As Chair of the Undergraduate Social Work Department at West Chester University, I had the privilege of gathering in Washington, DC along with two million other people to watch President-Elect Barack Obama, sworn-in to office. While in line I reflected on how many citizens gathered at the Capitol and on the Mall during this cold day. As far as your eyes could see, a ocean of women, men, children, young, middle-aged, older adults, every color, every nationality, every religion, from far and near, all assembled to witness a historical event. Many universities celebrated and publicized the inauguration by hosting special classes, seminars, speakers, parties, and other campuses activities. This most momentous occasion was a day of history that we all lived to see, the first non-white president took the oath of office for President of the United States.
However, my attention was distracted since I realized that West Chester University again missed a unique opportunity to embrace diversity and highlight this once-in-a-lifetime historical occasion. Students, faculty, and administrators of West Chester University that I talked with when I returned all felt the same lost opportunity that I did as a member of West Chester University’s community.
For whatever reason there was not a uniform coordination on how to celebrate this long awaited historical event by weaving current events into the academic curriculum. All students in all majors could have learned valuable lessons regarding equality, social justice, history, and uplifting the human experience beyond race, beyond gender, beyond class. WCU missed an opportunity to negate some of the “isms”, and uplift history. Too often we only focus on the chronicles of horrific racist events in American history. Where was West Chester University leadership on this day?
Last year, Dr. Adler former President of WCU, hosted a special event asking for forgiveness during the period of time when our University denied people of color access to its programs, swimming pools, and dorms. At a time when West Chester University had an opportunity to be proactive we failed again to understand the true meaning of inclusiveness, justice, equality, and celebration for all.
Please remember that this is Black History Month; it is also something that is not widely celebrated at West Chester University, maybe one day that will also change!
Mildred Joyner is a professor of social work at West Chester University. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org