The latest exhibition from the Boyden Gallery, titled “Africa and the African Diaspora in Campus Collections,” aimed to give students and faculty at St. Mary’s College of Maryland (SMCM) as well as members of our community a broad sense of the role of African Americans now and throughout history. The exhibition timing intentionally coincided with a celebration of Black History Month.  

Associate Professor of English Dr. Jeffrey Coleman, who also coordinates the African and African Diaspora Studies program, worked with Crystal Worrell, president of the Black Student Union, and Cristin Cash, Director of the Boyden Gallery, to put together the exhibition, which opened on Feb. 1 with a statement from SMCM President Tuajuanda Jordan and concluded on Feb. 18.

Professor Coleman said that the idea for the exhibition was born in the fall of 2016, when research findings concluded that St. Mary’s Female Seminary, from which our school evolved, owned at least six slaves. He said that “a lot of colleges and universities are dealing with the same issue right now. Some of them have done a very good job of acknowledging their past and some have done a terrible job. One thing we were all focused on was making sure St. Mary’s College did not handle its past ineffectively, without considerable thought.”

In her statements at the exhibition’s opening, President Jordan addressed the highlights of the exhibit, including the central piece: “…an anonymous gift to the college, slave shackles found in a barn in Chaptico, Maryland.” According to Professor of Anthropology Julie King, “the shackles appear to date back to the nineteenth century. In addition to visual aids, such as the shackles, that help us understand black history in this country, the college has been working to uncover its historical connections to slavery.”

“We wanted students to walk away with a broad sense of the history of the African American presence at St. Mary’s, from slavery all the way up to recent art work by students,” Dr. Coleman explained. “We want everyone to have a broad overview of some of the contributions that African Americans have made to St. Mary’s College of Maryland and some of the artwork on campus that pertains to African Americans or the African experience.”

Anyone interested in learning more about the college’s relationship to slavery and issues of racism are encouraged to read about the exhibition online as well as attend the African and African Diaspora Studies (AADS) fall symposium on slavery, which Dr. Coleman says is the next step now that the exhibition has wrapped up.

In speaking of the symposium, which is currently being planned for Sept. 2017, Coleman says: “We have a lot of work to do, but we’re excited about it.” He encourages students with work in the field of AADS to submit their works to be highlighted in the symposium, which they can discuss with their AADS professors or Dr. Coleman.

Dr. Coleman also urges students to consider enrolling in Dr. Steve Lenik’s mid-semester two-credit AADS course on slavery in American popular culture in March. In addition, Dr. Coleman encourages eligible students (who have taken AADS 214 or will complete the course in FA2017 and intend to earn the minor) to apply for housing in the AADS Living and Learning Center, currently located on the Crescents. Interested students should speak to Dr. Coleman or Dr. Iris Ford. Applications for the four-person housing will be reviewed in early March.

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