Posted on June 22, 2021 by

As the former Director of UTSA’s African American Studies program and a background in African American history, Mark Giles, Ph.D., professor in the Educational Leadership and Policy Studies department, recently lent his expertise to a group of staff and astronomers during a special Juneteenth event for the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO). 

“One of the things that attracted me to do the talk for them was that astronomy is one of those fields where they are seriously trying to diversify,” Giles said. “[The NRAO’s office of] diversity and inclusion is focused on trying to create a pipeline for underrepresented students to learn about astronomy, to try and get them into this professional field, and that resonated with me.” 

Focused on the history of Juneteenth and the topic of African American Citizenship, Giles’ presentation covered a historical timeline of major events related to African American freedom and citizenship. In addition, it examined “ways that African Americans must continually negotiate espoused rights and realities of freedom, citizenship, and belonging.”

“The 19 th century, especially the civil war and after, is one of those periods in history that still has a great impact on our society, and often a direct impact on our society,” he said. “But it’s something that we don’t often talk about in general conversation. So these are areas of my expertise and I was very happy to plug in and do this talk with them.” 

The event, held on June 16, was held on the same day as the House of Representatives passed legislation that would establish June 19 as “Juneteenth National Independence Day”, a US federal holiday. “I think the timing of my talk, and the timing of the legislation being passed…that was serendipity,” Giles said. 

Of the holiday designation, Giles hopes that along with celebration, people will use the historical date as a day of remembrance and recognition. “I’m hoping in the future that Juneteenth becomes, yes, a celebration, it’s a national holiday and all that, but it also is a time for reflection and it’s a time for people to really read and dig into some of our own country’s history, to really find out what has happened in the past, how can we fix things that we might be able to fix and make sure certain things don’t happen again,” he said. 

Participating in events such as these is one of the many ways UTSA and the College of Education and Human Development continue to reach into the community to educate beyond the university's walls. 

“UTSA is a diverse university, and as a Hispanic serving university, we are very focused on access to quality education for marginalized people, for people who have been underserved,” he said. “I think it was very relevant connecting to UTSA as a minority-serving institution, a Hispanic striving institution, for being in TX, not far from Galveston, and lastly, because STEM and the sciences are very important to UTSA.”