Investigating Stuyvesant’s Representation of Black History Month

In honor of Black History Month, the Stuyvesant administration made efforts to educate students on Black history and shared resources, activities, and events with the school community.

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By Julia Lee

February is recognized as Black History Month and is an acknowledgement of Black achievements and hardships that often go unnoticed due to a lack of awareness of African American culture and history. In response to this annual observance, some students have brought up concerns regarding the shortcomings of the administration in promoting education about Black history and culture. In 2021, only eight Black students were admitted to Stuyvesant in a freshman class of 749 total students. Despite efforts by DOE to promote diversity, an underrepresentation of Black students has remained a trend in Stuyvesant’s admission rate.

In light of Black History Month, the Stuyvesant administration shared resources and opportunities with the school community to educate students on Black history. The Stuyvesant library also provided book recommendations to spread awareness about the topic. Additionally, Principal Yu shared a message via e-mail in which he recommended that students visit local events and exhibits to learn more about Black history.

The Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Committee and Equity Team at Stuyvesant also hosted a small group discussion with Black and Latinx families alongside alumna Candice Morgan ('00). Stacey Wright, a parent involved in the Parent Association, has also created a Facebook group called Stuy Mosaic for Black and Latinx families. “We know there is much work to be done, but hearing their honest feedback and knowing they were comfortable sharing [their stories] made the event a success,” Director of Family Engagement Dina Ingram said in an e-mail interview.

Sophomore and Black Students League (BSL) Communications Manager Amanda Cisse noticed the greater effort the administration put into recognizing Black History Month this year in comparison to previous years. “From the morning announcements mentioning specific events to the posters educating students about important Black figures throughout history, the Stuyvesant administration has worked extremely hard to acknowledge the significance of this month,” Cisse said in an e-mail interview.

However, Cisse confirmed that while the administration put up posters for Black History Month, they only did so in response to requests from students. Cisse expressed that while initiatives like posters are educational, they are only a first step. “The posters are useful in showcasing that the administration is willing to put effort into spreading awareness about Black history, and it shows great care on behalf of the school,” Cisse said. “But the effectiveness may vary based on how different people walk by and interpret the posters they see. Some may receive it well, but we are concerned others may not.”

Despite the administration’s efforts, most of the initiatives and events were spearheaded by student leaders and clubs. BSL and ASPIRA hosted their third annual Talk Circle Around Race, open to all students and staff, both in-person and over Zoom to promote accessibility. BSL also hosted a Black History Month celebration in coordination with faculty and alumni to celebrate Black culture. During the catered dinner, senior and Co-President Asa Muhammad shared a presentation on the origin and history of Black History Month. Alumni speakers participated in the celebration and shared their experiences over the video project platform Vidday.

The Black History Dinner hosted by BSL received praise from both the alumni and staff in attendance. “I was impressed with the program prepared by BSL and ASPIRA for the Black History Dinner and wish more of our students participated in it,” Ingram said.

The administration did work in tandem with BSL and ASPIRA to organize freshman push-ins regarding student diversity for Respect for All Week during Black History Month. “They asked for guidance from the Black Students League on any feedback we had on their Respect for All presentations to the freshman homerooms as well—we were able to edit the slides and coordinate with other unity clubs so leaders could be present for some of the lessons,” said Cisse.

Student leaders from BSL, Muslim Students Assocation (MSA), Spectrum, Student Union, Stuyvesant Asian Coalition, and other student organizations presented in these push-ins. Many presenters expressed that the push-ins are valuable in creating discussion among students and fostering community. “It is important for students to know that they're not alone if they are facing some type of discrimination. Sharing that kind of anecdote [during these push-ins] makes you feel like you are in the community,” MSA member and presenter Sophia Dasser said. “It encourages students to join a cultural club that leads to [appreciation for] their own culture or ethnicity or race.”

Though junior and MSA Treasurer Sabiha Amin acknowledges the significance of these presentations, Amin advocates for a wider audience to be reached as opposed to only freshmen. “The whole concept of Respect for All week wasn't very well emphasized. As an upperclassman, the only reason I knew about it was because I was doing the presentations,” said Amin. “These talk sessions are often only limited to freshmen or offered optionally after school. With many Stuyvesant students participating in other after-school engagements, it is unlikely for students to attend unless they are passionate or already part of the club.”

Students and the administration alike plan on continuing to collaborate and host events discussing race and inclusion following Black History Month as well. Students and staff involved in the initiatives Stuyvesant put forward this Black History Month encourage the Stuyvesant community to remain engaged in educating themselves on these topics. “We welcome everyone and try to create an inclusive and educational environment,” Cisse said. “You can learn a lot about Black culture and history by coming to [BSL] meetings.”

Moving forward, many hope to see more long-term initiatives regarding diversity, inclusivity, and better integration of Black history into curriculum. “An impactful action would be to enforce more lessons on Black history amidst the history curriculum, and even discuss major black figures in STEM that could be in those types of classrooms,” Cisse said. “Some of the major changes that can occur can start in the classroom, where students are in a closer vicinity and have to listen.”