But, Do #BlackLivesMatter In Academia?

Source: Elon University.

Source: Elon University.

I am embarrassed to admit that this is the first time I have publicly written about the (recent media attention to the) crisis of police violence against Black men and boys in the United States.  Why have I remained silent for months?  From August onward, different reasons have come to mind to explain (or justify?) my self-imposed silence:

  • I was a nervous wreck the days leading up to the American Sociological Association annual meeting in San Francisco, held just a few days after police officer Darren Wilson murdered Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO.  And, while at the conference, there was little discussion of Brown’s death — at least that I encountered.  It seemed, as a discipline and academic organization, sociologists were surprisingly silent about the murder and subsequent riots.  Fortunately, some sociologists were talking about Ferguson, and some were even making a plan to act as sociologists.  Still, our collective action pales in comparison to other discipline’s efforts.
  • My father is a white police officer.  I have struggled to reconcile what I know about the sometimes scary realities of his work life with the everyday lived realities of communities that have been anything but protected and served by police.  I have struggled to separate individual (white) police officers from widespread racist bias and violence in US law enforcement.
  • As protests spread across the US, and hostility toward a legacy of racist police violence reached a boiling point, I continued to remain silent and, admittedly, out of touch.  Teaching three classes, including one new course, while attempting to stay productive in my research, felt too overwhelming to sacrifice my precious personal time.  Maintaining work-life balance is hard enough without national crises.
  • As the body count increased, and the murders of Black men by police officers became remained legal and state-sanctioned, it became difficult to remain focused on my usual professional responsibilities.  How could I carry on teaching about the medical institution (in one class) and research methods (in two other classes) when my mind was clouded with a sense of total vulnerability as a Black gay man in a racist and homophobic society?  When white students challenged me about a few points they had lost on assignments, I thought, “you privileged asses don’t know — they’re killing us!  Fuck your 2 points.”

I excused my silence and, frankly, my self-imposed ignorance about the national crisis.  Anxiety about conference presentations.  Mixed boy problemsRaw pain.  I had reason after reason, excuse after excuse.  Eventually, I was forced to name the root issue: fear.  (Ah, and as the tears instantly began forming after typing those four letters, my suspicion is confirmed.)

Fear

I make a point of talking about current events and new published studies at the beginning of my classes — well, at least those that are undeniably related to the course, and usually only in my substantive courses (e.g., Medical Sociology, Gender and Sexuality).  In teaching Medical Sociology and Sociological Research Methods this semester, I never felt comfortable bringing up the murders of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Rumain Brisbon, and … (too many).  These tragedies did not seem relevant to lectures on sexual health, or multivariate analysis, or the decline of medicine, or qualitative data analysis; so, I never brought them up.

I suspect, at some level, I feared that a student would even ask, “how is this related to our class?”  Or, that some would later criticize me on course evaluations for focusing too much on racism (when the course has nothing to do with it).  I have been challenged by students enough for this fear to feel at least somewhat rational.  And, as my own pain and outrage grew, I worried that I was not “removed” enough from the tragedies to have a “neutral” conversation with my students about them.  I knew well enough that the pain was too raw to risk having a (white) student demand to know, “why are we talking about that issue here?”

Eventually, I was presented an “excuse” to even utter the word Ferguson in my Medical Sociology class.  At my university, a forum was held to discuss the Grand Jury’s decision regarding Darren Wilson and, by the time of the forum, that regarding the murder of Eric Garner, as well.  I mentioned the event to my class, strongly encouraging my students to attend, but made it clear that I did not want to have a discussion in class about it.

At the forum, I admitted my embarrassment for going almost the full semester without ever discussing the national crisis.  And, I pushed back on the few other staff and faculty who attended to stop implicitly asking why the students were so quiet on the issue and, instead, ask ourselves why we had not provided students the space and resources to discuss it and (if appropriate) to act.  I know I am not alone in failing to discuss these important, urgent events in my classes — not in being afraid to do so (as a pre-tenure young Black gay man) and not in feeling it was “irrelevant” to my courses.

Do #BlackLivesMatter In The Academy?

Do Black lives actually matter in academia?  No and no.  On the one hand, Black students, staff, and faculty are woefully underrepresented in higher education.  Nominal diversity aside, there are too many academic institutions that fail to fully include Black people, to offer equal resources and opportunities, to protect Black people from harm.  On the other hand, Black communities and their contributions to society and history are rarely presented as legitimate, primary areas of inquiry in higher education.  Sure, there are a few courses in the social sciences and humanities that focus on race and racism; but, too few schools even offer degrees in Black, racial and ethnic, or cultural studies (sadly, my own university doesn’t, either).  At many schools, students are simply not afforded academic spaces to frankly discuss race, racism, ethnicity, and xenophobia.

The absence of Black people in academic institutions and in academic curricula are compounded for Black scholars.  Some of us are accepted on the condition that our Blackness is downplayed, contained, silenced, or erased.  We run the risk of losing our jobs or being sued if we dare to discuss racism as a legitimate area of academic study.  We risk being dismissed as researchers for studying our own communities, our work mocked as “me-search” while our white colleagues’ research on their own communities is seen as legitimate, mainstream scholarship.  And, despite our credentials and prestigious position in institutions of higher learning, we would be naive to expect to be treated better than a common nigger once we leave our campus offices.

Since Black lives seem to matter little in academia, I should not be surprised by my own silence about the ongoing national crisis of police violence against Black communities.  The culture of academia fails to prioritize and celebrate Black lives.  So, I regularly feel as though I am defending my right to exist before a jury each time I teach about race and racism.  But, I am further exhausted by attempting to toe the line of neutrality, for fear of retaliation from racist- and even “post-racist”-minded students.  My mainstream academic training, which prioritized prestige (i.e., journal rank), theory, and method over activism, social justice, and marginalized communities, did not include critical race theory or much of anything that made race central, nor skills for discussing current events like Ferguson in my classes.  And, my current institution did not make explicit support for me if I decided to discuss the national crisis in my classes.  (As a matter of survival, I do not assume the absence of explicit hostility or opposition necessarily implies the presence of acceptance or support.) Academia, in general, is not designed in a way that would make such discussions obvious material for one’s courses, whether or not they are explicitly focused on racism.

Can you blame me for being afraid to speak?  Without appropriate training and support to speak up, I knew that doing so would be at my own risk.  And, the question is, do I risk my job by speaking up or do I risk my life by remaining silent?  Whether you sympathize with me, or pity me, or even think I am full of shit, I have blamed myself — and, still do somewhat.  I let pain, fear, and uncertainty prevent me from providing my students one of probably few possible spaces to speak about the national crisis. I contributed to reinforcing the message that race and racism are not worthwhile topics in the classroom, particularly if “race” or some similar term is not in the course’s title.

We Must Make #BlackLivesMatter In Academia

I suspect some may wonder why instructors should talk about Brown, Garner, Rice, and Brisbon in the classroom.  I respect others’ academic freedom and, thus, am hesitant to claim that others should or should not discuss this crisis with their students.  But, there are a few reasons that I think others should consider.

First, we should resist the temptation to see this as a recent, temporary, and isolated series of murders.  Police violence, particularly against Black and brown bodies, is not new, and certainly not limited to these four murders (nor to men of color).  I imagine that there is a sizable body of research on race, racism, and law enforcement that should appease educators who are skeptical to engage current events.  Second, by bringing these conversations into our classes, we may equip our students to be able to connect those events with their own lives and communities.  Perhaps we can further chip away at the myth of racial equality and meritocracy in higher education.  Third, we would be contributing to students’ awareness of events and phenomena outside of our classes, even outside of the ivory tower.

But, facilitating a discussion about Ferguson, for example, is radical.  It is radical to the extent that one is pushing back against the hegemonic academic culture of racelessness or “post-raciality” (which, in reality, is simply white supremacy).  So, doing so likely requires some amount of strategizing beyond, “hey, I should probably mention this really quickly in my class.”  Below I list some ideas, mainly from the efforts of others who were brave enough to act and speak up, as well as some that would, in hindsight, have helped me to feel empowered to speak up:

  • Before you talk about the murder of Michael Brown, talk with other instructors first (or at least friends or family), and do your homework about the facts and timeline.  One danger of talking about Ferguson for the first time in one’s classes is not having thought through one’s own perspective and emotions, and not being prepared to hear possible counterperspectives and inaccuracies that students may offer.  Talking with others at your institution first could help to glean the degree to which you are supported and, implicitly, to garner support in case things do not go well in your class discussion.  Speaking for myself, the regular sense of isolation in academia exacerbates my fear and self-doubt in front of the classroom; I imagine I would have felt more empowered if I had already spoken with colleagues about the events that unfolded in Ferguson.
  • But, do not assume that students are not paying attention; yet, do not assume that they have received accurate facts about the murders, either.
  • See what other academics have done.  Read everything on the #FergusonSyllabus.  And, everything that Sarah Kendzoir has written about Ferguson, MO.
  • Use peer-reviewed literature and books about racial violence in your classes.  But, also consider using readings that feature personal accounts and the voices of Black people, either in anthologies or even blog posts and news articles.  We must go beyond the recent murders that garnered national media and social media attention.
  • When discussing the crisis, make clear that it cannot be thought of in either exclusively academic or exclusively personal (i.e., non-academic) terms.  Our conversations should not become so focused on the aggregate patterns and problems that we forget about the particular victims of racist police violence; but, we also do students a disservice by discussing these individual murders as isolated events, or purely in terms of our emotions about them.  It is crucial to give social and historical context for these events to prevent our conversations from dissolving into simply interrogating victims’ and perpetrators’ backgrounds, biases, and emotional states.
  • Set an appropriate and safe tone in the classroom for any discussion.  Make sure that you feel prepared to address problematic, offensive, or triggering comments that may be made during class discussion.  Upon reflecting on your class’s dynamics, if it does not seem the conversation will be unproductive or unsafe, consider eliminating discussion to either simply lecture or allow students to privately reflect in writing.  Or, simply forgo any discussion at all if you do not feel it will go well or that you are not adequately prepared.
  • Besides classroom dialogue, consider other ways on and off campus, and on and offline, to act and speak up.  But, also prioritize self-care so that your professional livelihood is not jeopardized by the psychological toll of yet another racial crisis or scandal.
  • Help students to connect the the racist police violence that has recently captured media attention to their own lives, including racial disparities in policing and disciplinary actions in schools.  You can also draw on stories of racist police violence in your own city or state that have likely been overlooked by mainstream media (but, perhaps has been covered on social media).

Closing Thoughts

In some ways, I feel this post is “too little, too late.”  What does writing about my five months of silence add to conversations that have ensued since (and long before) the murder of Michael Brown?  At a minimum, I wish to name the professional, social, and emotional constraints I regularly face as an academic.  I am confident that I am not alone in feeling that my supposed academic freedom is undermined by racist academic norms and practices, isolation, lack of support, as well as the resultant fear and self-doubt.  To others who remain too afraid to speak up, you are not alone.

Ideally, I hope to also make clear how academia is complicit in the silence and ignorance that surrounds racist police violence, and racism in general, in the US.  We fail to provide our students with the critical lens necessary to connect what they learn in the classroom with what is featured (or ignored) by the media.  We fail to demonstrate the relevance of academic scholarship to the “real” world, and to take serious topics such as race and racism in the academy.  White students are not challenged to see their own racial privilege, and how their actions and inactions contribute to the perpetuation of racism.  Many Black students do not see themselves on campus or in their textbooks.  This is in the midst of academia’s role in perpetuating racial inequality, while producing a generation of “post-racials.”

Finally, this post serves to break my silence.  I have once again learned the hard way that my silence does not protect me.

20 thoughts on “But, Do #BlackLivesMatter In Academia?

  1. I talked about these issues in my class all term, but it was easier because ethnic/racial movements and conflict is the TOPIC of the class. And I actually had the expertise to talk about both the policing and the movement issues in a broader context. Even so, it led to disruptions in the syllabus and shortened the time available to spend on other issues (e.g. Latino & Asian American movements; Muslim Americans, affirmative action). My students reported that many of their classes were taking time for these issues, but I’m sure it depending on the course topic. My class explicitly says that responding to current events is part of what the course is about.

    I know your own positionality and bio makes you feel vulnerable on these issues, but a bigger factor for most people is that you have an obligation to teach the course that was described in the course catalog and syllabus, and students have some reason to expect that they will learn material that fits that description. And students will get justifiably annoyed if someone with no expertise in a topic gives their own uninformed opinions from a lecture platform. Imagine how furious you would feel if, say, a math or chemistry prof used the lecture stand to give a short speech about how protesters are stereotyping police and ignoring black on black crime. This, I think, is the real structural issue that prevents the academy from responding well to events like this. We believe that we should use our position as teachers to educate, but we don’t believe in using our position to spout our own uninformed positions. It is easier to put on out-of-class events than disrupt a pre-planned syllabus.

    That the ordinary curriculum does not give much expression to Black lives and the importance of Black lives is, then, the issue to address. And there I think your criticism is spot on.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your comment. You make a good point, particularly as you move outside of the social sciences and humanities. I suppose general education requires are designed to put at least some exposure to these fields in college students’ training. But, that hardly guarantees they would get any in-depth exposure to race and racism, particularly the role of law enforcement in perpetuating racial inequality and racist violence.

      We do, however, have some flexibility in defining what fits within the scope of our course. Though I’m beating myself up about not talking about police violence and racism, I am rather proud of myself for spending time to talk about racial disparities in health, transgender health issues, and other topics that are related to Medical Sociology, albeit rarely covered in others’ classes. Yet, these are also areas of my own research, which reflects your point about expertise.

      Also, thank you for making these events a focal point in your classes. It sounds as though it went well with the students, which is a relief to hear.

      Like

  2. adding this comment so I’ll get email when there are new comments, forgot to do it before.

    Like

  3. Hi Eric, and to the other poster, Olderwoman. I wouldn’t be so worried about whether you cover these issues in your classes, particularly given semester time frames, student and administration expectations that a course syllabus be adhered to, and lastly, sometimes the challenges (that you noted) in ‘weaving in’ current events to make course content relevant.

    That said, however, I do think that some disciplines and academics should note these issues, both in their teaching and in the public arena – particularly those scholars in the policing and criminal justice areas, as they have done, and do, conduct research into these very topics. What is so striking is that, from following the events and public discourse, particularly media reporting, there is so little said by, or reported by, scholars working in this field. This may be because they are shut out by the media, but also that academics themselves might be reluctant to offer observations on what has occurred, simply because they wish to attain or retain relationships with law enforcement agencies.

    I have yet to see a media report on the Ferguson events that cites those scholars who have previously written on the militarisation of policing – why is this? Again, where is an academic voice in the public discourse on police and government agency use of racial profiling in crime analysis, imprisonment rates, and structural inequality that can assist in understanding how these issues have come to the fore, and why policing itself is an active expression of societal norms?

    I may have missed these reports, but having researched in this area, I am amazed that so few academics seem to have put their heads above the parapet, so to speak. (*I am in the process of writing up and submitting papers, so yes, I do include myself in that group). I suspect that, apart from those relationships academics seek with law enforcement and government, there is also concern around freedom of expression, where academics are now compelled to be careful in their speech, writings, and activism to effect societal change (notably, engaging with the media) that now is calibrated against job security in academia. And, again, those who could and should understand these nuances, and be the next generation to effect positive change, are the students. I would be interested in whether these events are being canvassed in the criminal justice/policing academic streams, and also why academics are not being heard in mainstream media.

    Liked by 1 person

    • San Fran, you make an excellent point. I’m one of the first people to roll my eyes when I hear that academics aren’t relevant because they don’t care or don’t make an effort. I can think of plenty of scholars who are trying to make their research accessible in various ways. But, for various reasons, there are not enough of us “speaking truth to the people” and, among us who are, we may not be having much of an impact. We’re rewarded for our individual accomplishments, so there’s little emphasis placed on being a part of a chorus of scholarly voices. We’re certainly not rewarded for anything but getting our research into journals that sit behind paywalls; some are even punished for doing anything more than that, perhaps being dismissed as doing “too much service” or even being an activist. And, related to that point, we’re not trained effectively to make our work accessible. Maybe the media also don’t want our perspectives because they don’t fuel the drama; some shy away from working with the media because you almost certainly will be misquoted.

      I’m happy to hear you making a commitment to change this. There’s no reason why we have so much scholarship on law enforcement, crime, and race, yet each new murder by police is seen as a surprise and isolated incident.

      Like

  4. San Fran: there are academics who have written about these issues for years, as I gather you know. The relative absence of academics from the media is a choice of the media, I think. But may also be tied to whether professors make themselves available to media. I’ve talked to four or five reporters myself this past fall, mostly local but a couple of national-level reporters. (I’ve had quite a bit of media contact over the years, rarely as a headliner, mostly as one of the quotes buried in the middle somewhere.)

    The structure of news reporting mostly eviscerates what academics actually say. You talk to a reporter for an hour and they use two sentences. It is a very different thing from writing your own article and saying what you want to say. That’s writing an oped and managing to get it published, which is actually pretty hard, even in a local market, and getting into the New York Times is a lot harder than getting into ASR.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for the reply, and I do realise that media tend to select one or two sentences, which may not really go to the gist of the issue. Also, that writing an oped would be another avenue. However, in talking with journalists, particularly those who publish internationally, there is interest in academic opinion. I’m guessing that this would require some form of collective academic response – one page (or half-screen) advertisements, perhaps?!

      And while journal articles also offer an opportunity for discussion, pay walls and limited readership mean that little, if any, analysis, evidence and argument, makes its way into the public mainstream. For myself, I feel that until academics do start drawing attention to the racial and cultural perceptions that affect bias, few students are going to understand this, or engage in any form of self-critique/analysis. It seems that now is the opportune time – particularly for scholars in the policing and criminal justice streams – to start this process with their students.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thinking some more, where I have seen academics wade in is in blogs, which have the advantage that you can write what you want to write. Most academic bloggers have small audiences, but the few who write consistently and offer up informed research- and data-driven posts on a regular basis do start getting noticed. Most academics are not doing this. I’ve been meaning to do it myself with my racial disparities info, but have not absorbed the start-up costs what with being busy with administration and what not. So I fault myself. And that’s where people who don’t have tenure or are in hostile political environments might worry about what they say. But I think that is the best medium for getting academic material out into the public in a readable. way.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks for another great blog entry Eric! Its also nice to see a conversation happening, I appreciate everyone’s responses. The part of this whole conversation that is most frustrating to me is the unspoken assumption that being silent is somehow more neutral than speaking out, or that being non-biased means not supporting an argument on either side. (Just to be clear, I know no one here is making either of these claims, but these are the implicit ideas that keep us from speaking out).

    The expanse and limits of state sanctioned violence are completely legitimate intellectual topics. Historians, political scientists, sociologists, etc have been discussing the role of race, gender and other social categories in defining citizenship rights as long as we have had an idea of a citizen. The American Medical Association considers gun violence a public health issue. Understanding the data we have and don’t have on police shootings is a completely relevant methodological topic. I would be hard pressed not to find a way in which Ferguson is relevant in any social science or humanities class. There should be nothing controversial in discussing current events in our classes.

    All higher ed institutions have equal opportunity and treatment policies. How is it possible to provide equal opportunity to students if we are ignoring the role of racist violence in student lives? What is the message to African American, Latino or any lower income students if we take a “neutral” position on oppression? Another popular news topic this past semester was violence against women. Should we fear reprisal for addressing the topic with a firm stand in favor of ending violence and protecting women? Of course not. We can debate the way gender works in violence against women, but we can’t claim that gender is irrelevant or that the violence is acceptable.

    We have to stop being so afraid to confront racism in our classrooms and institutions. I have students complaining constantly that my class is “all about race” (or class or gender) instead of “on the topic.” And I often fear for my job (I am a permanent but non-tenured Associate Professor in a private college). But I try to remind myself that I don’t teach opinion. I teach research and evidence based analysis. And there is a long and broad history of critical academic work on race/class/gender inequality. These area may be marginalized in academia, but they are NOT marginal. And considering them marginal betrays a stunning lack of intellectual curiosity and critical thinking.

    Ironically, I have been teaching Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow for 5 years in my Soc of Law class, and this was the first year my students did not complain that the class was “all about race.” Many of them continued to resist Alexander’s central claims, but at least they realized its relevance.

    Someone asked about how the topic of police violence and racism are covered in Criminology. It really depends on whether the instructor / department comes out of sociology or in criminal justice policy and practice. Sociological criminology is much more theoretically grounded and places the criminal justice system in a larger context. Criminal Justice starts from the assumptions of the system itself and is not as critical. But my experience is limited, so would welcome hearing from others.

    Like

    • Thanks, Karen. Excellent reminder. As olderwoman suggests below, I am hesitant to stand firm in knowing I’m teaching scholarly theory and research because students (and even other academics) don’t necessarily respect all forms of scholarship. I have heard others who find solace in knowing they are simply covering empirical research about race and racism; perhaps they respond to students’ challenges as such. I’d like to try this in my classes, and think it would be wise to even acknowledge at the beginning of the semester that the lecture material is based on peer-reviewed research (not opinion). But, I’d be lying if I said I felt backed enough by colleagues and academic institutions to withstand challenges that aren’t sufficed by “but, this is research.”

      Like

  6. Professor Karen’s comment about neutrality etc. leads me to a reflection that is back where Eric started: how positionality affects the vulnerability you may feel about speaking out. My positionality is older white tenured professor. I don ‘t feel vulnerable at all, really; all of my constraints are trying to decide how much to deviate from my initial plans (which already include racial issues). But people who are themselves minorities or untenured feel much more vulnerable. I’ve had conversations with my TAs: the White TAs feel much safer pushing hard with [white] students on issues of racial privilege; TAs of color feel that they need to be careful to offer overt respect for all points of view as they lead class discussions. Among my TAs this term (White, Asian, Native, Black), it was the Black TA who waited the longest to set up discussions of the policing issues, precisely because she felt so strongly herself and so vulnerable about how the students would view her. As a White person, I do think it is important for me to respect the self-protective behavior of other people who do not feel as invulnerable as I do. I know I get away with saying things that instructors of different backgrounds would not be able to say. Almost all the faculty of color I know work hard to emphasize facts and research and are careful how they say things.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Well, isn’t this just a fine kettle of fish?
    This truth spoken so boldly by Olderwoman supports the reality those of us of color and “other” status feel in academia and beyond every day. We must often rely upon others to make the steps, and speak the truths- often our own truths, because to speak our truth means risking assassination in some form or another. We continue to wear the mask everyday, dying another form of death each time. We must find allies such as Elderwoman, but ultimately, we must be willing to make the ultimate sacrifice ourselves if we are going to create change. Our fears of losing face, money, status, tenure, acceptance…what good are these things if they are illusory?

    Today is the second day of Kwanzaa 2015. To practice the seven principles is also to engage in personal and social behaviors and growth processes to transform ourselves and the world which are formed and informed by these principles. Today’s theme December 27, 2015 is Self Determination; which teaches us to uphold our right and responsibility to be ourselves, to to live freely, to enjoy a full measure of justice, and to bear constant witness to the equal validity and value of African ways of human being in the world without denying others similar rightful claims. Tomorrow’s principle of Collective Work and Responsibility espouses a shared responsibility in building the society and world we want and deserve to live in; ,to be actively concerned with the well-being of the world, to relentlessly resist evil and injustice, and to constantly seek common ground and common good.

    There is much work to be done, and it seems part of the greater work is to authentically acknowledge the full nature of our struggle starting with acknowledging the grief and pain inherent in our own struggle.
    \

    \

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Just a brief addition to what Olderwoman said and from a similar perspective. One route to getting the media to pay attention to the scholarship is via activist organizations that make this a key part of their mission. Scholars’ Strategy Network is one such that is actively looking for more scholars of color (same old segregated networks of recruitment story) and Council on Contemporary Families has some great oped coaching (stephanie Koonz knows her stuff). Sociologists for Women in Society also is investing in media relations with some success (wendy christensen is tweeting talking points from articles and blogs). Just Politics also does oped workshops and other media relations training (in NYC) – Jesse Daniels is the powerhouse there. My point is that you don’t need to reinvent the wheel – there are progressive sociologists who are building skills and relationships to be effective in reaching the media. The most effective is actually one in poli sci – The Monkey Cage – that the Washington Post helps support now. And reaching out with data to the folks at Fivethirtyeight is also a route to media engagement (they led a lot of the media discussion on the inadequacy of data on police killings).

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Thank you for sharing your feelings. I believe it is never “too little, too late”, and I think your students would appreciate hearing your perspectives and feelings about the events. They may also appreciate an opportunity to discuss the issues and to express their own concerns.

    Let me share why I think this is so important. I teach at St. Louis University, we are about 10 miles from Ferguson and many of our students, faculty and staff live in or near Ferguson. Although we are close to Ferguson in proximity we are also worlds away in terms of privilege because many of the folks in our north city/county region do not have the financial means or educational backgrounds to attend the university.

    St. Louis University has been very involved in the local events. When Mike Brown was killed the administration responded very quickly by holding a vigil When Cornel West and other leaders came to the city, the university offered the basketball arena for a venue. About a month later another young Black man (Vonderritt Meyer) was killed even closer to our campus. Protestors gathered to march and the march ended up on our campus. These young people then set up camp as #occupySLU for about 10 days. Even though the university received many calls from concerned parents, the administration did the right thing and engaged the protestors in dialog. They sat down with the protesters to hear their anger and their concerns. An agreement was developed in concert with students, faculty, the administration, and protestors. #OccupySLU began and ended peacefully.

    This written agreement was not just composed of empty words. The university continues to exemplify wisdom and compassion as the peaceful protests continue daily here (yes, daily since August 9th but the peaceful protests don’t get media coverage).

    Here are just some of the things that have happened: the university held a symposium to bring together faculty, students and organizations in the north city/county area, one of the African-Amercian studies professors (who has been actively involved in the protests) went across campus to share pizza and to speak to the science faculty, the university brought in outside speakers for a day-long symposium on how to discuss race and other difficult issues in the classroom (even if it is not directly relevant to the course). In addition, our students were really impacted by the protests and some of them were among the main organizers of the protests. The university suggested that professors work with these students to accommodate absences due to the protests.There are many other things happening at the law school and medical school as well.

    Here’s the link to the agreement if you would like to read it:
    http://www.slu.edu/Documents/demonstration/Agreement.pdf

    These are the things that can happen when there is dialog. I hope you will find others at your institution that you can engage in conversation. If not in the formal classroom setting, then maybe start a “brown bag” series to discuss these important issues.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, that’s great news. I imagine the positive response from your university’s administration was a key factor. But, as you point out, someone had to push a little to even find out if they would be supportive. I aim to feel less fearful about being one to raise my voice, to be the “spark” if necessary (tenure will help, I’m sure); perhaps a shared sense of empowerment among my colleagues would help, too. The movement at your campus is at least an inspiration to do more on my own.

      Like

  10. Hi, I just revisited this post and further comments have been really inspiring. Eric, I don’t think you will be a lone voice for long, as am sure there are others in your institution who would join in. All the best for 2015!

    Like

  11. Pingback: On The Conservatizing Effect Of The Tenure-Track | Conditionally Accepted

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s