On the weekend of Feb. 25, several students and faculty traveled to The National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.
The museum is a part of the Smithsonian Institution and contains thousands of artifacts related to the African-American community, religion, slavery and civil rights. The trip was sponsored by the Student Programming Board (SPB) and the Department of Cultural and Global Engagement (DCGE).
Sophomore sociology major and travel chair of SPB Brianna Robinson conducted the program to give students a chance to get a grasp of the African- American culture and obtain knowledge that they never knew of before.
“This trip sparked interest from a Black Lives Matter protest on campus in mid-September 2016 where students then met with Diane Ariza, associate vice president for academic affairs and chief diversity officer, after the protest to further a deeper discussion on race within a college campus,” Robinson said.
Specialist for Student Engagement in Department of Cultural and Global Engagement Abbie O’Neill assisted Robinson and SPB for the past few months to expand the idea of visiting a single museum into a weekend in D.C for students to get the most out of their visit.
“Personally, I saw this as a great way for our department to work with the student body and help them achieve a goal,” O’Neill said. “I think it is important to recognize that this was a student driven event, and students had a say in every point in the process.”
The trip was open to any student at the university and a total of 51 people chose to attend.
History professor Michael Chiarappa was one of the faculty members who was invited to join the trip with the students.
“I was asked to be involved because I’ve done in my career and continued to work with museums quite a bit, so they thought that it would be good to have somebody who could help the students better appreciate and interact with the museum when they get there,” Chiarappa said.
Chiarappa believes that students gained an appreciation on how things in the African- American life have had incredible endurance and how things have changed within the context of the United States.
“This kind of takes the story and breaks it down and makes it manageable for folks. One of the benefits of a museum like this, or any museum, is that it’s so tangible,” Chiarappa said. “You’re going to see the photographs, you’re going to see the artifacts, it’s going to feel much more alive and in terms of the African-American experience.”
Robinson said she learned a lot from this experience at the museum. One of her favorite moments was when she learned about the origins of slavery through history galleries in an elevator.
“On each side of the elevator was dates written in white starting from the present day down to the 1400s,” Robinson said. “It felt very powerful in the moment as we stopped in the 1400s and made our way out to a very quiet exhibit where real whips and chains were displayed in glass displays.”
After leaving the museum, Robinson felt reminded of what her ancestors went through and the struggles they faced during slavery times and the challenges they face today.
“African-Americans have a long history of ups and downs, but they continue on their way to fight for the justice and equality their ancestors fought and died for,” Robinson said.