By Leah Wilkinson
Although Bellarmine’s undergraduate enrollment is only 5.3 percent African-American, there are many events celebrating Black History Month throughout February.
The Office of Identity and Inclusion (better known to the Bellarmine community as the OII) is hosting 31 events and programs during the month, with some days packed with two or three offerings.
“When it comes to Black History Month, it’s celebrating the achievements and accomplishments and the contributions of a population that may feel like they’re not being celebrated,” said Emily Dixon, assistant director of the OII. “I think that’s very important for the students and some of the faculty and staff that are navigating through academia where it can be kind of hard to be anything but the majority.”
According to local historian and longtime Bellarmine faculty member Father Clyde Crews, the university has a rich history in the fight for Civil Rights.
Crews said Alfred Horrigan, the founding president of then-Bellarmine College, insisted that the school be fully integrated from its beginnings in 1950. According to Crews, Horrigan and other faculty wrote public letters to political leaders in Washington in support of the Civil Rights Act a few years later.
“My impression is that the [Office of Identity and Inclusion is] continuing that tradition,” Crews said. “Even to the point of where that office is located — there’s a visibility there and you can’t help but see that there is such an office on the campus,”
According to Crews, Franciscan Father John Loftus — Bellarmine’s first dean — was also heavily involved in the Civil Rights movement, marching with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the March on Frankfort, and even giving students who attended the march the day off.
Despite Bellarmine’s history in support of civil rights, students like senior Taylor Garrison believe the school could do more to celebrate the month.
“To my knowledge, the university hasn’t really honored Black History Month besides decorating UDH and the different meals, and I could be wrong but I think that was done through the Office of Identity and Inclusion,” Garrison said.
Garrison said this may be due in large part to the lack of celebration of Black History Month in the United States altogether.
“However, I will say I don’t think our country does enough to recognize black history during Black History Month or any month, to be honest. Black history is all around us every single day, so I’m not really surprised our university doesn’t do much because our country doesn’t do much to celebrate black history.”
Longtime Bellarmine faculty member Dr. Bob Pfaadt, former vice president of student affairs and former dean of admissions, said he also believes Bellarmine needs to do more to celebrate Black History Month on campus.
“I don’t see it right out in front, you know? It’s not something that’s there,” Pfaadt said. “It’s not something that stands out, and to be honest I think it’s one of the weaknesses we have,” he continued. “I think today we are much more diverse than we used to be, and so Black History Month is probably a lot more noticeable around campus with a lot more events, and yet I don’t think we do enough, to be perfectly honest,”
Pfaadt said he believes the administration could do more to celebrate the month.
“There should be some kinds of programs [in which] something is done, not just by the students but by the administration, in regard to recognizing this,” Pfaadt said. “In the history of Bellarmine in the ‘50s and ‘60s there was nothing; there was no Black History Month at that time.”
As time passed, Bellarmine gradually gained higher enrollment numbers for African-Americans, but even then the male-to-female ratio amongst African-Americans lacked balance.
“We were very successful with [African-American] females and unsuccessful with males,” Pfaadt said. “I noticed that one time, back in the ‘80s when I was in administration, we had three percent of our student body who were African-Americans, and of that three percent over 90 percent were female,” Pfaadt said.
According to Pfaadt, when African-American males did come to Bellarmine, the great majority were from Catholic high schools.
“We [did have] an African-American basketball player and he became head of the student body,” Pfaadt said. “That was in the ‘80s.”
Crews said the university hired its first African-American full-time faculty member — Dr. Henry Wilson, a chemistry professor — in 1955. Today, a plaque honoring Wilson sits outside the OII.
“Knowing that there are all of these people that contributed to education itself but then to society overall, you definitely need to learn that and I will say it’s not necessarily taught or talked about as much in American history as it relates to now, but it’s something everybody should know and everybody should take pride in,” Dixon said.
According to the OII, there are still several Black History Month events for the Bellarmine community to attend:
Feb. 21: BSU Silent Auction 4:30 p.m. in Hilary’s
Feb. 22: Activism Then and Now: Black Power and BHM 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. (location TBD)
Feb. 22: Traditional Negro Spiritual Vocal Competition: High School Division 1 p.m. in Cralle Theatre
Feb. 22: Black History Month Fashion Show 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. in the Black Box Theatre
Feb. 24: Coffee with the Pros: Black Professionals 4:30 p.m. in the OII
Feb. 25: What’s Cooking in UDH? Mardi Gras UDH
Feb. 25: 14th Annual Thomas Merton Black History Month Lecture 7 p.m. in Hilary’s
Feb. 26: Wakanda Wednesday 4:30 p.m. in the OII
Feb. 27: Penny Wars Reveal/BHM Kickback 6 p.m. in the OII
Feb. 28: Home Food Friday noon to 2 p.m. in the OII
Dixon said links for all events can be found on Engage at https://engage.bellarmine.edu/.