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Viewpoint: Past, present and future of the University of Idaho's Black community

Mario Pile, first-ever director of U of I's Black and African American Cultural Center, discusses its 2022 creation and mission.

BOISE, Idaho — According to the 2020 U.S. Census, about 1.5% of Idaho's population identifies as Black or African American. That closely reflects the Black and African American student population at the University of Idaho in Moscow. According to the university, it stands at 1.2%.

The University is taking steps to recruit and retain Black and African American students, and create a welcoming, supportive environment for them. That includes the creation of the Black and African American Cultural Center in 2022. The BAACC says its mission is to provide those students with resources that will guarantee a smoother transition to the university; create a sense of belonging there and in their new communities, and create awareness of their unique and beautiful African culture.

Credit: University of Idaho
Mario Pile, director of Black and African American Cultural Center at the University of Idaho.

On this edition of Viewpoint, the center's first-ever director, Mario Pile, explained the importance of the university creating the center in the first place and its mission. Here is an excerpt from the interview.

"It's a sounding board for the state that, despite whatever may be perceived, it's a great step. It shows that this is an intentional investment in the students that we truly value by having a space and a director here. So it's a great first step," Pile said.

Doug Petcash: Why was it necessary, in your opinion?

Mario Pile: "Because, unfortunately, we live in a space where we struggle to center voices, especially Black voices. And I think what makes this so important as we talk about it right now is everyone wants to feel valued and seen and heard, and I think this university has taken that step to let the students who are currently here know, 'Hey, we do see you, we do hear you and we want to give you a space that isn't just for you, per se, but it is centered for you and then others can come and be a part of it as you feel seen and heard.'"

Pile says the Black Student Union is another organization supporting Black and African American students at the U of I.

A new book also just came out coinciding with Black History Month. Brody Gasper and Dr. Sydney Freeman Jr. wrote the book, "Seminal History and Prospective Futures of Blacks at the University of Idaho."

Dr. Freeman said he wants to make sure future generations of Vandals learn the history of their campus. The book is available on the university's website.

On this Viewpoint, Pile also discusses the challenges and opportunities for Idaho's Black community, and the importance of Black History Month. Viewpoint airs Sunday mornings at 9 o’clock on KTVB Idaho’s NewsChannel 7.

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