year student whose name has been changed to remain anonymous, commented on how the events seem to draw the same people.
“I do think that people who are interested in those issues are the type of people who are going to go to those events, and not necessarily the people that may have never been exposed to that type of education,” Rock said.
Rock does believe that events for diversity education are important but thinks there should be more of a variety of people going to them. A couple ways Rock suggested to increase event attendance is through advertising the events more and making them more interactive and engaging.
“I think they need to make it more interactive. Instead of having someone standing on the stage and talking at you, I feel there needs to be a different dialogue,” Rock said. “I feel like doing different activities that allow you to interact with different students from all walks of life would be really important.”
Speakers for events are chosen by the Office of Equity and Inclusive Excellence, with input taken from interns and student workers at the office, along with suggestions from faculty members.
“At least one to two speakers, every Expanding Perspective, is recommended by a faculty member,” Locust said.
Locust said he is excited for some upcoming guests at Winona State, including Ricky Smith, founder of RAKE (Random Acts of Kindness Everywhere); Houston White, a barber from Minneapolis who franchised his shop and created a clothing line featured at JC Penney’s; and Regina Mustafa, a Winona State alumni living in Rochester who runs various nonprofits based around women in politics and the Islamic faith.