For School For Students Partners

Juneteenth: How to Celebrate it in College

Juneteenth: How to Celebrate it in College

What Is Juneteenth?

Also known as Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, Liberation Day, and Emancipation Day, Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery in the United States and, as such, holds special significance for Black Americans.

Slavery’s remants have created long-enduring inequities in income and wealth attainment.

On June 19, 1865, Union troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, to take control of the state and ensure all enslaved people were freed. This historic occasion came two and half years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.

In the years that followed, former slaves celebrated Juneteenth by delivering inspirational speeches, singing songs of hope and praise, honoring Black culture and food, and gathering with family and friends.

Slavery sought to destroy the cultures and familial structure of enslaved Black people, and its remants have created long-enduring inequities in income and wealth attainment between Black and white Americans. Juneteenth is thus a symbolic day of independence for Black Americans, and a reminder that the fight for freedom and equality is ongoing.

Juneteenth’s Role at Colleges

As colleges confront their racist legacies and recurring incidents of anti-Blackness and racial discrimination on campus, Juneteenth serves as a reminder of the systemic barriers that continue to impede the progress and liberation of Black Americans.

Despite the importance of this holiday, U.S. history classes rarely teach or mention Juneteenth.

Despite the importance of this holiday, U.S. history classes rarely teach or mention Juneteenth. Furthermore, Black college students have often felt that their history has been devalued and ignored in conventional teachings of U.S. history.

Universities and students are key to expanding educational access and broadening the social consciousness of future generations by acknowledging the racial and social injustices of the past and present.

Celebrating Juneteenth means promoting equity, teaching Black history and culture, and supporting Black businesses and social causes. By doing this, colleges and students can help uplift Black students as well as the Black community as a whole.

5 Ways to Celebrate Juneteenth in College

Colleges and students have many options when it comes to honoring the historic significance of this holiday. Here are five Juneteenth celebration ideas to try out at your institution.

1) Support Local Black Businesses

Supporting Black-owned companies creates more opportunities for increasing the generational wealth of Black families.

To support Black entrepreneurs, universities could employ Black-owned restaurants for a campus event or create a list of Black-owned businesses to share with the campus community, while students could order food from Black-owned restaurants and shop with Black retailers.

Black entrepreneurs often face challenges to starting and building lucrative businesses, so increased visibility and support are integral to their longevity. 

2)Donate to Black-Led Social Justice Organizations

In addition to participating in Black Lives Matter protests, you or your institution can donate money — even a small amount — to organizations dedicated to social justice for Black people. These organizations focus on increasing legal aid, expanding healthcare access, building the pipeline of local Black leaders, and growing Black political participation.

Here are 14 Black social justice organizations to support right now.

3) Honor Black Heroes on Social Media

College students regularly engage with others on social media, making it an excellent platform for reaching a larger audience and building awareness. Colleges and universities can create weeklong or monthlong social media campaigns to recognize the importance of Juneteenth. You might consider, for example, highlighting a Black hero or historical figure each day.

Given that Black heroes are often overshadowed, a social media campaign can help ensure that the accomplishments of Black Americans are not forgotten.

As a student, you could use your social media accounts to share posts related to Juneteenth, or start a hashtag to create awareness around notable Black figures.

4) Campaign to Make Juneteenth a National Holiday

Juneteenth is currently recognized by at least 47 states and the District of Columbia as an official state holiday or observance. Texas was the first state to designate Juneteenth as a paid holiday, and Washington state recently did the same.

Honoring Juneteenth as a national holiday recognizes Black people’s humanity and rejoices in the progress we’ve made as a nation.

Colleges could arrange a call-a-thon for students to advocate to their local representatives for making Juneteenth a national holiday. If you’re a student, take it upon yourself to call or write a letter to your representative. You can find contact information for your elected officials at USAGov.

6) Host a Black Art Symposium

Art in all forms has played an indispensable role in the history and culture of Black Americans.

Slaves often expressed their feelings of hope, sorrow, and inspiration through music and dance. From writers of the Harlem Renaissance to contemporary filmmakers, Black artists have chronicled the Black experience and the fight for freedom and equality.

Universities might consider hosting a Black art symposium featuring local Black artists, musicians, and dancers. The event would be a fun and interesting way to celebrate and honor the significance of art in the lives of Black Americans.

Students and student groups could put together their own smaller symposiums highlighting the art of Black peers, faculty, staff, and community members.

Another option is to learn more about Black art by reading biographies of Black artists, going to museums featuring Black art exhibits, listening to Black musical artists, and taking free online courses.

Why Colleges and Students Should Celebrate Juneteenth

Over the past year, educational leaders have boldly announced efforts and initiatives to dismantle racism — and many colleges have made a strong commitment to build and sustain a culture of antiracism. At the same time, college students have come out in droves to demand social change for Black Americans and other marginalized groups.

Both college leaders and students must go beyond issuing simple words denouncing discrimination. They must actively work to eradicate anti-Blackness and uplift the histories and cultures of marginalized students.

Whether you’re attending a college or working at a college, recognizing the importance of Juneteenth marks a crucial step to ensuring our most vulnerable students feel safe, respected, and valued.


For School For Students Partners

Green is the New Black – Environmental Justice and HBCUs

Green is the New Black: Environmental Justice and HBCUs

Over the last several years, Huston-Tillotson University (HT) in Austin, TX has been steadily improving its environmental profile. Highlights include the introduction of an Environmental Studies major, a 240 kW rooftop solar installation, environmental education and outreach via the Dumpster Project, the activities of sustainability student group Green is the New Black, and attendance at the United Nations COP21 climate conference in Paris. This progress is just part of what we hope is a broad campus transformation. Building a green identity requires clear self-reflection; we continually ask “what does it really mean for a university to be green?” For a historically black institution like HT, a large part of the answer lies in the intersection between the school’s history and the practice of environmental justice.

Environmental Justice is Rooted in Social Justice

The HBCU Climate Consortium Delegation at COP21

Environmental justice (EJ) is increasingly prominent in environmental circles. EJ is based on the understanding that all of us deserve a healthy environment – clean air and water, healthy food, and biodiverse ecosystems free of toxic agents. The goal of EJ, then, is to ensure that environmental benefits and burdens are equitably distributed.

EJ emerged as a community-based movement in the 1980s, bolstered by groundbreaking studies that detailed how environmental burdens in the US disproportionally affect marginalized communities. Economic pressures, inadequate representation, and corporate abuse contribute to a pervasive pattern: poorer people and people of color were found to live near polluting industries, landfills, and areas with poorer air quality. Much EJ work focuses on correcting this pattern by raising awareness, renewing impacted areas, and creating community resilience. Restorative initiatives like Sustainable South Bronx and Little Village Environmental Justice Organization go beyond mitigating environmental abuses to address the system that allowed these situations to perpetuate. Thus, EJ often addresses racism, gender discrimination, worker’s rights, economic inequalities, access to healthcare, inclusive governance, and community development. Environmental justice is built on social justice. And social justice is a road historically black colleges have walked before.

HBCUs Are Uniquely Positioned to Tackle EJ Issues

There are 107 Historically Black College or Universities (HBCUs) in the US. HBCU is a special designation for private and public institutions of higher education founded before 1964 with the mission of educating black Americans. Most HBCUs are located in former slaveholding states, and most were formed before 1900 – many during the Reconstruction period with the assistance of organizations like the Freedmen’s Bureau and the American Missionary Society, or in 1890 when federal funding for black land-grant colleges was enacted. Most HBCUS began as teacher training colleges (normal institutions), seminaries, or agricultural and technical schools. They have evolved. Today, HBCUs range in size from large research-focused universities to community colleges. Despite this heterogeneity, HBCU’s common founding mission – and commitment to address inequalities – ties them together. HBCUs have lent powerful voices to social justice movements from civil rights to women’s rights to worker’s rights. They are suited by history and by vision to bring their impact to environmental rights. HBCUS are particularly well-positioned to tackle the “green ceiling” problem, that is, environmental organization leadership demographics that do not reflect the diversity of our communities.

Huston-Tillotson Joins a Growing HBCU-EJ Network

Huston-Tillotson first took steps towards improving its environmental profile in 2008. Campus recycling was instituted and HT joined what was at the time the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), a signature program of Second Nature now known as The Carbon Commitment. Since then, students, staff, and faculty have implemented environmental projects in academics, campus engagement, community outreach, and operations. Some of these projects have broken new ground for our institution. For example, based on AASHE’s database of university solar installations, HT now has the largest rooftop solar installation of any private HBCU.

As HT’s green identity has developed, our institutional focus on environmental justice has sharpened. HT has hosted the Building Green Justice Forum, a day-long environmental justice conference, for the last two years. Environmental efforts on campus were united in a newly formed Center for Sustainability and Environmental Justice. And students in Green is the New Black, whose mission is to promote sustainability through campus engagement and community outreach, have linked HT to the broader HBCU-EJ community through their participation in the HBCU Student Climate Initiate, a project led by environmental justice powerhouses Dr. Beverly Wright and Dr. Robert Bullard.
The commitment of HBCUs to voicing EJ concerns reached the global stage just a few weeks ago, when a delegation of 50 HBCU student leaders and mentors attended the UN COP21 climate conference. HT Green is the New Black students Brittany Foley and Elvia Hernandez and mentors Dominique Bowman and Karen Magid joined representatives from 15 other HBCUS to deliver their call for climate justice.

Environmental Justice on Every Campus

Environmental justice adds a critical perspective to environmentalism that demands the attention of our campus efforts. Attention to EJ can also compel students who may not normally be interested in environmental efforts. We hope that HT and other HBCUs can serve as examples of how to blend social justice and environmentalism.