On the night of Thursday, March 18, members of PSU’s Black Student Association (BSA) and History Club hosted an open house for their collection of photos, articles, and drawings representative of Black history on PSU’s campus and beyond. The collection is currently on display in the gallery of the Bicknell Family Center for the Arts.
Shawna Witherspoon, client services and gallery coordinator for the Bicknell Center, said the presentation was created in response to many current events.
“About a year ago there were some major social injustices going on,” Witherspoon said. “…it was all over the media–and I had worked really hard because my children are mixed (race) and they really struggled with that (injustice), they didn’t understand it. With my arts degree, I have painting stuff and drawing stuff at home, so I spoke with my kids and allowed them to draw, to get their emotions out and to use that as a type of therapy.”
Witherspoon realized that not everybody had a way to express their emotions through art, which prompted her to write for grants to help fund what would be the project.
“It was a few months after that when I realized not everyone has that opportunity, the means or the funds to have all of these (art) supplies at their home, so I decided that I really wanted to be able to offer that to members of our campus community,” Witherspoon said. “That is what led to me writing for the grant from the Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission (KCAIC) which provided funds for all of the easels and supplies, and the Bicknell center provided a one-to-one match to make that grant happen. I had worked with Axe Library before, and I knew I had seen some of these photos when I was looking for photos for previous exhibits that we’d done, so that’s when I contacted Emily (Flores). Her and her students partnered up with us in this project and decided it would be great to launch it for Black History Month.”
The gallery consists largely of photos from the Axe Library archives and various community-created artwork.
During the open house, History club president Noah Larson, junior in history, presented articles and photographs from The Collegio and Kanza dating back to the late 1960s. The articles and photos followed the beginning and end of the Black Student Movement (BSM) on campus as well as various integration milestones (like a picture of Ann Bettis, the first black Pittsburg State homecoming queen) and protests against injustice.
“It’s very convenient that now we are moving more towards diversity and inclusivity,” Larson said “…and I think the students that were a part of the Black Student Movement would want that. Unfortunately, it did take five decades, but now we’re finally taking that next step. I think what students can learn from this presentation is that it is OK to advocate for validation and it’s OK that if you feel like your university is not supportive of you, you can advocate for change.”
Emily Flores, the current advisor for BSA and assistant director of student diversity programs, said there are many topics those who visit the gallery can learn about.
“I am hopeful that (the gallery) will shed light on some of the things that have happened on campus as well as how we’ve progressed forward, that we can continue to press forward,” Flores said. “Hopefully they learn about empowerment and feeling inspired by (our progress), inspired that we had a very active Black Student Movement here on campus–something that was happening nationwide but was also happening here, students were being affected by it here–so, I’m just hopeful for unity, more conversations that bring liberation, and that this will others so that they feel they belong on campus.”