[Emma McCabe | Designer]
On the second floor of the Moseley Student Center in the African American Resource Room, Elon University students, faculty and staff members can find a wall of firsts. In framed photographs, one can find anyone from the first black student to attend Elon to the first black student to be inducted into Phi Beta Kappa.
In 1963, Glenda Phillips became the first black person to attend Elon. In the 55 years since then, there have been dozens more firsts and achievements for the black community. Elon’s administration has made diversity and inclusion a priority for our campus, and with that has come an increase in enrollment of black students and more positive experiences.
It is no question that our community has come a long way since Phillips attended Elon, but that does not mean the fight for equality, inclusivity and respect on campus is close to over.
Black History Month is a time to recognize and celebrate the growth and accomplishments of black people within our different communities. It is a time for reflection and celebration, but this cannot be without criticism and looking toward growth.
There is a great difference between achievements in diversity and achievements in inclusivity. While the black community has grown considerably in size and prominence at Elon, racially insensitive incidents of the last several years — including students standing on an NPHC fraternity’s plaque and students dressing in racially insensitive costumes to parties — have shown the ongoing need for in depth conversations on what it means to be an inclusive community.
These events may be far different from what the first black students at Elon experienced, but we shouldn’t settle for an experience that is better, but one that is the best.
Equality isn’t just about the number of students of color on campus or the photographs of students achieving firsts — it’s about the need for a quality of life at Elon that is consistent with the experiences of all students. Increasing the racial and ethnic diversity of our campus can help with inclusivity, but it is not the only way.
Throughout Black History Month, the Elon community should consider ways in which we can continue to move forward towards a more inclusive campus where everyone will feel like they truly belong.
This month, consider attending some events across campus for Black History Month, such as the Circle of Hope Dialogue Series, showing of the film “The Mountaintop” in Turner Theatre or the Black History Month Dance Concert. These events are excellent ways to celebrate while also considering need for change.
It’s important to reflect and celebrate, but we cannot let ourselves settle in our success. Instead, we must constantly be looking forward to how we can still improve, while always considering the immeasurable value of the accomplishments of those before us.