Friday, February 13, 2015

Schools "Celebrate" Black History Month

Recently, I came across two very different ways to recognize February as "Black History Month". New Trier recognized the history of African Americans very differently than another high school I visited this month, Mundelein High School.

New Trier's "Black History Month" display -- photo taken by Claire Hartman.

New Trier displayed their "grand" tribute towards "Black History Month" at the Northfield Campus. The location itself places emphasis on the lack of recognition New Trier gives to African American history. The Northfield campus only holds a quarter of all New Trier students, so over 3,000 students do not even see New Trier's perhaps main attempt to recognize African Americans. While there are other displays at the main campus, the majority of them did not come out until the very end of the month when the recognition toward African American history was coming to an end (note: I had to revise this blog post after seeing them... I did not even see any at first!). Also, the posters at the main campus were hand-drawn with markers on white poster board, and therefore, did not look as "put together" as this display at the Northfield Campus.

New Trier's display is entitled, "Influential Stories about Black Athletes". New Trier focuses all of African American history on athletics in this display. African Americans being successful in athletics is a common stereotype, so by creating a display only recognizing them for athletics is more stereotypical than reflective and honorary. It's also interesting how the font size is so tiny next to each picture. No student is going to take the time to read that small of a font, if they can even make out the words. It is also notable that New Trier only recognizes African Americans to this extent during February, for it is a temporary display that will only remain intact during "Black History Month".

Mundelein's African American history display -- photo taken by Claire Hartman.

Unlike New Trier, every month is "Black History Month" at Mundelein High School with their nicely painted permanent mural. When I was at this school for a gymnastics meet, I took a moment to truly appreciate the amount of recognition they give to African Americans. Unlike New Trier, which is 83.6% white, less than half of Mundelein High School students are white (48.2%); therefore, the school is incredibly more diverse. Perhaps this explains why they put so much more effort into their display. Another important aspect of this mural is that it focuses on women. Women and African Americans are seen as inferior to white men. By focusing on two minorities, it shows how much they value and respect "Black History Month". New Trier only saw blacks as "athletes", but Mundelein shows blacks are not linked to any stereotype and instead portrayed them three-dimensionally. 

To what extent do these two displays explain how America views "Black History Month"? As a New Trier student, how do you view our school's attempt to appreciate African American history in comparison to Mundelein's?


  1. Claire- I love how you used your own photos to illustrate your point- I can relate to these pictures a lot more because I know where they come from, and I have seen the one in New Trier. I recently posted a photo on Instagram- hashtagging anamericanstudies- of my little brother standing in front of the "Celebrate Black History Month" section at Barnes and Noble. My little brother is the only African-American kid in his entire school, kindergarten through 8th grade, so he sometimes feels a little alone. It saddened me that this is the only month of the year when he could find books about people like him at the library or book store without having to ask for them, which he sometimes does. Although I think Chris Rock was obviously trying to be funny in his statement about black history month, he does have a point. How much do we really value black history month? What should be changed?

  2. Nice job blogging this term, Claire. You've covered a wide range of topics, esp. education and social justice concerns. JT topics? This is a terrific post. I'm with Ellie that it's nice you took your own pix. I also like the analysis you do of the schools and the diplays. Should NT create permanent displays such as Mundelein's?
    Even more challengingly, should NT strive to create a more diverse student body?