Black History Month is an annual celebration of Black Americans’ achievements and an opportunity to reflect on their contributions in American history. According to NPR, Black History Month’s theme this year is “Black Health and Wellness.” This theme honors medical providers and scholars as society “enter[s] the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has disproportionately affected minority communities and placed unique burdens on Black health care professionals.” Carter G. Woodson, also known as the “Father of Black History,” picked February as Black History Month because it coincides with the birthdates of former U.S. President Abraham Lincoln and social reformer Fredrick Douglass, two men who were involved in the abolition of slavery.
To gain insight on what it's like to be a professor of color at Meredith, The Herald reached out to Dr. Alisa Johnson, Associate Professor of English and Assistant Dean of Arts and Humanities.
“I have spent most of my life in predominantly white institutions,” Dr. Johnson said, “some of which were quite difficult, and I have been very pleased by the amount of support that I have received [at Meredith].”
However, she stated that while she has felt supported overall, there have been a few concerning interactions. “There were a few occasions during my first year of teaching when I was asked by campus police to show my ID as I was entering or leaving Joyner,” she explained. Overall, though, Dr. Johnson said her transition to Meredith was “fairly easy” and she has “felt respected and appreciated, especially for [her] teaching.”
Dr. Johnson said that she appreciates Meredith’s awareness “that [the College] could be more inclusive and diverse” and finds that its steps towards accomplishing that are “very encouraging.”
However, she said she remains “concerned that the college has not been able to hire and retain more faculty of color, because one way to improve the environment for faculty of color is to employ more faculty of color.” She explained, “The presence of a diverse pool of faculty sends the message that an institution is inclusive and accepting of difference.”
Dr. Johnson said that when she began working at Meredith years ago, there were “far fewer open discussions of racism on campus than there are today, even though racist incidents happened.”
“The campus’s current antiracism efforts have created spaces for more discussion, and I am impressed by the number of students and faculty willing to become involved,” Dr. Johnson said. “If we follow through with our efforts to become more inclusive, we will see change. But change probably won’t happen as quickly as we want it to—it never does.”
While people may celebrate Black History Month in February, Dr. Johnson stated that “for African American scholars, every month is Black History Month.”
“I enjoy the public attention given to the contributions of African Americans during the month—the number of programs and events seem to grow each year, and that fact is very affirming,” Dr. Johnson said. “I especially love the attention paid to artists and their works…The variety of art on display this month makes my heart sing.”
“Black History Month is the perfect occasion to read James Baldwin,” Dr. Johnson concluded. “I’d like to include one of my favorite Baldwin quotes: ‘Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.’”
By Evelyn Summers, Staff Writer