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Feb. 28, 2013

'Where do we go from here?'

Panel discusses state of African-American culture

By Samah Assad

Cleveland State University’s Black Faculty and Staff Association asked the question, “Where Do We Go From Here?” in an open panel discussion on Thursday, Feb. 21 in MC 137.

Three Cleveland State faculty and staff members addressed a group of around 25 people on the current position of African-Americans not only in wider society, but also at Cleveland State. Serving as panel moderator, Dr. Mittie Davis Jones, department chair of the College of Urban Affairs, spoke about the year when the Civil Rights Act passed and when Cleveland State was founded — coincidentally the same year in 1964.

With 2014 marking the golden anniversary of the landmark legislation and the university, Jones asked whether or not Cleveland State’s initial goal — providing higher education opportunities for people who may not otherwise receive it — has been reached, and if not, “where do we go as a society?” she asked.

“Where do we go from here in a country that’s still not predominantly people of color, but definitely has moved to a point where people of color can make a big difference in terms of electoral politics?” she pondered.

Jones also noted that there are more than 300 black faculty and staff on campus, but only a small group attended the panel.

“I don’t know if we want to use this as an indicator of where we might need to go in terms of enhancing our membership and our participation, or if there’s another answer there,” Jones said.

Yulanda McCarty Harris, director of Affirmative Action; Dr. Regennia Williams, professor of history; and Dr. Michael Williams, professor of Black Studies, also shared their perspectives as panelists.

Williams cited his Cleveland State experiences as “up and down.” He recalls there being around 36 black faculty and staff on campus when he first came to Cleveland State around 25 years ago, and although that has increased since then, he said he has noticed a lessening of African-Americans’ identities on campus.

“We’re being redefined to be something that I’m not sure we were ever meant to be,” Williams said. “We’ve gone from understanding what it means to be African-American to now being multicultural.”

He added how he sees an occurrence of African-Americans being less willing to defend what is best for their own interests, and that they must advocate for themselves.

“It feels like we’re on a ride, and I don’t know where we’re going,” he said. “I don’t know where that destination is going to be and I’m not having a good feeling about the ride when I look around in the directions where we tend to go.”

Audience members had the opportunity to ask the panelists questions in a Q&A session afterward.

Graduate student Crystal Harper raised the concern that African-Americans should be focusing on changing their present state, not just the future.

She explained how she’s thankful for panels such as these to network, connect and meet faculty that can serve as mentors for her success. Harper appreciated being able to discuss not only her own culture, but how all cultures collaborate in society.

“We’ve talked about a number of things — not just related to African-Americans, but just acculturation as a whole — to be able to assimilate and still hold on to your own culture and make a difference to this world,” Harper said. “Some things can get changed, and [in these panels], someone hears you.”