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CBS holds Black Awareness Week to promote Black student visibility

Students participate in an exercise deconstructing whiteness. Photo by Reina Shah.

This past week, student organization Concerned Black Students (CBS) put together Black Awareness Week to promote Black awareness, improve Black student visibility and normalize Black students on campus.
“I’d like to emphasize that these events are not only for Black people,” said CBS Secretary Ty Pratt ’20. “We’re not trying to isolate people. We want to bring everyone together and make Blackness more normalized.”
There has been a Black awareness event every day this week, including a Black current events symposium, two student panels, a monthly CBS meeting on visibility, a movie night, a closed group Black Intercollegiate Alliance meeting and a Saturday night party called Freaknik.
CBS re-implemented Black Awareness Week after rediscovering the week-long event in the CBS bi-laws.
“We have Black History Month in spring semester, but what are we doing in fall semester that could bring attention and awareness to the black experience at Grinnell?” posed CBS Lead Organizer Autumn McMillan ’20.
Films and posters were set up on the 3rd floor of the Alumni Recitation Hall to kick-off Black Awareness Week. Some of the posters were related to recent bias-related incidents on campus, while another celebrated eight U.S. cities that recently elected a Black mayor for the first time. One interactive poster was titled “#Grinnell So White,” with space for students to comment.
A student panel on intellectual fulfillment took place Tuesday night, in which Professor Stephanie Jones, education, facilitated a discussion with four Black students at Grinnell. The theme was how Black identity intersects with studies at Grinnell.
Topics ranged from the difficulty of adapting to a predominately white institution (PWI), to coping with being around so many white people interested in what it’s like to be Black. Students also discussed how Grinnell could be more accommodating for Black students and how students can connect with Black professors most appropriately.
A monthly CBS meeting occurred at Spencer Grill on Wednesday. Students planned to dress in black and tape their mouths shut for the day.
“Taping your mouth is a practice used by many oppressed groups … as a symbol of our silencing, of people ignoring us and our existence and treating us as if we’re invisible … I think it’s a statement that needs to be made,” McMillan said.
During the Thursday movie night, CBS showed a film called “Higher Learning.”
“[The film] follows a group of Black freshmen in their first year at a PWI,” McMillan said. “They talk a lot about race, socioeconomic status and gender lines that they face. … It really speaks to the Black experience at a PWI.”
Today’s Friday student panel focuses on sexual assault awareness.
“[The panel will discuss] the general things about sexual assault awareness on college campuses and specifically how it affects Black people,” Pratt said. “Sexual assault victims are more often Black women and Black people in general.”
The Saturday Black Intercollegiate Alliance meeting represents, “the launching of the first ever alliance between Black student unions within our Iowa area,” according to McMillan.
“I want to make sure this keeps going,” McMillan said, “We’re better together, and our voices are stronger if we’re together … Us Black people in Iowa, we have to see each other, we have to recognize that it’s not just us who are here.
“The Black Intercollegiate Alliance was actually inspired by the CBS manifesto that happened in 1971,” McMillan continued. “CBS chained themselves to the library in Burling and they shut down the whole building and they had ten demands.”
Freaknik Part 24, in honor of Kobe, will be held Saturday night as a finale to Black Awareness Week.
“Freaknik historically starts in Atlanta, and it was this day where everybody just took to the streets and just partied … and everybody t’d up,” McMillan said. “So it’s to carry on that legacy. This is CBS’s party of the semester, where we just get wild, let go, let free and have fun.”

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