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, and Environmental Policy and Decision-Making.
From the June 3rd, 2020 Teach In: We Can’t Breathe: 400 Years of Institutionalized Violence
Listen to this letter in audio form. Be sure to open in a new tab, to read along.
A Prelude: I love being a professor, at times I loathe being both a professor and an empath, and a trained counselor. I loathe it because I often pick up on things that many of my colleagues do not, or if they do, the intentionality of responding is not always there. I loathed seeing my students on virtual classes after our spring break. But mostly, I loathed seeing the removal of joy in my seniors. And as professors, we all did, I am sure. But at moments I would feel the depression they had, and their removal of excitement—excitement that had been building and worked towards for seventeen years, and some change. It was gone—almost. And I couldn’t allow that. So I sat down to write this letter to you all.
My Dearest Class of 2020,
The reality is… these are moments you will remember.
Since childhood you’ve thought about what college you would
attend. What friends you would make. Wondering what you would major in. Places
you would go for breaks. The type of freedom you would feel away from home. And
most likely, you dreamed about what it would be like to walk across that stage,
with your cap and gown, in front of your families and friends. The moment you
knew would represent seventeen years of schooling, seventeen years of homework,
seventeen years of being tested, seventeen years of new friendships, broken
friendships, and forever friendships. Seventeen years of awesome teachers,
teachers that did the best they could, teachers who changed your life, teachers
you would like to forget, and teachers you can’t wait to tell, “I did it!” For
many of you, college has been a part of your future since you knew what a
Well guess what, that future is now.
Those seventeen years of yearning are coming to a close.
Unfortunately, your culminating moment comes in a time of crisis, of
uncertainty, of quarantine, of social distancing in a time where social over-exaggeration
is THE requirement, you are in a pandemic—Covid-19. And this virus, that has no
vaccine, or guaranteed cure, is out there removing your seventeen years of
accumulated joy. And we have come to know that the only cure for this vaccine, is
to have patience, perseverance, unknown health strength, and perhaps quite a
bit of luck;
My Professorial last assignment to you, is CELEBRATE.
That’s right, I’m assigning you more homework. You thought
you were finished. Well you’re not. I reserve the right to alter the syllabus
at any time (professor humor, I know you might not be laughing). This
assignment is required, it is not extra credit. Because this is a moment you
will remember. I won’t allow any incompletes, because This. Is. The. Moment.
I know many universities are doing their best to prepare in-person
graduation celebrations for the class of 2020 in the future—we still don’t know
what the future looks like—so these celebrations (like the one at our
university) are slated for a year after your original graduation date. And this
is wonderful, it really is, and I hope all of you get to participate in that
moment. But trust me, that moment, one year later, is not your Seventeen-Years
moment. It will be a great moment indeed, but not like the one you are in right
now. This pandemic-moment that you knocked out of your way to finalize those
requirements for your college degree, is your Seventeen-Years-and-a-Pandemic
moment. No one else has had a moment like this, and trust and believe no one
has had a final semester/quarter of college like this. You are the novel
graduation class of 2020 (sorry perhaps I shouldn’t use a pun so soon… but it is
the truth). You spent seventeen years (and some of you, seventeen and some
change, and you better know it doesn’t matter, the degree does), reaching for
the same moment your friends from the class of 2019 had, your parents from the
class of (they won’t tell you), because they showed you pictures or you joined
in their pictures of their moment, and it was joyous. It was extreme social
over-exaggeration, and they loved it and you yearned for one more year to get
yours. Well, guess what, compared to their years, yours probably still feels
like… To Be Determined…
My assignment to you is to be determined to make your moment positively memorable.
I remember my Seventeen-Years moment. I remember all of it. The good and the bad—but my bad came on suddenly with no warning, my bad couldn’t have been altered into an outlook of “damn, I finished those classes online, in quarantine, with uncertainty, and now I’m getting that paper. King, Kong ain’t got nothing on me,”—moment.
The reality is, I remember all of my graduations, high school, college, and graduate school. And the reality is, my moments were not so great. I did not always feel like some of the members of my family were there to cheer me on. At two of those graduations there were moments they proved my worries were right. I could tell you the torrid details of those moments, because guess what they are memorable, even more so, because they were in my Seventeen-Years-type of moments. But I won’t. I will tell you what I know to be true because of those sad memories.
I remember my joy before the unfortunate moments.
I remember my walk from the Arts quad, behind the Pan African flag with my friends to the field, where they told us to stand and move our tassel from one side to the other and we were thus graduated. I remember who I sat next to. I remember the people I greeted for the very last time ever. I remember trying so hard to find my best friends, but our Seventeen-Years moments were happening at the very same time and their Seventeen-Years moment cheerleaders socially overexaggerated around them. And I got pictures with each of them separately. But the day before we got one good picture before the amazing storms of celebration and joy that descended on our campus on the hill. I remember moments like this for my doctoral graduation as well, different type of level, different type of joy, but good memories. And for me, to still remember the great in those moments, when the bad still makes me wish for a do-over, means you can make your Seventeen-Years moment count too. And guess what, you already know what the worst aspect of it will be—all things covid-19.
I wanted a do-over of my moments, and there will never be
one. I could attempt to put on my cap and gown today and walk across that
stage, but all the energy that led up to when I earned my degrees, are no
longer tingling and itching to get out. I worry that a year from now, my
graduating students will no longer have that tingling and that itching, and
walking across that stage will simply be protocol. And the reality is, the
class of 2020 is beyond protocol. So, despite the reality that we must
quarantine in your Seventeen-Years moment, be creative and celebrate like you
never would have thought before.
We are all virtual now. That teacher from the 5th
grade that told you how great you were at math, and gave you the confidence to
fall in love with numbers and equations, can be at your virtual celebration.
The professor that made you realize that you wanted to study something that you
were excited about, can be there. Your grandparent who can’t travel anymore,
can be there. Your friends from all over can pop in to say congratulations at
any time. People you met on your study abroad to Ghana can be a witness too. So
I spoke about that tingling and itching you have right now
to be finished with school, to have your university bequeath that you have met
the requirements for your degree, and I wish to speak about it again. Don’t let
go of it, not quite yet. Don’t let your worries about the world delete this
feeling. Not until you’ve done the things that you always thought you’d be
doing in celebration of this Seventeen-Years moment.
I’d like to share a story about one of you seniors. A senior told me she hadn’t taken any senior pictures. When I asked her for a picture to put up for our department’s virtual graduation celebration to recognize her, she felt she was falling short. She felt like, her picture she sent was not good enough for her graduation recognition moment. And that was an honest feeling. And I reminded her, this is the moment you have been waiting for, for a long time. She, like me is first generation, and she spoke about how her entire family was looking forward to her moment, because as many of us First Gens know, our success is a collective success. She was still living on campus while taking virtual classes, and I told her to go take her senior pictures. That’s right. I told her go get dressed up, and capture some memories. I suggested she ask one of her classmates in my course to help her—I knew just the right person with just the right amount of positivity in this uncertain time to make her senior pictures moment fun. And I told her, “no one is on campus, and no one will be looking at you funny as you pose—however you wish to pose.”
She took those pictures. She told me thank you. She told me
her family was so excited to see her senior photos. She said it felt like she
finally had a sense of closure on campus.
I’m glad I gave her an assignment. I’m glad she embraced it.
Because now I am embracing my role to share with the class of 2020, that this
moment is memorable, and it will be remembered. How do you wish to remember it?
Title: Class of Covid-19
Assignment Prompt: You are the class of 2020, and in
a decade or so you will probably be referred to as the Class of Covid-19. I
hope you will embrace it, as it reiterates how amazing you truly are. But it is
not yet a decade from now. For my students, May 17, 2020 was the date you were
to participate in the official commencement ceremony on our campus. As of March
23, 2020, you found out that in-person commencement was postponed, and it will
be held one year from now.
The first part of this assignment is to respond to
the following questions:
were you most looking forward to for commencement?
things did you plan to do prior to commencement in preparation for it? (ex: buy
a new outfit, get a fresh haircut, figure out how your hair would fit under
that cap, buy a pair of shoes that your family could see from the stands,
decorate your cap, send thank you cards to family, friends, professors, remind
your family to purchase the cake that says “you did it!”, take senior pictures,
grab a meal with your closest friends, send out invitations, look at yourself
in the mirror and say “I made it.”)
things did you plan to do after your commencement ceremony? (ex: go out to
dinner with family, have dessert, go to a party with friends, pack up all your
stuff to move out, take pictures with your family, friends, and favorite
professors, bask in the joy, shed a few tears at the bitter sweet, try not to
worry about what’s next, experience the now.)
Secondly, now that you have responded to these
questions, highlight the things you STILL CAN DO. Remember be creative. Enlist
your family and friends for help. Brainstorm. Use all of those critical
thinking skills you gained in your college career, and after seventeen years of
homework, don’t let this one be late.
Congratulations to the unique, novel, resilient, determined,
unapologetically celebratory, college class of 2020.
As a professor of African American studies, as a first
generation student, as an African American woman, who never knew she’d be where
she is today, as the graduate who worried about how her family would be able to
afford the trip from Virginia to New York and later Michigan, as the sometimes
three-job-having college student who worried how to afford my cap and gown, my
new dress, my hair style, and the gas to drive myself back to Virginia, as the
granddaughter of a grandparent who was incapable of walking from the stadium to
north campus, as the black girl with a middle name she worried wouldn’t be
pronounced correctly, as the First Gen who knew she would have to translate all
the college speak for her family, as the dream and the hope of the slave, as
the code switcher, as the girl who would tell people she graduated with honors
from Cornell University and would often receive tones of congratulations that
have the sound of surprise… It would be disrespectful of me to close out this
letter without speaking for those often unheard.
I see you. I know that your future narratives from childhood
don’t always look like what our society tells us it should. Your families may
never have spoken about college. You may not have a family. Your seventeen
years of schooling may not have looked like what our society defines as
average, and this often means you are above average, but no one ever told you
that. They told you something was wrong with you, they told you graduating from
college probably wouldn’t happen. They said you would never make it. But you
did. And this is why I get a tingling when I see you all, those often unseen,
walk to commencement through our line of cheers as your proud professors. I get
overly excited to see your joy. Your moment is most precious to me. So precious
that I gladly wear my regalia each year, hat included, and sit as they read
your names, and stay on campus until the tent of refreshments has no one left
to refresh. I’m happy to hold the camera and get many photos of your entire
crew in one image, or I’ll keep pushing the button until you captured the
perfect graduation picture for all of your social media accounts. Because you
won’t get this moment back. Because I know.
You are probably more likely qualified to survive this
pandemic because your lives were required to have patience, perseverance,
unknown health strength and some luck. Many of you ask yourself from time to
time, why me? Why am I the one that got out? Why am I the one that made it?
I worry about whether you will be able to return to campus a
year from now to participate in the commencement ceremony set to replace the
one you are missing this month. I worry that your family can’t or won’t make
it. I worry you will not want to return to a campus, a place, that you spent
four years and maybe some change at, and still felt unheard and unseen.
Please for the often unheard, and often unseen, read between the lines, because I write this especially with us in mind. This is your Seventeen-Years moment, with seventeen years worth of doubts from others and yourself, and you made it. You made it. So celebrate it.
And it is you that made me say, I must write this. You won’t get this moment back. And you will always remember it. So make your Seventeen-Years moment positively memorable.
Here’s a link to a celebration that showcases: This is how
we do it.
Citations Still Matter: For the credit and links to the Cap Designs, see list below, by number from top left to top right, and bottom left to bottom right.
Angela Weaver is the Fine and Performing Arts Librarian at the University of Puget Sound (UPS) who was hired at the beginning of the 2019-2020 academic school year. On campus, she is in charge of library services for African American Studies, Art and Art History, Classics, Music, and Theatre Arts. She is also the only African American Librarian on the UPS campus making her arrival here very significant. I had the privilege of interviewing Angela Weaver about her life before UPS and while at UPS so far, as well as the things she enjoys outside of her professional environment.
When I asked Angela if she had always wanted to be a librarian she laughed and told me that, when she began her academic journey, she didn’t know that she was going to be a librarian. She went to undergrad at Duke University in North Carolina and majored in Psychology with a minor in English, thinking that she would become a psychologist. However, during her four years at Duke she worked in the library. When she graduated, she was still working in the library and decided to go to library school, but actually ended up going to graduate school at the University of California in San Diego for play writing, another passion of hers. However, with a practical mindset she knew as soon as she graduated that she would go to library school instead of struggling to make a living through playwriting. Library school at Rutgers University in New Jersey would allow her to combine her love for libraries and drama by becoming a drama librarian. New Jersey was a strategic move on her part, allowing her to intern in New York City, “Theatre central.” Her dream job in the beginning was becoming an archivist for the New York Public Library (NYPL) for the performing arts, where she interned during library school. During the highlight of her internship at NYPL, she had the opportunity to process an archival collection belonging to a playwright and screenwriter who wrote for the Marx brothers movies and also testified during the House Un-American Activities trials.
Despite her idea of being an archivist, she ended up becoming a research librarian and working for different universities, always with a concentration in the performing arts. The first university that Angela worked for was the University of Mississippi in Oxford Mississippi, “where there is nothing else except for the University of Mississippi and William Faulkner’s House,” according to Angela. Preceding her time at UPS, she was the head of the drama and art libraries at the University of Washington (UW) in Seattle starting in 2004. The commute from Tacoma to Seattle was a “nightmare” compared to what it had been when she lived in Federal Way. Luckily, she was able to give up the long commute by coming to UPS. She heard about the job at UPS because the head of the UPS Library, Jane Carlin, sent her an email asking if she knew any grad students who were graduating and would be interested in the job. Angela responded saying, “I don’t know any grad students, but me! I live in Tacoma, this would be great.” She wasn’t looking for a job, but this one came right to her, and she couldn’t pass up the offer. Her commute went from 2 and a half hours a day to about 20 minutes a day, she told me, laughing.
I asked Angela about the differences that she has noticed from working at a larger, public institution and now working at a smaller, liberal arts university. One of the first things that stood out to her was that, despite the fact that she was the head of two different department libraries and in the buildings that housed others working for the department, she, “still had met more people here at UPS than at UW,” within a week of arriving on campus. After a week of being at UPS, she had met all of the Classics professors who were on campus for the fall semester, a number of the music faculty, at least two of the African American Studies (AFAM) professors, as well as faculty in the Art department. Angela was shocked that within a month she had met a significant amount of faculty, as well as students, and she had not simply met students once, but had been able to recognize them in multiple different settings. She remarked about how, at UW, there were so many students, “even the ones in drama that [she] saw more often, [she] could remember their faces but didn’t remember their names because there were so many and [she] didn’t really get to talk to them.” She talked to me about how she admires the level of engagement here. It’s, “better because it’s so much smaller and [the librarians] are so much more involved with the classes.”
With the level of engagement being different, there have had to be some adjustments from how Angela was used to doing things at UW; she teaches a lot more classes at UPS and is more involved on a class level. While working at UW, she was used to only teaching about two to three classes each year, and at UPS she teaches about 15 or 16 per semester. She has really enjoyed working with students individually on their projects and getting to delve deeper into topics that students are excited about.
Angela has also been pleasantly surprised at how much she has enjoyed working with the Music department. Having no training as a music librarian and not being a musician herself, she was slightly nervous about having to work with the Music department and the prospect of disappointing them since she had no background in music. In the interview she said with a smile, “I like music, but I’ve never studied music.” However, she followed that up by saying that working with the music classes has been really fun, and that the students have had some really unique and interesting projects. Angela has particularly enjoyed working with the newly hired ethnomusicologist, Dr. Ameera Nimjee and her classes such as World Music and Women in Music. Recently, Angela helped teach a podcasting class, showing them how to create podcasts that incorporate the research they had done. Another professor, Dr. Gwynne Brown, focused on American Spiritual Music, which Angela also had a lot of fun with. She talked about what a welcome surprise it was to go in and discover the creativity surrounding projects, stating that, “they [the students] have really interesting topics and that it’s not just Beethoven, Bach, or Brahms, but music that [she] actually know[s] something about and enjoy[s].” Many of the projects touched on other interests of hers, such as playwriting, because some students were tasked with writing their own plays and pieces of music instead of just writing a paper.
Angela has gotten involved in other ways on campus, besides her role in the library. She reached out to Ellen Peters, the Associate Provost for Institutional Research and Uchenna Baker, the Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students, to talk about student retention on campus after having read the report that UPS sent out. Angela was disheartened that there were so many students who don’t feel like they belonged at UPS, and Angela said, “being a student of color who went to a private, predominantly white university, I kind of understood how they feel,” even though her own experience had been much different because she had found a sense of belonging at Duke. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic that sent us all off campus, Angela got involved with a group called the Student of Color Community Initiative (SOCCI), a task force trying to establish first-year housing for students of color. Unfortunately she was only able to attend one meeting before Spring Break and the switch to online school, but she is hoping they will reconvene in the summer or fall to think about their next steps. Angela was really grateful for the opportunity to work with undergraduate students Christina Mills ‘22, Becca Lumbantobing ‘21, Mara Henderson ‘20, and Colin Noble ‘19 on this initiative that they had worked so hard to create. She raved about the, “incredible 20 plus page report,” that they had written to go along with the initiative they created.
As I continued to talk with Angela about her time at UPS, I was interested in discovering how accepted Angela has felt on the UPS campus and in the library being the first and only African American librarian at UPS. She responded saying that, “librarianship is a pretty liberal profession full of mostly women,” so she has felt accepted. However, she did tell me that, “the profession as a whole has a problem attracting librarians from underrepresented groups,” something of which I was completely unaware. As a result, Angela herself has been involved in programs and leadership institutes for librarians from underrepresented groups and is currently mentoring a grad student who is a member of an underrepresented group as part of a program. She laughed and told me that, “librarianship as a whole has been trying to improve its diversity because it knows it has a problem.” Therefore, she explained that everywhere she has gone as a librarian it’s been a similar situation, with one or two African American librarians. She noted that, when she arrived on campus at UW there was one African American librarian, but when she left there were several more who had been added to the team. Again, she emphasized that it is always that way in libraries, assuring me that, “UPS is not unique in that way.” Angela Weaver is well practiced in the art of, “coming in and being like, ok I’m here!” She also told me that, surprisingly, the University of Mississippi was the place she has been with the most diversity.
Closing out the interview, I asked Angela about some of her favorite things and favorite pastimes. When I asked about her favorite play, she said, “it changes all the time,” and instead listed her favorite playwrights: Suzan-Lori Parks, Caryl Churchill, Sarah Kane, Jose Rivera, and Lynn Nottage. She also shared with me that she used to run a group called Women of Color, Women of Words, as well as head a website as a graduate student project while at Rutgers. Angela graduated from graduate school in 1996, right as the internet was just starting. She had a class on creating websites, and she decided to create a website dedicated to female playwrights of color. The website included, “different biographical information about the playwrights, their plays, where to find them, how to purchase copies, which anthologies had their works, and critical resources around the different plays.” The website is no longer active, but while it was still up and running, many professors had reached out about how helpful the site had been while teaching their students because there hadn’t been as many resources as there are now when it came to learning about diverse women playwrights. The e-group that she started still exists on yahoo, but is not very active today, however during its active time even Lynn Nottage, one of Angela’s favorite playwrights, had joined the group.
Now, Angela Weaver is working from home like many of us, but she is still busy teaching classes and attending meetings. However, she is also passing the time by listening to lots of Prince and doing Christmas crafts because she starts early and has a theme for each year. She jokingly told me that she, “will be finished with Christmas this year by the end of summer.” She makes Putz houses, which used to be very popular in the 50’s, and her theme for Christmas this year is vintage, while last year’s theme was Marie Antoinette, and a past year was 1960’s modern Christmas. The Putz houses are made from paper and cardboard, and she has made about 4 so far using 50’s architecture. Angela is a wonderfully creative and intelligent woman and an extremely valuable member of the UPS community. We are very grateful she has felt welcome by and happy with the interactions she’s had and the projects she’s been a part of while at UPS.
In 2014, at the University of Puget Sounds in Tacoma, Washington, faculty voted yes for the addition of the KNOW requirement, short for knowledge, identity, and power. This course requirement for graduation necessitates all UPS students to take one class that focuses on power differentials and social inequalities and how they relate to the production of knowledge. Reading through the 2014 Trail article entitled “Controversy within Faculty Send KNOW Proposal to Final Vote,” it is obvious that the KNOW requirement did not garner the undivided support of UPS faculty. While the vote came out 59 to 14 in favor of the new requirement, those in opposition were not silent about why. Professor Richard Anderson-Connolly, of the Sociology and Anthropology department, stated that the requirement, “…doesn’t pay attention to the idea that race can be a harmful social construction,” stating that while we shouldn’t ignore the impacts of racism, “…we also shouldn’t be teaching students to view each other as representations of different races” (Dohrmann).
Although the KNOW requirement was a step in the right direction, I would argue that those who view the requirement like Professor Anderson-Connolly, as one that could bring forth potential divides by highlighting social differences such as race, are the same minds that the requirement initially set out to reach. It is interesting to note that the KNOW requirement guidelines say nothing specifically about race, but the faculty conversation immediately centered the conversation on race. Rather, the learning objectives listed in the Bulletin course catalogue state that the KNOW requirement for graduation would help students, “develop their capacity to communicate meaningfully about issues of power, disparity, and diversity of experiences and identities” (Knowledge). After reading Professor Anderson-Connolly’s comments, it is no surprise that the word race never made it into the official description of the requirement. The portion, “diversity of experiences and identities” is the closest mention of race in the description.
When I scroll down the 70+ classes available to satisfy the KNOW requirement, I see classes that address the, “issues of power” and, “disparity,” but very few that address the, “diversity of experience and identities.” For instance, I believe intro-level classes like AFAM 101 or GQS 201 meet all three of the listed learning objectives of the KNOW requirement, while other classes listed as meeting the KNOW requirement, like HON 214 Interrogating Inequalities, do not. While I took HON 214 and can attest that the class was based around interrogating inequalities and allowed me to learn how to communicate meaningfully about issues of power, I still was not exposed to the intricacies of inhabiting a marginalized identity in our hegemonic society or taught about the presence of alternative historical narratives and knowledge. In HON 214, I was exposed to dominant, progressive, white topics regarding inequality, not novel ideas that were purposely not covered in my high school textbooks. Throughout the course of taking AFAM 101 and GQS 201, I not only became a more socially conscious individual, but I had my eyes opened to a world that was previously closed off to me in higher education.
I have had multiple students tell me that AFAM 101 changed their lives. This was not simply because they learned about power structures and inequality; AFAM 101 also addresses the creation of knowledge and dominant narratives with a focus on listening to the repressed narratives of a marginalized people. How can one communicate meaningfully about disparity when they do not know about the presence of institutions in our society that perpetuate that disparity but benefit whiteness? Identity-based social justice classes like Latino/a Studies, African American Studies, and Gender and Queer Studies address every aspect of the KNOW requirement’s learning objectives, including developing, “the capacity to communicated meaningfully about issues of… diversity of experiences and identities” (Knowledge). Discussing the presence of disparity is one thing but talking about the forces that cause those disparities not only to be there, but to continue to be there, is a less performative and more meaningful way for UPS’s majority white students to engage and learn from other identities and experiences.
In order to meet the original standards of the KNOW requirement, I propose that the language be changed from “experiences and identities” to “experiences and identities of marginalized folk.” It is important to note that this will narrow the range of available classes that meet the KNOW requirement significantly. With this change, it is important to note that the LTS, AFAM, and GQS departments are some of the smallest, youngest, and most overloaded and understaffed on campus; putting the burden of teaching our majority white students at UPS on these departments should not be done. It is not the job of those with marginalized identities to fix white peoples’ shortcomings when it comes to understanding race. Rather, professors who teach classes already meeting the KNOW requirement would have to resubmit their applications to the Curriculum Committee with an addendum specifically about how the class meets the new, more specific requirement of teaching about “experiences and identities of marginalized folk.” The addendum should also include what kind of pedagogy the professor plans to use when teaching this altered material about, more than likely, an identity other than their own. It is also important to ensure that people of color and marginalized identities occupy seats at every single Curriculum Committee meeting involving the decision of a class counting toward the KNOW requirement.
Including the “experiences and identities” segment of the course description gets at the core of what the KNOW requirement initially set out to accomplish, yet the vague language allows for the presence of auxiliary classes offered as cop outs for those who may believe race is a harmful social construct that should be avoided at all costs. It is important to notice the positionalities of those who make this kind of statement. Very rarely will someone who has experienced discrimination because of their marginalized identity buy into this colorblind notion. Students of color at UPS are already forced to be representations of their own races on our majority white campus. White people are the ones oblivious to the fact that race matters, as Anderson-Connolly so astutely explained to The Trail. This is why it is important to ensure that the KNOW requirement meet certain standards regarding marginalized identities and race.
What a beautiful time
to be living and engaging antiracism work. You already know this. That’s why
you majored and minored in African American Studies. That’s why you’ve spent
the last four years reading difficult critical texts, writing papers, doing research.
If your family questioned your decision to study AF AM before March 2020, they
have been forced during the coronavirus crisis to confront injustices that are
foundational to our discipline, its literature and praxis. The pandemic has
revealed disparities in access and privilege across systems of health, housing,
employment, incarceration, farming, politics, and education. For example, as of
April 9, 100% of the Covid-19 deaths in St Louis were of African Americans.
This virus has
lifted a veil and this clarity is its gift to graduates like you. Unlike previous
graduating seniors, you won’t hear empty platitudes that your anxiety about the
future is “normal” and “it will all work out in the end.” No one will pretend
that structures undergirding our society always work. No one will argue when
you say black communities are at risk and treated as if they’re expendable. No one
will tell you with a straight face that security or stability are features of adult
life. Instead, you are graduating and walking
out into the world with your eyes wide open. Better yet, you are armed with
critical cultural knowledge that explains the current cruelties and collapse.
And this is true as well: There is still a lot of beauty during this pandemic. Have you noticed how many newborn babies there are? Just look around. And spring arrived this year, showing off as usual with her bright blooms. The wonderful details of being human remain. We still appreciate the scent of flowers, still laugh and dance. We will continue to fall in love, experience joy, suffer through sorrow. We are human. And while we acknowledge the distinction between “humanity” and “blackness” made by Afro-Pessimists, African American Studies also teaches that we have a responsibility to create a society that reflects and supports all humanity. Sometimes we understand this responsibility without directly experiencing or witnessing injustice. But sometimes it helps to have this experience. As our scholarship instructs, there is no imagining future liberation, nor creation of blues or jazz, without remaining in the hold of a slave ship.
experienced society before Covid-19, you stand at a critical juncture that provides
important perspective. You will be able to explain how society operated before
the virus and what came afterwards. You will be able to describe the nature of
this pivot and whether it was just.
The easiest way to
explain what I’m trying to say is through metaphor.
The other day I watched a video of a colleague and his family. In the video they are smiling as they roller skate in the Wyatt parking lot. They bask in sunlight. The mother skates and moves the baby’s stroller in loving arcs back and forth over the pavement. To someone unfamiliar with our campus before 2020, the video might seem self-evident. It shows a happy, black family. But if you were here on our campus in 2016 you might remember rumors that someone wrote in chalk in that parking lot, “Make America Great Again.” You might remember fewer faculty of color on campus at that time. If you’ve been teaching or working at Puget Sound since 2000 or before, you might recall a long list of racialized incidents that have caused harm to black and brown students, faculty, and staff. From that eagle-eyed perspective you would watch the video while holding the skating and past events in tension. You might think about the very complicated history ensconced in this place.
That’s the vision
you will possess as 2020 graduates in African American Studies. You’ve seen the
before and during. Soon you will witness the after. And you’ve studied the
scholarship and know our deep tradition. Congratulations on all you’ve learned
and accomplished. We look forward to the revolutionary work you will do.