Silver City, NM- An older man approached the Cafeteria on Wednesday and paused, taking a look at the pair of signs above the double-doors leading inside. One read “white only” and the other read “colored only.” The man expressed his discomfort with segregation to the students greeting people before finally entering. While the man’s discomfort was understandable, the truth is, segregation was a harsh reality merely sixty years ago, and something that shouldn’t be forgotten, or repeated, today.
Mirroring the Civil Rights era, the cafeteria was divided up between white students and students of color. Students would be asked to use separate entrances and exits, sit at separate tables and, in a fitting demonstration of how absurd segregation was, use separate sides of the popcorn machine. There was also a section of the caf for students, faculty and staff that preferred not to participate in the event.
The event was put on by the Black Student Union, a new organization on campus that took form over the summer of 2017. BSU Vice President Leron Reed, a freshman from Compton, CA, had a hand in planning the event, expressing his hope to illustrate some of the realities of the Civil Rights era.
“I wanted people to have an idea of what things were like back then,” Reed said.
Reed was a presenter at a recent event remembering Martin Luther King Jr. and stated that he didn’t feel that enough of his peers attended the event. That, Reed stayed, was one of the factors that led to the event in the cafeteria.
The sentiment was echoed by Abe Villarreal, Associate Dean of Student Life.
“We have a list of events, both entertaining and educational,” Villarreal stated. “This is a good social event to show an important piece of history, the civil rights era. Our student body is far removed from the civil rights era, and we hope that this event raises eyebrows and creates dialogue.”
The Black Student Union that hosted the event was started last year, when a group of students came together to start the organization. Gloria Umutoni of Phoenix, AZ, was one of the founding students.
“We wanted to have a club that made us feel like we belong,” Umutoni said. She said they wanted a group for black students that was akin to what the Native American Student Organization is for Native American students or MEChA for Latin American students.
BSU advisor Katherine Warren said that the Black Student Union has taken great care with Black History Month, and wants the group to continue celebrating “black excellence, black education, and black history.”
One student, Lauren Dazey of Aurora, CO had postive things to say about the BSU’s event.
“I think this an amazing event because it reminds us of how far we have come, but also how far we need to go,” Dazey said.
In one interesting display of how of at least some progress has been made since the Civil Rights era, most students seemed to disregard the signs on the tables and sat with their friends, regardless of race.