Black Lives Matter Challenges us to Embody the Legacy of Stonewall.

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Written by Odhan Mullen ’20

Dear Fellow White LGBT People

Do you remember your first Pride? I remember mine. I woke up early, and anxiously watched the sunrise fade from the kitchen window as I packed my lunch for the day ahead. The pressure building in my chest slowed my walk, and I accidentally missed the first train. When I finally arrived at Grand Central Station, I followed a group of twenty-somethings holding cardboard signs and little rainbow flags to the march. I never actually joined the march as I had intended, but seeing the passion and joy of those who marched– unapologetic about being visible with love–was enough. I was enthralled by the parade of glitter and starstruck when several cast members of the Orange Is the New Black passed by.

I also saw signs emblazoned with slogans: “Remember the Stonewall!” “The first pride was a riot!” I Googled “Stonewall” after returning home and read about Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera. I didn’t realize it at the time how much this new knowledge would change my self-understanding and my relationship with those around me.

That initial awareness expanded in my first college course in Gender and Queer Studies, which introduced me to a video of Sylvia Rivera, a speech in which she condemned the hypocrisy of gay people who did not advocate for trans people. She spoke to my own feelings of anger toward cisgender gay friends, who perpetuated transphobia and then excused their behavior with “but I’m gay.” Listening to Rivera made me realize how deeply those excuses hurt. Watching the video felt like inheriting a legacy of radical love, which extended from Rivera to me to those in my trans community. I felt connected to her because of our similarities. I celebrated her bravery.

At the same time, seeing Rivera in this video made me aware of how much we were different. I was white and upper middle-class. Acknowledging this privilege helped me see her as she was– a Latinx trans woman who had experienced homelessness, and whose intersecting gender, sexuality and race has shaped her vulnerabilities. I began to understand that Sylvia Rivera and Marsha Johnson were courageous because of ways they differed from me. Their activism was not for me, even though I have benefited greatly from their work. Their activism was for and with those standing at the same crossroads of racial, sexual, and gender oppression.

My whiteness has protected me from ever experiencing racism. When the police were targeting Stonewall, they were targeting LGBTQ+ people of color, people with low incomes, and sex workers. The story about Stonewall that I learned at Pride did not teach me about its connections to the Civil Rights movement and the struggle for Black freedom. I realized that the inheritance of radical love is also a debt: Black LGBTQ+ people are why I have been able to change my name, to go on testosterone, to be true to myself. By virtue of my whiteness, queerness is something I can hide. Being Black, on the other hand, does not have an invisibility option. Pride is about envisioning the future and striving for change. It is about being visible.

At Pride marches, I am reminded that community action cannot happen without individual action. This year, I take Pride as a reminder to dig deep into my discomfort. To ask myself: Are you showing up for the community or are you celebrating your white individualism?

This year, we are participating in Black Lives Matter protests as we also celebrate Pride. We should see them in continuity, as the same movement. As a white trans person, it is up to me to let go of my ego and transform my privilege by listening to black leaders and educators. It is because of my white privilege that I can take up this space with my words. At the same time, merely recognizing my privilege is not enough to make tangible change.


Here is my challenge to myself, and to you, fellow white LGBT people:

We must work tangibly to embody the spirit of Stonewall and its inheritance of radical action. We must extend and transform the political agendas that grant some of us the ability to get married, to change our gender on identifying documents, and to benefit from the new employment non-discrimination laws. We must reframe Pride so its legacy does not merely empower some of us to fit into the existing status quo. The legacy of Stonewall challenges all of to change the very systems that require people to fit in in order to prove their worth.

I now understand that to honor those who came before and to continue their activism requires me to become intimately familiar with my whiteness and to challenge the white privilege that drives mainstream LGBTQ agendas. To do so is critical to everyone’s liberation. The invocation of Stonewall, at its roots, is a call for LGBTQ militancy, for mutual aid, for supporting ALL of our community.

Yours in the struggle,
Odhan

About the Author:

Odhan Mullen recently graduated from the University of Puget Sound with a double major in History and Gender & Queer Studies. They are interested in public history and they completed an oral history collection with members of Tacoma’s LGBT+ community in 2019. They hope to continue to engage in recording oral histories as a way to preserve the histories of underserved communities, particularly focusing on transgender and non-binary lives.

Giving Credit where Credit is Due: Thank You, African American Studies at the University of Puget Sound

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Written by Serena Sevasin

On the afternoon of Sunday, June 7, 2020, Mimi Duncan, Jaylen Antoine and myself (Serena Sevasin) lead a peaceful protest and march for Black lives. As students of the University of Puget Sound (UPS), we began this march and protest right on our own campus. There were a lot of steps we knew we needed to take when we began planning this event, but none of us had any experience organizing something like this, and we felt unsure where to start. Until we emailed the professors of the African American (AFAM) studies program. The night of Tuesday June, 2nd we received our first reply email from Dr. Dexter Gordon with a list of steps to take and people to make contact with. We got right to work, and we were fully supported by the members of AFAM and the Race & Pedagogy Institute (RPI) along the way. 

Mimi Duncan (pictured left) and Serena Sevasin (picture right) walking in front of the Puget Sound Memorial Field House. Photographed by Sy Bean.

I acknowledge AFAM specifically because of the support of their entire program in our process, but also because of how they have influenced us as students to this point. Personally, becoming a major in African American studies is the best thing I have done for myself, and in return, my community. I immediately refer to my previous experience in my AFAM 399 Public Scholarship course with Dr. LaToya Brackett. In the past spring, going virtual was a bitter and reflective time. I used lots of this spare time both reading and writing, looking more specifically at texts for our class such as On Intellectual Activism by Patricia Hill Collins and Is Everyone Really Equalby Özlem Sensoy and Robin DiAngelo. Both of these texts not only provided me with terminology and theory for my lived experiences, but also encouraged action outside the walls of academia to engage people with these issues. With using these texts as frameworks to approach a public column surrounding identity called Dear Serena, I was able to not only put my experiences into words, but in ways I could create accessible content to masses of people, not just those in the classroom. 

Serena Sevasin giving a speech at Wright Park. Photographed by @350tacoma.

My Public Scholarship course experience this spring connects directly to my experience and leadership this past weekend, and more especially how I executed and processed the events of the protest. The AFAM program has created spaces for me to feel safe sharing my identity, my view, and my humanity with others. And I want to be clear, I have felt solidarity in these spaces long before our planning of the Black Lives Matter protest. Knowing that students are seen, heard, and guided by the leadership of these faculty have made me more confident in my blackness as a student in these spaces at UPS, and as a Black, queer woman in general. Thinking back on this past weekend, there are many “thank yous” to go around: to volunteers, other faculty, community members, and friends.

However, no thank you will ever encompass the gratitude and admiration myself, Mimi, and Jaylen have for the members of AFAM and RPI. 

A moment of celebrating the work of organizers (photographed left to right) Serena Sevasin, Mimi Duncan, and Jaylen Antoine at Wright Park. Photographed by Makenna Hess-Fletcher.

We as organizers can only hope that Black students in the future can find and cultivate this same support for their work as they make their marks on history, fighting their fights, and refusing to stand by. If they have these same leaders and educators with the passion and intentions to guide them, I can happily say they are in good hands. 

To the members and faculty of African American Studies and the Race & Pedagogy Institute Leadership Team, thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you. 

In the Time of George Floyd: A List of online resources

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We say their names: Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, Dreasjon Reed…

Just a few resources (not remotely a comprehensive list but some good starters) We know folks are always look for places to start.

Resource List was organized by Angela Weaver, Puget Sound Librarian, and compiled by various departments across the campus: African American Studies, the Race & Pedagogy Institute, Collins Memorial Library, Politics & Government, School of Education, School of Music, and Environmental Policy and Decision-Making.

From the June 3rd, 2020 Teach In: We Can’t Breathe: 400 Years of Institutionalized Violence

  • Renee Simms Presentation: In Plain Sight (PowerPoint) & written words.
  • Wind Woods Presentation: On Breath: B(l)ack at the Edge of the Wor(l)d (Word Doc)

Compiled Lists

  • Anti-Racism Resources for White People

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1BRlF2_zhNe86SGgHa6-VlBO-QgirITwCTugSfKie5Fs/mobilebasic

  • Anti-Racist Library and Archival Resources

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1yOj7t1A8hUwrCz9rFLAQIymbq-ttiuYHoQWC-p9Shcw/edit?usp=sharing

  • University of Puget Sound’s School of Music Resource page

https://www.pugetsound.edu/academics/departments-and-programs/undergraduate/music/blacklivesmatter/get-involved/

Teaching Resources

  • A Timeline of Events That Led to the 2020 ‘Fed Up’-rising
    Michael Harriot

https://www.theroot.com/a-timeline-of-events-that-led-to-the-2020-fed-up-rising-1843780800?utm_campaign=The+Root&utm_content=1590862085&utm_medium=SocialMarketing&utm_source=facebook&fbclid=IwAR100V7KaIQp1yg-wXfOnEE_ckNz9T2qmlIO1H0gCKrl7VL9hYm8kvvp7KE

  • Teachers Must Hold Themselves Accountable for Dismantling Racial Oppression
  • Facing History and Ourselves:  Reflecting on George Floyd’s Death and Police Violence Towards Black Americans

https://www.facinghistory.org/educator-resources/current-events/reflecting-george-floyds-death-police-violence-towards-black-americans?utm_campaign=COVID19&utm_medium=email&_hsmi=88865794&_hsenc=p2ANqtz–g-9KTConhiXXvK3zoran6O9pROs-yIdAofHAnGhN8j6vg9mgQaPl_FiyFIcGxCMBVTp_fe2rH4xuxG52bPuadStXCVg&utm_content=88865794&utm_source=hs_email

  • National Museum of African American History and Culture:  Talking about Race:  I am an Educator

https://nmaahc.si.edu/learn/talking-about-race/audiences/educator

  • ‘Teaching for Black Lives’ – a handbook to fight America’s ferocious racism in (virtual or face-too-face) classrooms

https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2020/06/01/teaching-black-lives-handbook-fight-americas-ferocious-racism-virtual-or-face-to-face-classrooms/

  • Police Use of Force Report

http://useofforceproject.org/#project

  • Black Past
  • Institutionalized Racism: A Syllabus — How can we help students understand George Floyd’s death in the context of institutionalized racism?

https://daily.jstor.org/institutionalized-racism-a-syllabus/

Articles/Commentary

  • Risk of being killed by police use of force in the United States by age, race–ethnicity, and sex

https://www.pnas.org/content/116/34/16793

  • Research-based Solutions to Stop Police Violence

https://threadreaderapp.com/thread/1180655701271732224.html

  • Your Black Colleagues May Look Like They’re Okay — Chances Are They’re Not

https://www.refinery29.com/en-us/2020/05/9841376/black-trauma-george-floyd-dear-white-people

  • The Real Reason White People Say ‘All Lives Matter’

https://www.huffpost.com/entry/dear-fellow-white-people-_b_11109842?fbclid=IwAR15n1ighNdf0LE6n1DXl_49w41j7r3rUh-uk8IHXclHBRnIWodiQcHEBFc

  • Tamika Mallory – The Most Powerful Speech of a Generation- Video
  • 26 Ways to Be in the Struggle Beyond the Streets
  • Maintaining Professionalism In The Age of Black Death Is….A Lot
    Shenequa Golding

https://medium.com/@shenequagolding/maintaining-professionalism-in-the-age-of-black-death-is-a-lot-5eaec5e17585

  • Everything Is Political, and Always Has Been
    Beth Skwarecki

https://lifehacker.com/everything-is-political-and-always-has-been-1818724298?fbclid=IwAR2GMKpNW3o6iHa5W1MlOmOmRX5SfJaVuk3DmPfHc3rD6KK5uD2N6s__A10

  • How not to raise a racist white kid

https://www.cnn.com/2020/05/28/health/parents-raising-white-children-racism-wellness/index.html

  • The “I’m not a racist” defense

https://www.cnn.com/2020/05/28/opinions/amy-cooper-apology-opinion-williams/index.html

  • A Brief History of the “Black Friend”

https://www.aaihs.org/a-brief-history-of-the-black-friend/

  • Charles M. Blow:  How White Women Use Themselves as Instruments of Terror
  • “I Don’t See Color.” Then You Don’t See Me

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/minority-report/201602/i-dont-see-color

  • White People Are Noticing Something New:  Their Own Whiteness
  • Becoming Trustworthy White Allies

https://reflections.yale.edu/article/future-race/becoming-trustworthy-white-allies

  • Op-Ed: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar:  Don’t understand the protests? What you’re seeing is people pushed to the edge

https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2020-05-30/dont-understand-the-protests-what-youre-seeing-is-people-pushed-to-the-edge

  • What we’re missing when we condemn “violence” at protests

https://www.vox.com/first-person/2020/5/29/21274891/george-floyd-cop-arrested-minneapolis-breonna-taylor

  • Officials See Extremist Groups, Disinformation in Protests
  • Keeyanga-Yamahtta Taylor:  Of Course There Are Protests. The State Is Failing Black People.  
  • Defund Police: Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor Says Budgets Wrongly Prioritize Cops Over Schools, Hospitals

https://www.democracynow.org/2020/6/1/keeanga_yamahtta_taylor_defund_us_police

  • Melvin Rogers:  We Should Be Afraid, but Not of Protestors

http://bostonreview.net/race/melvin-rogers-we-should-be-afraid-not-protesters

  • Roxanne Gay:  Remember, No One is Coming to Save Us
  • Danielle Allen:  The situation is dire. We need a better normal at the end of this – and peace.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/05/31/situation-is-dire-we-need-better-normal-end-this-peace/

  • Cornel West:  America is a Failed Social Experiment, Neoliberal Wing of Democratic Party Must be Fought

https://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2020/05/29/cornel_west_america_is_a_failed_social_experiment_neoliberal_wing_of_democratic_party_must_be_fought.html

  • History Will Judge the Complicit:  Why have Republican leaders abandoned their principles in support of an immoral and dangerous president?

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/07/trumps-collaborators/612250/?utm_source=share&utm_campaign=share

  • Accelerationism:  the obscure idea inspiring white supremacist killers around the world

https://www.vox.com/the-highlight/2019/11/11/20882005/accelerationism-white-supremacy-christchurch?fbclid=IwAR3GDm1g6ImXp0JFL7nHZdsd-wLCi9jXkm4CAby-O7ZMbdSRF10Kp2BGUGk

  • Masculinity As Radical Selfishness: Rebecca Solnit on the Maskless Men of the Pandemic

Recommended Books/Reading Lists

  • An Essential Reading Guide For Fighting Racism
    Arianna Rebolini

https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/ariannarebolini/george-floyd-amy-cooper-antiracist-books-reading-resources?utm_source=dynamic&utm_campaign=bffbbuzzfeedbooks&ref=bffbbuzzfeedbooks&fbclid=IwAR3U-HaD0K1URqX3Jg0dBRxa9ElBgr4ltWJ7N17PrCmbU1pPXjpYqWQ1lHU

  • Anti-Racism Reading List by Ibram X. Kendi

https://chipublib.bibliocommons.com/list/share/204842963/1357692923?page=1&fbclid=IwAR2J1s2GabVs8O0g6RQCsJ1upmvT4vg57DCSwEkTGAAjkD7R5Q9XXogd_Mk

So You Want to Talk About Race (Seattle-based Author, Ijeoma Oluo)

How to Be an Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi

Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racism in America by Ibram X. Kendi

White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo

The End of Policing by Alex Vitale (available free electronically here and recent author piece here)

Choke Hold [Policing Black Men]: A Renegade Prosecutor’s Radical Thoughts on How to Disrupt the …by Paul Butler

The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander

Steeped in the Blood of Racism by UPS professor Nancy Bristow

Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor by Layla Saad

Locking Up Our Own:  Crime and Punishment in Black America by James Forman Jr.

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson (also an interview about the current protests with the author)

Are Prisons Obsolete? by Angela Davis; there are a few facebook groups on abolition and a new journal https://abolitionjournal.org/

Antifa:  The Anti-Fascist Handbook by Mark Bray)

Black Skin, White Masks or Wretched of the Earth by Franz Fanon

In the Wake by Christina Sharpe

Recommended Films

 I Am Not Your Negro

13th and When They See Us – Both available on Netflix

Tulsa Massacre 

Just Mercy – Free during the month of June on streaming platforms

Blogs, Podcasts, etc.

  • Democracy in Dark Times – Jeffrey C. Isaac

Trumps Reichstag Moment May Have Just Arrived

https://jeffreycisaacdesign.wordpress.com/2020/06/01/trumps-reichstag-moment-may-have-just-arrived/?fbclid=IwAR1dc9T_K8URG-8N98Kryldc9oJRa8pwcZG023T2kiQFwoMAky8-J5DDbsg

The Root

Color Lines

Public Seminar

The Monkey Cage (WaPo)

The Stone (NYT)

Boston Review

Organizations

  • Showing Up for Racial Justice

https://www.showingupforracialjustice.org/

  • The Conversation

https://www.facebook.com/TalkandAction/about/?ref=page_internal

  • The People’s Assembly

https://www.tacomapeoplesassembly.com/

Other Resources

  • 7 Virtual Mental Health Resources Supporting Black People Right Now

https://www.bonappetit.com/story/virtual-mental-health-resources

Justice for All, Injustice for None – Let Me Breathe

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Dexter Gordon
June 3, 2020
African American Studies and the Race and Pedagogy Institute

PREAMBLE

You have seen my work and you have heard my voice in spaces across the Puget Sound campus, the city of Tacoma, and across the regions of the Salish Sea for almost 20 years.

You have heard me appeal to our entire campus –students, faculty and staff colleagues, the Board, and our partners in community.

I have written several letters, most of which I have kept to myself and my closest friends. Shared not even with my family.

Eighteen years ago, I started the work of Race and Pedagogy and the building of the African American Studies program with a public letter.

In response to crass racism on campus, I wrote to my faculty colleagues with the simple question – “What does race have to do with the development and delivery of your curriculum?” Alongside colleagues on campus and across our community, I have not stopped probing that question since.

Today, in the name of those who like me had their ancestors stolen from Africa and brutalized across the Americas, and to find my breath because George Floyd could not find his, I feel compelled to share another public letter.


I have started and revised this letter many times. I have had sleepless nights haunted by the image of another Black man laid out in the streets of America, dead. I am worried for my family. I am worried for my friends and communities. I am worried for my students. I am worried for my colleagues. I am worried for myself, for my life.

I have to speak. I have to write.

Should I begin with my outrage that no one should die the way 46-year-old George Floyd died, his body as one more spectacle and a mark of disdain for the humanity of Black people?

Protests have erupted and spread across the country. The police have responded harshly in some instances, but in some cases they have worked to diffuse tensions, most notably in Flint, Michigan. In Seattle, authorities are trying to find their way as they seek to affirm the efficacy of recent reforms in policing pressed for by local communities. The fact that some protests have spiraled into looting and violence, at times in the face of harsh police responses, has pushed the question of the role of violence expressions amidst civil disobedience in the search for justice to the forefront of our consideration. My life and that of my colleagues, committed to education and to social activism, is the testimony of my commitment to collaborative, cooperative, peaceful engagement as the best way to build strong, sustaining, inclusive societies.

But what if I start and stay here, for a while, and like Rev. William J. Barber II acknowledge that “No one wants to see their community burn. But the fires burning in Minneapolis, just like the fire burning in the spirits of so many marginalized Americans today, are a natural response to the trauma black communities have experienced, generation after generation.” This is human grappling, Black humanity grappling.

Perhaps, I should start instead with the long history of the ways in which the handcuffs on George Floyd’s wrists remind me of the chains of enslavement and exploitation of Black bodies, 12-15 million of us stolen from Africa. Or, I could go with the ways in which police officer Derek Chauvin’s knee on Floyd’s neck, in Minneapolis, on May 25, 2020, reminds me of the ropes used to lynch Black bodies, a practice that was at its heights one hundred years ago in America.

Maybe, I should reach back no longer than 69 years and begin with Langston Hughes’ cry.

   “What Happens to a Dream Deferred?”

      Does it dry up

      like a raisin in the sun?

      Or fester like a sore—

      And then run?

      Does it stink like rotten meat?

      Or crust and sugar over—

      like a syrupy sweet?

      Maybe it just sags

      like a heavy load.

      Or does it explode?

Or maybe, I should pair Hughes with Jayne Cortez’s searing lament from just eleven summers ago.

“There it is.”

My friend

they don’t care

if you’re an individualist

a leftist  a rightist

a shithead or a snake

They will try to exploit you

absorb you confine you

disconnect you isolate you

or kill you…

Or should I go back to the militant Claude McKay, in the incendiary summer of 1919, “If We Must Die,”

with its forecast of 1921and 1923, Tulsa, Rosewood, and before them Atlanta, Georgia; Elaine, Arkansaas, and Colefax, Louisiana.

If we must die, O let us nobly die….

Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!

I am encouraged that many across the nation and in our own community are joining the incessant call for

equal rights and justice, the call to get up, to stand up.

I have to find words in this moment — for this moment — because as Jayne Cortez warns,

And if we don’t fight

if we don’t resist

if we don’t organize and unify and

get the power to control our own lives

Then we will wear

the exaggerated look of captivity

the stylized look of submission

the bizarre look of suicide

the dehumanized look of fear

and the decomposed look of repression

forever and ever and ever

And there it is

But, still searching, I wonder if I might turn to any of my children’s generation of lyrical expressionists Sa Roc, J. Cole, Jidenna, or one from this new generation. But here comes Nick Cannon, May 31, a bridge voice, who like the lyrical Black voices before and around him testify.

I can’t breathe again.

God damn, I can’t breathe.

Our voices are being quarantined.

Covid-1960s to 1619.

Jamestown choked me sold me.

Shackles hold me tightly by my neck.

And I can’t breathe again.

Still, the words, the words! The anguish. The pain. Will it stay or will it go away.

Probably I should stay with today and begin with the observation that trauma piled upon pain and suffering results in grief, anger, and explosive outrage. Since, over the last three months we have lived in horror and fear as COVID-19 rampaged through our communities and our world leaving in its wake death and destruction especially of the lives and livelihoods of Black and Brown people. The pandemic laid bare, long histories of neglect for Black and Brown communities. And then one more public killing.

I am haunted by the image of George Floyd pleading for life. So I consider starting with the ways in which George Floyd’s plea for a single breath, reminds me of 44-year-old Eric Garner gasping in the grip of a police choke-hold. Black people all across the world feel the pain and across America we feel suffocated –criminal justice, economics, health, education. I too feel like “I Can’t breathe.” I too feel the pain, a pain, it is one that connects directly to my own pain and sense of suffocation at University of Puget Sound. This is a subject I have not addressed publicly before.

My pain is born of the sense of disdain directed towards our work and the disrespect I experience from being passed over for opportunities to be appointed to lead in the work of equity on campus, repeatedly, for years, and again in this moment. This is a moment in which the University has decided it needs a Vice President for Equity Diversity and Inclusion, a position I have advocated for since 2007. There would not even be a question in any context of fairness that my expertise, experience, and my record of achievements make me the best candidate for such a role. In a world where equity and inclusion are valued, I would be urged to take on this assignment. Not so at Puget Sound. So even with the strongest recommendations from my peers and senior faculty in the work of equity, the University finds a way to pass me over without even meaningful consultation. Even as I write to survive this moment and continue to teach my classes, I have to be thinking about how to respond to this latest dissing and this continuing act of harm and erasure. As I watch, appointment after appointment, year after year, I wonder! Is there any fairness? Is there any justice?

This is my experience as the senior tenured Black faculty member at Puget Sound. I have provided almost twenty years of leadership on the campus on issues of equity and inclusion. Beginning in 2002, my work with colleagues has included inviting our campus to address the critical issues of race in our pedagogy. Since then, and including six years of significant work with Dr. Michael Benitez, who the university did not encourage to stay, despite his desire to, we have been in the forefront of addressing racism and all forms of inequities on our campus including in 2018 when we invited our campus and hundreds of participants from across the nation and beyond to join us for our National Conference on Race and Pedagogy, seeking to engage deep thoughtful reflection and practical impactful action on “Radically Reimagining the Project of Justice.” Re-imagining campus life. Re-imagining life.

Yet, the connection between the spectacle of another Black person killed while pleading for life, and the record of recent similar events, makes me want to begin with a statement against the killing of Black people by the police, including Black women, gender non-conforming and trans people. I want to declare solidarity with Black families and express sorrow at their loss, at our loss. I also wish to honor the memory of the many victims. The list is too long. The practice of killing is too serial.

George Floyd is only the most recent killing made public. In fact, the very next day, Wednesday, May 26,  in Tallahassee, Florida, a Black trans man Tony McDade was shot and killed by the police. As Laura Thompson of Mother Jones points out, it is worth noting that in 2019, the American Medical Association deemed a surge in the murder of transgender people an “epidemic.” The vast majority of victims are transgender women of color. We honor their memories, alongside the memories of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery, shot and killed, by two white men, while he was jogging in Georgia; Breonna Taylor, a 26-year old essential health care worker and aspiring nurse, shot eight times in her home by police. Strikingly, as campus leaders from UC Berkeley note “According to Rutgers University Sociologist Frank Edwards, one out of every 1,000 Black men in America will be killed by a police officer. This makes them two and half times more likely than white men to die during encounters with officers.”

So what does all this mean for us at the University of Puget Sound and the educational enterprise of which we are a part?

To begin, we must acknowledge that we are witnesses to this moment. We must take a position. Neutrality is not an option. We cannot avoid being implicated in this moment. President Crawford, in his May 30 statement, invites us to “make the world a better place, day by day, through our actions, our choices, and our care for one another.” There are also numerous other profound statements available from which to find inspiration. One way or another, to use the words of indigenous and environmental rights advocate, former Green Party vice presidential candidate, and 2014 RPI National Conference keynote speaker Winona LaDuke, “Find your voice. Find your courage.” We must find the will and the fortitude to act in ways that prevent a recurrence of this moment. This is a moment that in a literal sense represents the end of the rope for the many victims of ongoing systemic racism. Some victims are hidden in plain sight on our campus.

Another step then is to examine our own home and our own practices. An expression of solidarity with members of Puget Sound’s Black community is a meaningful step. We might then act with Black and Brown voices as leaders. Continually and consistently — not only when it serves as a symbolic gesture of inclusion — we should acknowledge them and their leadership in their areas of expertise and lived experiences. Difficult though it is, we should choose justice over comfort, resistance and rights over reputation. We may then begin to listen, really deeply listen to Black voices. Then believe what we say. We might act to redress historical harms caused to Black and Brown people by our University’s decisions and practices, past and present. We might go further and make sure that institutional actions do not perpetrate ongoing racist practices against Black and Brown people.

Finally, we might truly honor Puget Sound values and commit to the making and remaking of Puget Sound into an institution that acts intentionally to distance itself from the dastardly practices of white supremacy with its deadly surveillance and suffocation of Black and Brown bodies, and instead treat all people equitably and embrace respect as part of our new educational enterprise.

In African American Studies and the Race and Pedagogy Institute, this is our commitment. So this is where I’ll start.

To our beloved students, to faculty and staff colleagues, and to our partners in community, you matter.

We stand in solidarity with our and all Black communities and we are committed to treating each of you our Puget Sound students, colleagues, and partners with the respect and honor you deserve as part of our practice of education in partnership with you.

But for now

With appreciation for each of you and for every breath I am able to take.

Dexter Gordon

Course Reflections

Below are brief reflections about Public Scholarship from the African American Studies students who have been working and learning together over the last semester in order to create this digital space. Spring 2020

Eliza Tesch

In AFAM 399, I felt like a part of the AFAM community for the first time. In this course I met peers who inspire me and can match the passion that I have for learning and for social justice, and had a professor (Dr. Brackett) who cares deeply about the success of all of her students but at the same time pushes us to do our very best work. Without AFAM 399, my semester would most likely have gone very differently. This class was my only class this semester that actually met (virtually) every day we were scheduled to meet, and our (often very lively) class discussions made my day every time. Even virtually, the passion came through from my peers, and we discussed the pandemic, our readings, and current events. Working on the Public has been an incredibly rewarding experience, and I am very proud of what I and my classmates have created. I got to flex my writing muscles while writing about the topics I am most passionate about, and discovered that writing is something I really enjoy and want to pursue further. In summary, the most impactful part of this course has been the community. We have gone on this journey of adjusting to virtual life and school together, and supported each other through this process. This group of people truly give me hope for all of humankind, because if everyone could be as kind, inquisitive, and determined as my 399 class the world would be in great shape. 

Emma Piorier

Participating in AFAM 399 has been transformative. In many ways, the application of the theoretical to our everyday, our campus, our language and the world around us, challenged me to engage in the work of critical social justice in new contexts and broadened my understanding of concepts of justice, power, oppression, community and activism. Through this course and our engagement with Patrica Hill Collins I have grown a comprehension of the larger work I am doing in African American Studies and the context in which it exists within. I have fostered a sense of certainty in my desire to work with theories of public scholarship be it through teaching,writing or speaking outside of the borders of academia. I have felt challenged by my peers, awakened by my classroom and trained to examine the nuances and presence of power and positionality in seemingly small instances of the everyday. I will take these lessons with me throughout my life.

George Jackson

I am very thankful to have taken AFAM 399, Public Scholarship. There are very few classes where I can use what I was taught and put that into immediate use in my life. I took AFAM 399 as part of the African American Studies major not knowing what to expect. Public Scholarship has allowed me to understand the complexities of different issues throughout many different points of view. I have been able to better understand some of the situations I face on a daily basis. Such as thinking about the privileges of those who are not in the minority like myself. As a black male on a predominantly white campus, I do not have the luxury of seeing people who look like myself on a day to day basis. This course has allowed me to gain a better understanding of the power dynamics that occur because of race. I am very appreciative of Dr. Brackett, as well as my peers, for the effort and the relationships I have built through the course.

Isaac Sims-Foster

AFAM 399, for me, was the perfect way to reconnect with a campus that I’ve felt increasingly distant from. After my semester abroad in Namibia, learning about and grappling with the first-hand effects of oppression and racism, I feared that returning to campus would leave me feeling empty; like there was no place for what I had learned to be applied outside of my major. 399 quickly reminded me of how precious social justice oriented education is, precisely for the reason that it circumvents the cultural, political, and societal differences between nations. I found myself again engaging with complex curriculum that elevated my understanding of systemic oppression inherent in our global society’s structures and reconceptualized knowledge as so much more than just what’s published by a university press. The internal and external critical thinking I learned and practiced in Namibia continued seamlessly in AFAM 399, which to me proves the power of social justice literacy and education. AFAM 399 taught me that knowledge has no borders.

Makenna Hess-Fletcher

AFAM 399 taught me the importance of speaking not only to the institution, but to the public. This class reaffirmed the reason I am an African American Studies major, as African American Studies majors do the work!  Creating access to information and resources is ingrained in the work that African American studies majors do. Not only are we scholars but we are neighbors, friends, community members and public scholarship is used to connect these worlds. Through the creation of the digital publication “The Public” I learned that I am capable of partaking in public scholarship even as I continue to work towards my academic goals, that I don’t have to be finished with school to start the work.

Monica Schweitz

This year, I was grappling with a difficult internal dialogue. Several experiences and interactions over the summer and fall of 2019 had made me doubt my choice of major and, on the precipice of graduation, I was beginning to panic. At first, AFAM 399, with its flexible class structure, its relative informality and intimacy of discussion, and the passionate and sometimes vulnerable style of participation it encouraged, for lack of a better word, confused me. This was unlike any other class that I had taken. Was this “academic?” It just felt like honest conversation amongst friends about connections between a text and our lived experiences. But one day, during a discussion on Patricia Hill Collins’ ideas of power and “props,” my perception shifted. I realized that I had been confusing “academic” for dry and dispassionate. My education prior to (and sometimes throughout) college had primed me to accept only that which is written in a textbook as valid knowledge. Burdensome and disinteresting became equated with academic rigor. AFAM 399 changed that for me. Having, sharing, and listening to personal experiences are not just valuable forms of learning, they are, I would argue, the most valuable forms of learning when it comes to the type of learning that precipitates social change. So, of course it is passionate, vulnerable work. That doesn’t mean it’s not scholarship. This realization has left a significant impact on me and is something that I will take with me throughout the rest of my education both in and out of the classroom.

Serena Sevasin

In taking AFAM 399, I have been able to take time to more critically analyze information through the ways in which I validate, process, and share it with others in public spaces. Being a natural skeptic, it was validating to learn that not everything that is shared in masses equates to being legitimate knowledge. This course has helped me expand on what authenticity is, where it comes from, and what authenticity looks like for me. I have been most impacted by the creation of The Public, a publication that has allowed me to expand on my narratives, and more importantly realize just how much they matter. I have had the opportunity to use a column to deconstruct structures of power from a personal lens, and more importantly how to articulate them in ways the everyday student and myself can understand. I find myself grateful for the experience of taking Public Scholarship, and more so knowing the mediums I can utilize to share and expand on information I obtain and experience from other places.

Sofia McLaren

Continuing in this major and specifically in this course (AFAM 399), I have become more confident in my voice. The learning I have done has helped me understand that I can contribute in a meaningful way. We have confronted the topic of positionality which helped each of us realize where we stand in the class, the conversation, and the world. This class has also given me the ability to ask questions I never would have asked. I have stopped taking situations for granted, I am constantly asking myself questions about what happened, why it happened, what could have happened, or what should have happened. I have learned the importance of acknowledging that your perspective is unique to you and cannot be taken for granted. There is no umbrella perspective in this world, each and every person experiences things differently. On a more surface level, this class has also given me the ability and confidence in creating and asking questions. I have always thought I was no good at creating thought-provoking questions that sparked deep discussions; however, because of the weekly questions we had to create and the discussion we had to lead I am more confident in my ability to help people engage critically with materials. This class has also given me general confidence in the decision I have made to major in African American studies. I won’t lie, switching my major was a relief in some ways and scary in others. I knew the classes were engaging and rewarding for me, but it was the outside voices that made it hard. My parents and friends were very supportive, but I got push back from some of the older people in my life, questioning the relevance of the topic and calling it too narrow of an area of study. This course has been an immense solidifying factor for me, it has shown me over and over again the relevance, importance, and necessity of what I have chosen to study. We can not aspire to “check the race box,” we need to live continuously conscious and responsive lives.  

Rachel Lorentz

Going into my Public Scholarship class, knowledge found in academia and “the real world” seemed like two completely separate things to me. Throughout this course, I have learned that Public Scholarship is where the rubber meets the road in academia. It focuses on how to make knowledge created in academia accessible to the public in a way that is useful and understandable to us all. Without Public Scholarship, the impacts of higher education would never reach those who are not fortunate enough to be in academic spaces.

Moose Abdirahman

I am very appreciative of this course, my peers gave me a new insight in life and in my community here at the University of Puget Sound. I have enjoyed creating accessible information and content, not only to show our growth and passions about African American Studies but also to build connectivity amongst each other in the midst of this pandemic. AFAM 399 has really widened my understanding of social justices, and black feminism. I enjoyed the structure of the class and how it prompted critical thinking and empowered a deeper understanding of our own experiences.