Black History Month events draw low attendance

Bryan Wroten

Low attendance at Black History Month events is a cause for concern among black student leaders.

But it isn’t much of a surprise.

Attendance at the events was generally low, said Matt Cox, president of Black United Students. He said he attended as many events as he could during the month to show support for other organizations and noticed the small audiences.

“For our speakers, it was kind of disappointing,” he said.

He said BUS and other organizations expected higher attendance rates during the month, especially for the speaker Ilyasah Shabazz, daughter of Malcolm X. He said hearing her speak was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

The problem of low attendance is not unique to this year or any one race, said Mwatabu Okantah, director of the Center of Pan-African Culture. He said part of the problem is the current generation of students is not interested in anything beyond their own personal lives.

For example, he cited the speech made by keynote speaker Manning Marable during the university’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrations. During Marable’s speech, a large group of students stood up and walked out of the ballroom.

“To just get up in the middle of a keynote address is the height of rudeness,” Okantah said.

He asked what could have been more important than listening to the same speech to which President Carol Cartwright, Provost Paul Gaston and several deans were listening.

George Garrison, professor of Pan-African studies, said student attendance at programming varies from year to year. He said each class has different interests and personalities. He said he is not too concerned about low numbers at events because it could change by next year.

“I have seen interests in everything wax and wane,” he said.

He said despite low attendance, the programming must continue. It is the faculty’s academic mission to put on events such as these. He said he would teach at the same professional level to five students as he would to 30.

Cox said those who did attend the events told him they enjoyed the program and were glad they came.

“The good thing was people got something out of the speaker they saw,” he said. “Hopefully they will spread the word.”

Okantah said there is too much stress put on attendance in terms of an event’s success. He said the student allocations process should take the blame for this. He said the Allocations Committee asks more questions about headcount than the content of an event.

“There is no single program on this campus that is going to benefit the whole university,” he said, “as if the whole university is going to stop for it.”

Sasha Parker, BUS political officer and grievances chair, said she hopes to increase publicity for BUS and Black History Month events. She said while this year they made posters and fliers, they did not have enough manpower to hand out everything to students.

She said she wants to motivate people to get involved and see the importance of the organizations and their programming. She said The Dive is a good example of a group with a strong student membership.

“They are dedicated,” she said. “They eat, sleep and breathe it. We need to do that.”

Contact minority affairs reporter Bryan Wroten at [email protected].