IU Northwest involves the local community in Black History Month event

As part of its Black History month celebration, Indiana University Northwest tried something different, an initiative that not only served its current student population, but also benefited the local community. Instead of limiting the heritage month’s programming to just the campus, James Wallace, IU Northwest’s director of the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Multicultural Affairs—strategically supported by Indiana University’s Office of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Multicultural Affairs—decided to specifically target high school students in Gary, Ind., where IUN is located.

One of the Black History Month events held at IUN was a play, “Exodus 2019,” a one-woman show by local artist and community organizer Davina Stewart, a Gary native. The play chronicles the nearly 400 years since the first African slaves were taken to the United States, and the current options available to the African American community.

After Stewart successfully applied to perform at IUN, Wallace considered the on-campus facilities and decided a local school, Wirt-Emerson Visual and Performing Arts High Ability Academy, had a more suitable venue, not to mention students and teachers who would be excited by the prospect of hosting such a performance.

“Each year on our campus, we have a call for proposals for our diversity programming series. There are funds that are provided from the chancellor’s office that my office oversees to develop programming that is educational in content, focuses on diversity-related issues, something that gets students engaged in talking about issues of diversity and inclusion, and celebrates the diversity of our region. This proposal came in, we vetted it, and thought it would be a great piece to have during our Black History Month celebration,” Wallace explained.

“We ended up partnering with our local school district to offer this performance to the younger generation of our students, and when we thought about Wirt-Emerson, a light went off. Those students are in the arts, theater, and music, so they’d enjoy and appreciate it,” he continued. “It presented an opportunity for the students to work on set design and all of the behind-the-scenes things that go into putting on a performance, and then to see how a one-woman play is presented and staged. That’s a learning experience for the students, so they came into the process with a lot of energy and enthusiasm.”

Thinking about the community that we live in and the challenges we face, that’s the message that I wanted to convey to the students. Hopefully they’ll be able to internalize that.

James Wallace, IU Northwest’s director of the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Multicultural Affairs