5C professors join national strike for racial justice

Graphic of hands holding signs that say #Scholar Strike, Black Lives Matter, and a partially cut off sign against a red background
Some teachers at the Claremont Colleges canceled class as part of Scholar Strike on Sept. 8 and 9. (Courtesy: Casey Wood from The Hawk)

Several faculty at the Claremont Colleges canceled or postponed their classes on Sept. 8 and 9 as part of a nationwide movement to bring attention to issues of racial injustice, police violence and systemic racism in the U.S. 

The Scholar Strike was “designed to call awareness to the racial climate in America, and the rash of police shootings and racialized violence,” the event’s official website read. It was “inspired by the NBA, WNBA, Colin Kaepernick and other athletes, to underscore the urgent importance of addressing racism and injustice in the United States.”

Founded after a single tweet by Anthea Butler, Scholar Strike was both “an action, and a teach-in” whereby professors across the country will refrain from their typical academia-oriented duties Sept. 8 and 9. Professors will instead “raise awareness of and prompt action against racism, policing, mass incarceration and other symptoms of racism’s toll in America.” 

The initiative was open to faculty, staff, students and administrators on college and university campuses committed to anti-racism and advocating for racial justice, according to its website.

The entire Scripps College Art Department participated in the Scholar Strike this week, according to an Instagram post by the department’s page.

So did Scripps College associate professor of politics Sumita Pahwa.

“I think it can be very powerful to change the focal point of what we think and talk about for a day or two, to give problems the attention they deserve instead of going on with business as usual,” Pahwa said via email. 

“We saw this over the summer. People marched, called their representatives, and support for police reform initiatives became more mainstream in public opinion,” Pahwa said. “I think, and hope, that the Scholar Strike can help keep this energy up by highlighting what academic research can teach us about why this violence persists and what policies and structural reforms are needed to address it.”

Professor Juliet Koss, chair of the department of art history at Scripps College, echoed Pahwa.

“Broadly speaking, the strike is an expression of solidarity and, this being academia, also an educational effort,” Koss said via email. “Like any strike, it’s also, fundamentally, a refusal to participate in ‘business as usual’ within the institution.” 

“By definition, it’s a disruption: a labor stoppage and a publicity effort that aims to jam the system we all work within. And there are also some professors who, for various reasons, will teach their regular classes on these two days ‘in solidarity with the strike.’”

Although both Koss and Pahwa canceled their classes, they continued asynchronous discussions online and provided resources “to make students aware of the Scholar Strike initiative and allow them to pause their usual work commitments to learn more about issues around criminal justice and racism if they wish to,” Pahwa said.

Koss added extra readings and videos about racial inequality to her coursework for these days in lieu of canceling two class meetings. 

“Sometimes a work stoppage demands a lot of extra work; with all the educational disruptions going on this fall, I didn’t want my own participation in the strike to create yet more difficulties for my students,” Koss said. “I’m doing all of this to show solidarity, to educate (both myself and others), and to call attention to racial injustice.”

Koss also added that Scripps administration could do far more to develop and support anti-racist initiatives within the Scripps community.

“The Claremont Colleges should have at least one professor teaching the history of African art, architecture, or urbanism — from any country, from any century,” Koss said. “I’ve been proposing this for about 15 years through all the appropriate Scripps channels; an entire continent is missing from the Claremont art history curriculum.” 

“If an institution of higher education is going to say it believes that Black lives matter, it should demonstrate this belief, above all, in its curriculum,” Koss said. 

Scripps, Claremont McKenna College, Pitzer College and Harvey Mudd College have all recently unveiled various anti-racism initiatives in response to the Black Lives Matters protests that have swept the country after the police killing of George Floyd in late May.

Professors and activists alike are hoping to see tangible change come about from nationwide protests and movements like Scholar Strike.

“If there’s one thing I wish the Scholar Strike could do, it’s to help guide people on the policy and electoral actions they can take — voting for progressive district attorneys, lobbying state assemblies and city councils for police reform, countering pushback from police unions and so on,” Pahwa said.  

“The point of any collective action is to raise awareness but also to get things done, so I hope we’ll use this to take some steps towards getting things done.”

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