Virtual Black OURstory forum charges community into discussion

Throughout the month of February, the University of New Haven community has organized a number of events to celebrate Black History Month (BHM). On Feb. 16, the Division for Student Affairs and Dean Ophelie Rowe-Allen hosted a “Black OURstory” forum to facilitate an open conversation.

Hosted over Zoom, the event facilitated a conversation between university faculty members and current and prior students. Rowe-Allen led the conversation by prompting the group with questions such as “for those of us in particular who are of color, what is our story?”

She spoke of the feeling of holding the burden of “the pressure to educate, the pressure to correct.”

Associate Director of Undergraduate Admissions Phil Howard shared Rowe-Allen’s stance, saying, “A lot of times as a person of color you feel like you… have the burden on you to always speak up… and be the one to hold the torch, and that is a lot of pressure.”

The theme of feeling as if the Black community has to open lines of communication in the community, typically in a manner that weighs on them, was common throughout the forum.

Individuals also spoke on their experiences of discomfort within the university community. One of these individuals, the Deputy Director of Athletics Robin Salters, commented on her presence as a minority in meetings of the athletics department––in some cases, being the only Black woman and one of few Black people in meetings of over 30 people, an experience which she said was “exhausting.”

Aliyah Phipps, community director of Gerber Hall, said that “With certain folks on campus, particularly white men that I have to interact with… I know that the way they speak to me versus some of my other colleagues is not the same, and I feel like sometimes I have to fight for them to listen to me.”

At the current day, students in positions of authority on campus are found seeking to open up avenues of education within their realm of ability.

Jhinelle Dawson, a resident assistant (RA), spoke about her implementation of BHM trivia to get her residents involved, an item praised by many of the faculty present that afternoon. Dawson did indicate, however, that those who participated were limited, and many were people of color themselves.

Many participants commented on the need for an increase in spaces for such discussions like this one. Alongside Howard, who asked the group to consider how to create more opportunities for education, alum Ronald Pierce said there is a need to make people “feel more belonged even if it’s a challenge for them,” through ensuring that there are spaces for students to discuss these struggles.

Danielle Cooper, university professor and director of research of the Tow Youth Justice Institute, said that her desire was to “create a space to acknowledge that not every moment will be right.” The discussion covered the value of frequent conversation in order to increase education within the university community.

The university will be continuing to open up forums for discussion throughout the rest of the month. For those interested in getting involved in BHM, check out the USGA’s Open Forum event or the Meaningful Solidarity event being hosted by the Black Student Union and Muslim Student Association, both taking place on Feb. 24. More information regarding these events can be found on Charger Connection.