professors joined a nationwide strike against discrimination
Sam Tapper – Managing Editor
Abby Epstein – News Editor
Tamonda Griffiths – Contributor
Students and teachers gathered on the Hilton C. Buley Library patio at 1 p.m. on Sept. 8 and 9 for the Scholar Strike in their efforts to bring awareness to the police brutality and racial injustice that has affected minority communities in the U.S.
“I think it [the strike] was conceptualized a couple of weeks ago by some scholars in other parts of the country, scholars of color, who wanted us to put a strike on all of our responsibilities as professors, which include[s]; teaching, committee work and meetings,” said associate professor of history, Siobhan Carter-David.
According to a campus-wide statement, the strike was a national two-day movement sparked by a tweet from Anthea Butler, Associate Professor of Religious Studies and Graduate Chair in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania following the shooting of an unarmed black man, Jacob Blake at the hands of Kenosha, Wisconsin police officers.
“A lot of us have been working at Southern to undo some of the systemic racism at Southern and this seemed like a really good opportunity to recommit ourselves to doing that work and to showing solidarity with the folks that are doing this nationwide,” said associate professor of sociology, Cassi Meyerhoffer.
English professor, Brandon Hutchinson, who participated in the strike, said she has been at the university for almost 17 years and it has “taken quite a long time” for her to feel comfortable enough to participate in something like this.
Hutchinson said it took time for her to find, “allies” and a sense of community within her fellow faculty and staff members and has felt safer than she did years ago.
Hutchinson said her biggest commitment, is to step back, breathe and communicate her feelings of being overwhelmed by the racial injustices in society.
“I was a little unsure if I could make it today and I think some of that might be fear, some of that might be how public do I want to be on campus,” said Hutchinson. “My heart’s desire is to no longer be in the shadows and to stand out.”
Associate Professor of Social Work, Amy Smoyer said as society and the campus community continue to attempt to strive for racial equality, she too recommits to being “present” to those around her ideas of white supremacy that say our productivity is the only way to measure our self-worth. This a moment where we take time for ourselves, for our emotional wellbeing is a type of productivity that I want to learn more of.”
Tracy Tyree, vice president for student affairs, said she evaluates her role in unintentionally contributing to racial injustice through her microaggressions, racism or racist behavior to help her address them and instead contribute to racial equality.
“I make a commitment, recommitment – I feel like I have been working at this commitment,” Tyree said, “but I continue to check myself as to whether I’m doing enough.”
As a mother, Tyree said the hardest job is raising her son to be a man who thinks differently about race and acknowledges his white privilege to eventually effect change within underprivileged communities around him.
“As a vice president at the university,” said Tyree, “I commit to addressing racism that we know exists at Southern. I recognize the privilege that I have in my leadership role and the power that is within me, not just in the work that I do, but in the table that I sit at with the colleagues that I join and how we collectively provide leadership for the university and the things that need to be done to address the racist and other forms of bias that exist systemically.”
Multiple professors did not know about the nationwide Scholar Strike until the day before, when Carter-David told them about it.
“I heard about it really just last night through Siobhan, I saw something really briefly about it a couple weeks ago, but I’m not on Twitter or anything so I didn’t know about it until she had found out about it last night,” said Meyerhoffer.
Carter-David said the people who organized the strike have a range of resources on the Scholar Strike website and, a YouTube page where they were streaming live and recording information over the two days of the strike.
Political science major Abdul Osmanu, a sophomore, said a lot of students look to professors on campus as mentors and the Scholar Strike allows them to use their “teacher power” to potentially open a lot of eyes on campus.
“I think they could truly be what starts something much bigger,” said Osmanu. “It’s that union power, it’s that teacher power, that people power. And it’s more than just having ‘Black Lives Matter’ plastered on your building; you actually have to put in the actual work that it takes to be a social justice school.”
Among those in the crowd on the Academic Quad were the Owls men’s basketball coaches, Scott Burrell and assistant Mark Fogel, as well as numerous players from the team, including two of last season’s captains: guard Isaiah Boissard and forward Greg Jones, both seniors.
“[I wanted to be here] just to see the different viewpoints from everybody on campus and how they feel about the situation and how we’re going to address it as a campus, as a community,” said Jones.
With basketball being at the forefront of social justice conversations among the major sports in the country, both Jones and Fogel, (while they did not directly attribute their presence at the Scholar Strike to the NBA and their actions), said that they felt it was important that their team be represented at the event.
“For me, it’s important [to be here] because as a basketball coach, many of the young men that I coach are African American,” Fogel said. “Just being here and listening to a lot of different points of view of what people have experienced in their lives, because obviously it’s much more different than what I’ve experienced throughout my life. So, [I’m] trying to learn as much as I possibly can about people’s experiences and what they’ve had to go through.”
Burrell focused more on the national side of the social justice conversation. While he said that “it’s good to see” these types of campus events given the current climate, he also said that the extreme division between the left-wing and right-wing is what is holding the country back with these kinds of conversations.
“Everybody’s a human being, and we should all love each other no matter what your sexual orientation is, the color of your skin, what you believe in, who you’re voting for,” said Burrell. “We’re all in this together. Like everybody’s said, this virus we’re in together. Our country is so divided that a mask has become Democrat and no mask has become Republican, which is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. Our country is so divided over every little thing, and it’s sad.”
Fogel said that the men’s basketball team is “talking about doing some things” regarding social justice and that the coaching staff is still discussing what the team can do to spread the message of social justice during the season, should they play this year.
For now, Burrell, Fogel and Jones all said the Scholar Strike was event is a good start and spreads the right message about what the university stands for as a social justice institution.
“I think it’s very important that all the minorities, all the different races, people of color can see that our school does care and wants to make a change, to advocate for a change,” Jones said, “I think it’s good and shows that we’re moving in a positive direction.”
Photo credit: Bria Kirklin