The following message from President Andrew T. Hsu regarding Black History Month was sent to the campus community on Feb. 7, 2020:
Dear Campus Community,
February is an important month as we celebrate Black History Month. In my eyes, it is and should be a time of deep reflection for everyone in America, especially as it relates to the contributions and historical treatment of African Americans in this country.
Already, in my short time here, I have seen a campus community working together with compassion and a desire toward reconciliation with its institutional past. I see and hear people across campus talk about better alignment between our core values and our actual practices. Yes, we are a work in progress, as most universities are.
To make progress, our students, faculty and staff understand that we, as a collective group, must study our past, to better understand our present, so that we can make progress in our future. Our liberal arts curriculum is built to achieve those three things. And that awareness informs the content we choose to share, the messages we choose to send and the relationships we choose to build.
As we celebrate our 250th anniversary this year, many of our events and projects are doing just that: recognition and reconciliation. We are shining a light both on our merits and on our faults. For example, the state historical marker, which was unveiled last week on George Street, while boasting of some of our greatest achievements, does not shy away from some of our institution’s most painful facts – that the College waited until 1918 to admit white women, that we went private in the mid-20th century to avoid integration and that it wasn’t until the late 1960s that African American students started matriculating on campus.
Last Saturday, we held an event called “History Makers and Trailblazers.” Coordinated by the Office of Institutional Diversity as part of our 250th celebration and kicking off Black History Month, this event was a candid dialogue on the College’s past, present and future.
In the first segment, African American journalist Herb Frazier chatted with author Brian Hicks to discuss alumnus J. Waties Waring (Class of 1900) and his unique and not-well-known role as a federal judge helping to push the early Civil Rights movement. Next, Professor Bernie Powers hosted a discussion with former Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, Otto German (Class of 1973), Representative Lucille Simmons Whipper (the first African American administrator at the College and first African American woman to represent Charleston in the S.C. Statehouse) and retired faculty member Andrew Lewis (one of the first African American professors hired at the College in the 1970s). And wrapping it up, News 2 anchor Octavia Mitchell spoke with Chief Diversity Officer/Vice President Rénard Harris and me about where and how diversity plays a key role at the College moving forward.
It was something that Representative Whipper said that afternoon that really resonated with me. As she talked about her work in the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s as well as her time at the College in the 1970s, Professor Powers asked Representative Whipper what kept her going, what kept her involved. Her response was both simple and powerful, and one that we can all learn from: see a problem and jump in. Your involvement is the only way to fix anything.
In this month, which should really be a year-round focus, I encourage everyone to jump in and get involved. Our university is an amazing institution of many different races, religions, ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations and sexual identities – and your participation in its life makes the College stronger and better! I also encourage you all to take advantage of the different programs going on this month celebrating Black History Month. They will be joyful and thought-provoking events, and I promise you that they will open your minds and hearts to different experiences and viewpoints. That is why we are here at the College of Charleston – to learn from one another, to expand our perspectives and to all be Cougars – together!
Andrew T. Hsu, Ph.D.
College of Charleston