Shaun Harper, keynote speaker, helped kick off  Black History Month at SBU's opening ceremony. (PHOTO CREDIT: SBU)
Shaun Harper, keynote speaker, helped kick off Black History Month at SBU’s opening ceremony. (PHOTO CREDIT: SBU)

Shaun Harper, a faculty member of the Graduate School of Education, Africana Studies, and Gender Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, encouraged the revival of black student activism at the Black History Month Opening Ceremony on Wednesday, Jan. 30, at Stony Brook University.

“It was student activism that got us much of what we have come to enjoy as black students on predominantly white campuses,” he said.

Harper attributed a “decline of student activism” to the fact that students did not know how to show their demands. He thought that black students should “utilize technological resources” in the protest for a favorable environment for black students on campuses.

“Martin Luther King didn’t have a website or Facebook or Twitter account to convey message across the country to get movement started,” he continued. “But you have those things.”

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Harper also argued that structural or numerical diversities were insufficient.

“It’s not going to magically create inclusive campus environment where everyone feels like they belong,” he said.

To fill the insufficiencies, Harper emphasized the significance of institutional strategy and intentionality to create an inclusive campus environment.

“It confronted the realities of race, confronted in the realities of racial segregation and confronted in the realities in talking about the realities of residential segregation,” he said.

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“That’s what it takes to be a truly inclusive campus environment.”

Harper pointed out a racial imbalance in positions of leadership on campus; the majority of professors are white, and people of color account for the majority of ground keepers and food service workers.

“Those kinds of things communicate very destructive message to black students that your people don’t really belong here – your people don’t have lots of power here,” he said.

Harper thought that such a reality also can be solved by student activism. Black students, he also said, will see “more black faculty and more same race mentors” by student activism.

“He is very articulate, and I think he expressed his idea really well,” Natalie Geist, 25, a Campus Residences employee, said.

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“I drew attention to a part of community and to issues in our community that maybe are in the forefront or are discussed in the open forum,” Geist said

This year’s Black History Month, which follows the theme “Sankofa! The Revival,” will last until March 2 with 20  scheduled events.

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