HSAS’s Lack of Recognition for Black History Month
Rachel Wong, Grade 11, Co-Editor-in-Chief
With the recent surge in Black Lives Matter activism, many people see it as more important than ever for schools to address Black History Month. The students and faculty at the High School of American Studies agree that the school should do more to commemorate the month-long celebration.
Through its name, the High School of American Studies makes obvious its emphasis on American history. Many students report disappointment with what they see as a lack of acknowledgment of Black history.
“If times were normal, eight hours of my week would be dedicated to history, and even more if you count homework,” said Noa Yolkut, a sophomore. “With all that time, it feels like there should be space to educate us on Black History.”
Students and teachers both noted that in past years HSAS has been inconsistent in addressing Black History Month school-wide.
Mr. Elinson, an American history teacher, maintains a year-round bulletin board detailing Black History. He encourages students to put up articles or post-it notes with thoughts. However, the transition to remote learning made that impossible this year, so Mr. Elinson incorporated the NY Times’ 1619 Project in his classes, creating a Black History section in Google Classroom.
In 2019, Ms. Genao organized a Black history afternoon where Mr. Evans moderated a discussion room, Mr. Valerio and Mrs. Hallinan showed documentaries and films, and Mr. Elinson ran a Black History trivia room. However, teachers recalled there was little student participation because attendance was not mandatory.
Mr. Mansdorf has also tried to organize school-wide assemblies, inviting speakers and showing documentaries, but his efforts have not become annual events.
Overall, while teachers have taken some initiative to include Black History Month in their class or organize school-wide events in the past, there is no consistent, annual staple in the school’s calendar.
Haphazardness seems to be a recurring theme.
“In Spanish class, we’re basically spending the month on Black History and related issues, but in other classes, it hasn’t been acknowledged at all,” said Elektra Birchall, a senior.
However, some other teachers have taken steps to incorporate Black history into their curriculum. “I have been part of the problem, [but] this year … I decided to do something,” said Mr. Halabi. “I took a full period to talk about New York City’s Freedom Day, Feb 3, 1964, … when half a million NYC students boycotted school to demand integration.”
Looking forward, students and teachers have proposed incorporating more Black history into the curriculum by discussing Black artists, scientists, authors, and mathematicians.
Claire Lee, a freshman, also proposed adding more short readings about prominent Black figures. Most students and teachers have proposed creating a Black History elective or hosting a school-wide assembly with speakers.
The Committee for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, a student-run organization, has recruited speakers to visit classes to present talks about Black leaders. But still, students and teachers noted that more needs to be done, and the administration should take the lead.
“I think it is fantastic that CEDI exists—but there is a difference between the school allowing a student group to organize, and the school initiating or sponsoring that work,” said Mr. Halabi. “[F]undamentally, leadership has to come from the school. That is the starting point. And that is what has been missing. That really needs to change.”
Ultimately, the responsibility to address Black history lies with everyone. “It’s on all of us. The administration should make sure teachers incorporate Black History Month into their curriculum, but teachers should also take it upon themselves to address Black history every month,” said Isabel Tribe, a junior. “As students, it’s also our job to push teachers, classmates, and the administration to honor Black History Month.”
Fundamentally, HSAS needs to be more active during Black History Month—especially as a history school. As Tribe said, “Black Americans have been left out of the history books for too long. Black history is American history, and it needs to be taught that way.”
Art by Rachel Wong, Grade 11
HSAS students believe more should be done to address Black History Month at school.