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Black History Month events challenged on college campus

Posted at 6:45 PM, Feb 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-01 20:18:15-05

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Students at Florida Gulf Coast University say a series of events they have planned for Black History Month has been stalled by their peers. It’s not the events per se that’s raising concerns, but the names.

Some student senators have a problem with the names “Melanin Week” and “Black Excellence” for events, saying they’re not inclusive terms. Despite the opposition, organizers say there are no plans to change the name of their events or cancel them.

When Melanin Week started at FGCU in 2020, Black Student Alliance member Ostin Justice-Young said it was meant to build a sense of community for black students, and anyone interested in their experience.

“It was an opportunity not only to just come together as a community, but to also network, and give those students an opportunity to understand what it’s like, and to understand more about your history,” he said.

But, now young says that sense of community is being challenged by a handful of student senators. One said the term “melanin” doesn’t represent the entire student body. Young, however, says that student is misguided since melanin is natural pigment that determines how light or dark someone's skin is.

“It’s important for us to understand that we all have melanin. So, that term isn’t exclusive to one specific identity on campus. This is something that represents the entire student body,” said Young. “It comes down to us educating the miseducated, and just coming together as a student body, so that we understand that this space is meant to be inclusive.”

A few student senators said the term “Black Excellence” shouldn’t be used either, stating it’s signifies superiority. Student Senator Gervais Baptiste is in favor of Melanin Week, and says black excellence recognizes accomplishments, not superiority.

“If we hope to become one united student body, the only way to accomplish that is by celebrating each other for our accomplishments, and our contributions to this campus,” he said.

Baptiste says his advocacy for student groups won't stop here.

“Continuing to advocate for all these communities. Not just the black community, but every minoritized and oppressed community on our campus,” he said.

Susan Evans, a spokesperson for the university said the final decision isn’t up to administration but the students.

“We support our students' engaging in the democratic process…This is what universities are about -- the thoughtful and peaceful exchange of ideas and differing viewpoints -- and we are confident our students will engage with each other in this manner.”

The student senators who raised concerns over melanin week, did not respond to Fox 4’s request for comments Monday afternoon. The BSA plans to peacefully protest the opposition Tuesday at 4:00 p.m., ahead of the 6:30 p.m. senate meeting. Pending approval, Melanin Week is scheduled for the week of February 22nd.