Black History Month
Thursday, February 2, 2017
By Christian Kiemele
Black History Month is a time when as a nation, we step back to honor the legacy of African-Americans in our country. In doing so, some stop and compare the African-American experience of the past to the one today. We sat down with Meshayla Cox, a Student Coordinator with the Student Involvement Network (SIN) and an African-American senior who studies Spanish and African-American Studies, to ask her about her experiences at the University of Montana (UM).
Cox said overall her experience here has been positive. “I mean, micro-aggressions happen on a daily basis, but it’s nothing that I can’t handle,” she says. “I’ve been pretty lucky with the group of people I’m around. And I’ve been fortunate enough to be surrounded by people who support me and understand that I go through different things."
Along with working for SIN, Meshayla is involved with different student groups as well. She is a part of the UM Advocates and the Black Student Union (BSU). In these groups, Cox was able to take comfort with being around like-minded people, and forming a small family with their members.
“The biggest part has been that I came to identify with different groups on campus that helped me be comfortable in who I am,” she says. “Just knowing that I had that sense of community, and knowing that I had new people who weren’t going to judge me, was really important.”
Cox has faced her share of adversity on campus, however. While she rarely faces blatant racism, she faces the attribution of stereotypes towards her based on her race.
“There are situations where there might be someone who really believes stereotypes about a black person and attributes them to me,” she says. “They might think that I’m uneducated, come from a low-income family, or that I’m the angry, sassy black woman when I get passionate about something.”
Cox has worked with the Black Student Union to help other African-American students on campus. “The BSU, as a collective, is so important for students,” she says. “You can have really amazing allies on this campus, but it’s not the same as identifying with someone in their struggles.” The BSU has put on rallies and educational events to help people understand the African-American experience, but more importantly, it brings African-American students into a space where they can be understood by others who are the same race.
The number one piece of advice Cox says she would give incoming African-American students would be to join the BSU. “You know you’re not going through any of your experiences alone,” she says. “I was lucky to fall into other groups where I have an amazing support system, that isn’t always the case for other people.” The BSU not only helps students feel understood, she points out, but it also helps them find places and services in the community that they normally need outsourced, such as where they get their haircut.
Cox also says that having events like Black History Month is incredibly supportive for African-American students on campus. “It’s important to know that you have that support,” she says. “To feel like you can come to a campus where they’re going to celebrate your heritage, when you’re so far away from people who look like you, is really important. It lets you know that you have that support.”
To celebrate Black History Month, and to show the support for African-American students that Cox has said is so important, the University Center will be putting on several events throughout February. For information on dates, times, and locations of these events visit the Black History Month event page here.