UIS student premieres documentary as part of Black History Month

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Photograph courtesy of Destiney Boyd

John Kurecki , Features Reporter

This year’s Black History Month celebration has provided the campus with something unique; among the events was UIS student Grace Latimore premiering her research project, a documentary titled “Beneath the Surface,” to an overflowing audience.

According to the Diversity Center, the film, “[explores] what it means to be a minority in higher education.”

The documentary is formatted as a series of questions and answers; various students active in the black community on campus were asked about issues like community, identity, and academics.

Latimore expressed that while the film was originally intended to cover the experience of black women in higher education, she decided to expand her scope to include the entire black community.

The film, which was about 30 minutes long, is comprised of the students’ recorded responses. According to Latimore, the aim was to get real, honest answers from the students.

“There were no real rules or regulations for the students in their responses, all that I really asked is that they were honest, and we have an array of honest and sincere responses to serious questions,” she explained to the event’s crowd.

One of the most common criticisms raised by the film’s subjects was focused on diversity in the campus community. Latimore argued that, while UIS is technically diverse, the campus can often feel unwelcoming.

According to the latest demographic data available from UIS, which is from the fall of 2014, roughly 14 percent of the UIS undergraduate enrollment is black. By contrast, the University of Illinois at Chicago reported slightly less than eight percent of their 2014 undergraduate class as black, and approximately five percent of Urbana-Champaign’s 2015 undergraduate class self-identified as black.

Latimore offered a potential explanation of the student’s viewpoints, stating, “The diversity is really a big concern for students…Are we diverse on this campus? Yes…A lot of times I think people confuse diversity and being accepting of one another…we all come from different walks of life, different backgrounds and different experiences, but we don’t necessarily always feel accepted to be on this campus.”

When Latimore asked the crowd how many had felt some type of racially based discomfort or aggression, a significant portion of the crowd raised their hands. When she asked how many felt that they “could talk to a member of the administration, a faculty member, and that something would come of it,” nearly all of the hands went down.

In her address to the crowd after the screening, Latimore was critical of the university staff’s demographics, stating that “there is room for growth” in the diversity of faculty and staff.

UIS reported that as of fall 2015, 5.4 percent of full-time staff members were black, which has increased each year since 2011’s 3.5 percent.

The film is slated to be presented at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research, which, according to the event’s organizers, “is dedicated to promoting undergraduate research, scholarship, and create activity in all fields of study by sponsoring an annual conference for students.”

This year’s conference will be held at the University of North Carolina at Asheville the weekend of April 7.