University’s head of diversity reflects on Black History Month

Man in blazer posed in an outside setting

Assistant Vice President for the Division of Equity & Community Inclusion Frederick Smith

AVP for the Division of Equity & Community Inclusion Frederick Smith explains why it’s a celebration for everyone

Each February, Black History Month honors African Americans and their achievements. Frederick Smith, assistant vice president for the Division of Equity & Community Inclusion at San Francisco State University, recently sat down to discuss the annual celebration and its importance both on campus and beyond.

What does Black History Month mean to you? 

Black History Month is a great time of year to acknowledge the challenges and triumphs of black people in the U.S. I grew up in Detroit where many of my teachers, doctors, neighbors and role models are black. Learning about our history and celebrating ourselves was the norm all year — not just in February.

Black History Month is also a time for non-black communities to learn more about black identities and consider their solidarity and support for black people and black community issues. It’s a celebration for everyone.

Your role focuses on creating and maintaining equitable educational spaces on campus for a variety of groups, including the black community. How can universities achieve that?

All students, staff, faculty and administrators should get involved. This requires people to focus on questions of inclusion as it pertains to their role at their university. Do you value multiple perspectives in and out of the classroom? Do marginalized groups feel safe on campus? In what ways are you taking a stand against racism, sexism and oppression? Are you aware of your biases — explicit or implicit — and how that shapes campus culture?  

In my role, I’m focused on empowering the San Francisco State community to ask itself these types of questions. This helps people understand that they have a shared responsibility in creating an inclusive campus that can help everyone meet their academic and professional goals successfully. I’m glad to be part of SF State where we take these questions seriously.

You oversee the Black Unity Center on campus. Can you tell us more about it?

The Black Unity Center (BUC) is part of the Division of Equity & Community Inclusion, which includes several identity-based centers, student services and student life areas. BUC serves as a home away from home on campus for black students, staff, faculty and anyone who is interested in learning more about black identities and issues. It’s a safe space to study, prepare and eat food, have meaningful academic and cultural discussions, make friends and build connections.

BUC also presents many programs and events each semester that explore various aspects of blackness and black identities and the intersections with other communities. The BUC team — Tarshel Beards, Bucket Manyweather, Aaron Miller and Briana Williams — do a wonderful job with the day-to-day and long-term success of students, staff and faculty who use the space. 

Why is it important to celebrate Black History Month?

It’s important to learn more about the challenges, triumphs and contributions of black people in the U.S. and worldwide. The Black History Month programs organized by BUC, the Division of Equity & Community Inclusion and other academic partners at SF State have been great ways for our campus community to learn about the diversity of thoughts, experiences and identities within the black community.