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Putting the 'You' in UAA: Celebrating heritage and history

by Joe Selmont  |   

Quote by Martin Luther King Jr.: "If you can't fly then run, if you can't run then walk, if you can't walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward."
UAA celebrates Black History Month. (Graphic by Taylor Olson / UAA)

This February marks Black History Month. It’s the first of a number of heritage and history months UAA celebrates throughout the year to highlight the rich and diverse cultural identities that make up the university community.

Planning for these events is led by the YouAA committee, a group formed last year to focus on heritage and history months. The committee aims to celebrate the “You” in the university community, representing the diverse range of cultural, heritage and intersectional identities that encompass all Seawolves.

Among the committee’s leaders is Jennifer Booz, UAA’s chief diversity officer, who helped form the group alongside staff members from Student Life & Leadership, the Multicultural Center and Native Student Services.

“The committee is a great tool,” Booz said. “We can coordinate planning across campus in an effort to not only celebrate the specific heritage and history months, but to get our students, staff and faculty in the frame of mind to be continually learning about and celebrating cultures that are different from their own.”

The YouAA committee is also an important piece in implementing UAA 2025, the university’s new strategic plan. A pillar of the plan is the creation of a more inclusive campus climate focused on embracing diversity and narrowing equity gaps.

“It’s possible to shift a culture by demonstrating as an institution that we care about all peoples – their histories, their triumphs and struggles,” Booz said. “We want everyone to feel that their identities are not only represented at UAA – we also want them to feel that they’re embraced. We want everyone to know that they’re welcome on campus.”

Booz also spoke about the hard work that institutions must undertake in order to address systemic racism. In addition to events that create an environment of celebration and learning, all large organizations must confront complex and often hidden problems. Booz said, “We use the word ‘systemic’ because racism can be baked into institutional policies, procedures and culture. There might be unintentional barriers that prevent some people from accessing campus, so we have to look through all aspects of the organization.”

Of course, Booz and the other members of the YouAA committee cannot make these changes alone; it requires honest introspection and a commitment to positive growth from every member of the UAA community. This can include small steps such as attending events during heritage and history months, and bigger steps such as revamping teaching methods, revisiting department hiring practices or taking deep dives into learning opportunities.

For example, in honor of Black History Month, Booz suggested that members of the UAA community could read Black History in the Last Frontier by UAA history professor Dr. Ian Hartman, which explores the historical contributions, achievements and oppression of African Americans in Alaska. Another opportunity centers on a developing partnership between UAA and the Anchorage Public Library. A series of workshops and discussions will investigate two books by Ibram X. Kendi: Stamped from the Beginning: A Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America and Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You.

“Above all,” Booz said, “we each need to work to understand and overcome our own biases and the biases that pervade so many large institutions.”

More ways to celebrate Black History Month

The YouAA Committee has planned or coordinated a wide variety of events in celebration of Black History Month. All events are open to the entire UAA community. Students, staff and faculty are also welcome to join the YouAA Committee if they are interested in cultivating a campus community in which everyone belongs.

Feb. 5 | 6 p.m. | Aisha Fukishima
Fukushima founded RAPtivism, a hip hop project spanning 20 countries that amplifies efforts for freedom and justice.  

Feb. 6 | 6:30 p.m. | UAA at the Movies: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
The exciting tale of Miles Morales brings some much-needed representation to the superhero canon.

Feb. 10 | 5 p.m. | Ron Funches | University of Alaska Spring 2021 Virtual Tour
Funches is a triple threat, comedian, actor and writer, who is sure to deliver some laughter during this comedy Q&A.

Feb. 12 | 7:30 p.m. | UAA at the Movies: Selma
This biopic follows Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as he organizes the historical fight against American racism.

Feb. 17 | 5 p.m. | Young M.A. | University of Alaska Spring 2021 Virtual Tour
Rapper and philanthropist Young M.A. will perform a custom music set and answer audience questions about her art and other passions.

Feb. 18 | 6 p.m. | Indie Lens Pop-up: Mr. Soul
This documentary explores the history of SOUL!, a public television variety show from the late ‘60s and early ‘70s that celebrated Black literature, poetry, politics and more.

Feb. 23 | 6 p.m. | Indie Lens Pop-up: Coded Bias & Panel
This documentary follows Joy Buolamwini, an MIT researcher who discovers that most facial-recognition software doesn’t accurately identify darker-skinned faces.

Feb. 25 | 6 p.m. | #naturalhair Discussion & BSU Involvement
Discover the culture behind Black hair and natural hair, share your own stories, ask questions – and connect!

Feb. 26 | 1 p.m. | Intersectionality in Judicial and Law Enforcement Panel
Alaska Superior Court Judge Kari McCrae will host a panel discussion on intersecting identities in Alaska’s legal and enforcement communities.

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