Black History Month: Groups Made an Influential Change on Campus

(NOTE: Special thanks to Sister Mary Beaubien in the SHU Archives for her help with the information for this story).

In last week’s article, W.A.M.S. was discussed and its influence on not only the Siena campus and community, but on minorities as well. This week, skip ahead a couple years to spring of 1993, when W.A.M.S. split off into two organizations. One of those groups was the Siena Heights African American Knowledge Association (S.H.A.A.K.A.).

As stated in the preamble of its constitution, the group’s purpose on campus was to bring “greater cultural awareness of African Americans to the community at large.”

This organization was prominent for a multitude of years. Each year, it was involved with celebrating and throwing events for Black History Month, as well as Martin Luther King Jr. Day. One of its most famous celebrations was what is now called and celebrated as Leadership Awards Night. Back then, it was called “You are somebody.” This banquet dinner served to honor students in areas such as academics, sports, leadership and volunteer service.

However, Lauren Cooper, president in 2004, described her frustrations about people’s perceptions of S.H.A.A.K.A.

“People have told me they thought the organization was just for black power on campus. It’s not just for black people, but an organization that teaches diversity and enlightens the community about African American issues and concerns by appreciating diversity,” she said at the time.

Throughout the years, S.H.A.A.K.A. hosted events like Black Stars on the Rise, celebrating African American dance and culture, as well as educating those about the inventions made possible by African Americans.

These organizations advocating for minority and African American rights had an influential impact on campus. That influence continues with activities like the Kente ceremony, which honors graduates of African American descent before commencement ceremonies each year.

SHU Archivist Sister Mary Beaubien said, “Through the efforts of African American associations and organizations like these, the organizers of commitment ceremony were persuaded to provide the Kente cloth stoles to all campuses with Siena Heights graduates.”