‘To unite the community’: Iowa State celebrates Black History Month


ISU College of Design MSS

Artists gather at the reception for the Black Art Exhibit in 2022.

Black History Month has been celebrated by students and faculty alike during the month of February. Throughout the month, lectures, art exhibits, conferences and other events were hosted to celebrate the successes and acknowledge the struggles of Black history. 

First celebrated in 1976, Black History Month coincides with the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, which is why the month of February was chosen for celebration, according to History.

“It’s important to continue celebrating Black students at this university,” said Joseph Putman, a senior in industrial engineering. “Let’s celebrate the students of today as well.”


During the past three weeks, events have taken place throughout campus and the Midwest. Most notably of these, according to Putman, was the Big 12 Conference.

“This is one of the largest predominantly Black leadership conferences in the United States,” Putman said. “Every school from the Big 12 is represented by their Black Student Alliance or Black Student Union.” 

Conferences like these allow students to build up their leadership skills and learn more about the history and experiences of students of color at predominantly white institutions (PWIs) nationwide, according to Putman. 

“Life at a PWI for many Black students can be very challenging,” Putman said. “But as a leader in the Black community on this campus, I will say that I’ve seen progression since my freshman year, but there is still much work to be done to make Black students feel more welcomed and safe in Ames.” 

Besides events such as lectures and conferences, creative celebrations are taking place on campus. 

The annual Black Art Exhibit began Tuesday in Design Gallery 18, and art installations will be added leading up to March 8. 

“This is the second year we are hosting the exhibit, so I am generally just excited we are doing this again,” said Jordan Brooks, the assistant dean of students for intercultural initiatives and resource center. “As a creative person, it means a lot to me to see and celebrate the expression and creativity of our Black students, staff and faculty here.”

The exhibit will feature art from Black artists and Black-centered art from students, faculty and staff around campus. 

“I hope the exhibit is a communal space for people throughout the diaspora to celebrate each other,” Brooks said. “The artwork and various forms of expression are the medium or reason we are coming together, but the emphasis is a celebration amongst the people.”

The event will also include an open reception from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. March 8, where artists will share details and answer questions about their work.

“We have so many talented creatives on our campus,” Brooks said. “Please support them and uplift them. The work they make is personal, powerful and necessary.” 

Sharing perspectives

Many students of color feel excluded at PWIs because they do not feel at home and are not connected to resources and spaces where they can build a community, according to Immanuel Taylor, a junior in animal science.

“Acknowledging this month and overall highlighting Black success on campus allows Black students to be welcomed into the community that we have here,” Taylor said. 

Taylor said as a PWI, it is important for Iowa State to promote Black History Month and events that celebrate and create conversations about it. 

“Iowa State I’m sure has tried to do better with Black History Month events, but as other PWIs experience, they don’t know where to put their resources,” Taylor said. “There is a huge void to fill with someone who can tailor programming, events and maybe even a special guest to highlight this month.”

Both Taylor and Putman share ideas for different types of events during Black History Month that diverge from the usual lectures, trivia nights and hip-hop history workshops. 

“Students do not seem to be interested in lecture-type experiences for Black History Month,” Taylor said. “I myself have not attended any lectures, but I would attend events focused on community engagement or Black small-business highlighting.”

Bigger events, similar to Black Homecoming, are ones that students are looking for on campus. 

“I believe that all Black organizations should implement a large collaborative event similar to Black Homecoming that unites the community and teaches the general student body about this month’s importance.”

These events hosted by Iowa State would help celebrate the history Black students are making in current times, according to Putman.

“For any Black student reading this, remember that the experience you get at a PWI heavily relies on your effort to create that experience,” Putman said. “Push to create the future you want to see on your campus.”