The Black Alumni Association kicked off the Black Heritage Celebration Friday, commemorating GW’s 17-year history of BHC events and featuring an address from interim University President Mark Wrighton.
Black alumni at the event said the unity they found with other multicultural communities on campus has lasted beyond graduation and into their careers, and they encouraged Black alumni to continue to stand together into their adult lives. About 45 people attended the event, where Wrighton commended the University’s “palpable” commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion and the support from alumni aiming to advance these efforts.
The kickoff marks the second event of this year’s BHC, which is headlined by the theme, “Homecoming: Been Black,” to represent the resilience of the Black community.
Through pre-recorded videos and live statements, Black alumni reflected on their time at GW and their roles as campus leaders.
Sam P.K. Collins, a journalist who graduated from GW in 2014, reflected on his time as a leader in the Black community while he was editor of The Black Ace Magazine, a publication of the Black Student Union. Collins said after uniting with one another and earning their degrees from GW, Black alumni have become self-sufficient entering their professional careers instead of living as a “beggar class” facing the effects of racial inequity.
“I’m very proud to have been at GW because GW laid the foundation for my African consciousness, so to speak,” Collins said. “It was in that environment where I learned who I was and who I’m not.”
Nikki Lane, an alumna and former BHC committee member, said she was excited to reconnect with other alumni, some of whom she mentored as a Multicultural Student Services Center employee after graduating from the University.
“This is a joyous thing for me to see the Black Heritage Celebration thrive all these years later and to see my Black Alumni Association active and getting us all involved,” Lane said.
Wrighton emphasized the gravity of Black History Month and the BHC during his address, which will continue strengthening diversity, equity and inclusion at GW.
“I’m confident that this emphasis on diversity, equity and inclusion will serve us well,” Wrighton said at the event. “This is what we need to be able to attract the most talented students, the most outstanding faculty members and a great staff. I’ve already encountered strength in this community through the many people that I’ve had the opportunity to interact with, and everyone that I’ve interacted with shares this commitment to strengthen our community.”
Wrighton referenced two “deeply troubling” events that have recently taken place on campus and stressed that GW must improve beyond school policies and programs to enhance diversity, equity and inclusion. He said officials are currently working on a diversity review, which will implement a “diversity action plan” to track progress in implementing diversity on campus and the broader D.C. area.
Thousands signed a petition last week calling for officials to fire a professor who a student said incorrectly claimed she couldn’t have a service dog in class. Two weeks earlier, a GWTeach professor who said the N-word in a Jan. 18 class stepped down from her responsibilities teaching the course.
“I know that many George Washington University alumni, students, faculty and staff are working hard to make our environment more diverse and more inclusive,” Wrighton said. “I’m extremely proud to be leading a University who has this commitment, and I am confident that we will continue to make progress overcoming racism and building a more inclusive community.”
Natasha Dupee, the chair of the association, and Andrew Dixon, a member of the association’s executive board, encouraged students to apply for the GWBAA IMPACT Award, which honors students and alumni for their commitment to GW and achievements in fields like community service, research and entrepreneurship. Dixon said three alumni, one undergraduate student and one graduate student receive the award each year.
“This is an award that is always a great night to see really the excellence that GW has produced through our Black students and our Black graduates and our Black alumni,” he said.