Scholars on Strike

Historians in the News
tags: racism, activism, Scholar Strike, #ScholarStrike, teach ins

Thousands of professors and students suspended business as usual -- as usual as can be during a pandemic -- to promote racial justice Tuesday, the first day of Scholar Strike.

The two-day action, which continues today, was conceived of just two weeks ago, following the shooting of Jacob Blake by police in Kenosha, Wis., and a related wildcat strike by professional basketball players. Yet by Tuesday morning, the strike had dozens of contributed lectures and discussions uploaded onto its own YouTube channel, along with live panels and constant social media activity under the hashtag #ScholarStrike.

The National Communication Association’s African American Communication and Culture Division, for instance, organized an all-day, livestreamed strike conference. Panels ranged from those on understanding the Black Lives Matter movement to infusing diversity in the classroom and curriculum. The premise of the latter panel was that diversity is too often an afterthought on most syllabi and should instead be centered in many courses from the start. Student and faculty activists have of course been saying the same thing in their own campus organizing for some time.

"Brave Spaces"

Presenter Carolyn Cross, professor of speech at Houston Community College, said during that panel that faculty members’ anxiety about addressing diversity with students causes them to pursue a “comfortable curriculum” at the expense of an “uncomfortable curriculum” that pushes both professors and students to grow. Similarly, Cross discussed the idea of “brave spaces” for engaging with diversity in the classroom as a complement to better-known “safe spaces.”

In a business communications class, for instance, Cross asks students to interview someone from a different background and then “present” that person to the rest of the class as a candidate for a hypothetical job. She also often asks students to "pause" before answering discussion questions in class, and asks them if they've considered the topic from another perspective.

Cross said professors must be willing to get to know students, invite them all to be heard and demonstrate some personal “vulnerability” to build rapport. Such is “the challenging work of authentic engagement with regard to identity, oppression, power and privilege -- and this is whether you teach graduate classes or undergraduate classes or basic core classes.”


Multiple Ways to Participate

Few institutions have openly endorsed the Scholar Strike, but colleges and universities haven’t gone out of their way to discourage faculty or student participation, either. Prior to the event, co-organizer Kevin Gannon, a historian at Grand View University, said he was paying attention to institutional responses to the strike, given that so many campus and system presidents issued statements of support for the social justice uprising this summer.

Some faculty unions have antistrike clauses. Gannon and co-organizer Anthea Butler, associate professor of religious studies at the University of Pennsylvania, therefore encouraged vulnerable, untenured scholars and contract-limited scholars to participate in the strike how they are able. That the action has such a heavy teach-in focus helps broaden scholars’ options.

Read entire article at Inside Higher Ed

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