Organizer of Black Voters Matter LaTosha Brown will speak at Pitzer College’s commencement ceremony, the school announced March 21. On March 15, Scripps College revealed that advocate and author on criminalization Andrea J. Ritchie will address its graduating class of 2022. The ceremonies will take place May 14.
Brown, currently a senior practice fellow at the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, is a renowned figure in Black women’s empowerment and philanthropy.
Brown is the co-founder of the Black Voters Matter Fund and the Black Voters Matter Capacity Building Institute, organizations which work to give power to marginalized and rural communities through support and investment in local infrastructure. She has won numerous awards for her leadership and civic engagement, including the 2010 White House Champion of Change Award, the 2018 Bridge Jubilee Award and the Liberty Bell Award.
More recently, she founded the Southern Black Girls & Women’s Consortium and the Black Girls Dream Fund, a $100 million, 10-year initiative to invest in organizations that serve Black women and girls.
Ritchie, Scripps College’s keynote speaker, is a distinguished lawyer, activist and author on policing, criminalization, mass incarceration and immigration enforcement with three decades of litigating and organizing experience.
She has authored books and academic reports about injustice towards Black women, girls, trans and gender-nonconforming people. She is currently the O’Brien Distinguished Visiting Professor at the Claremont Colleges’ Intercollegiate Feminist Center, where she will head an upcoming feminist prison abolition conference April 8-10.
This year, Pitzer Senior Class Representative Lily Fillwalk PZ ’22 and Identity Board Chair Milena Passage PZ ’22 shared the role of head student representatives on the Commencement Committee.
According to Fillwalk, the committee put together a list of more than 20 individuals that aligned with Pitzer’s core values. The student representatives then met with Katie Tewell, executive assistant to the vice president for student affairs and the head of the committee, to see which of the speakers it might be possible to bring to Pitzer.
“We thought that Brown’s work aligned with Pitzer’s core values and that this work is incredibly timely and important with the current (but not new) voter suppression throughout the country,” Fillwalk told TSL via email. “I hope the Class of 2022 is able to learn about organizing and activist measures being taken currently in the US, and how we can learn from current activists and adopt/adapt these skills to our own careers and goals.”
Pitzer Senate President Kaila Teague PZ ’22 played a role in selecting the student representatives on the committee.
“I really am so excited to hear LaTosha Brown speak … especially because she provides so much and has done so much work and activism related to voting and general activism philanthropy and she’s a fantastic speaker as well,” Teague told TSL.
Scripps senior class co-presidents Uma Nagarajan-Swenson SC ’22 and Elizabeth Howell-Egan SC ’22 led Scripps’ commencement speaker selection process, with the help of Scripps Associated Student President Maya Lynch SC ’22.
“We believe that Ms. Ritchie’s career and her work exemplify the deeply nuanced vision with which we must see the world and demonstrate the challenges to come, as well as the tangible hope with which we must take on this fight for a better future,” Nagarajan-Swenson and Howell-Egan said in a Scripps news release. “The pandemic highlighted the ongoing inequities faced by students and the need for long-lasting organizing and community care. Ms. Ritchie’s work speaks deeply to our collective values of care, courage and hope.”
Thanks to funding from the Scripps Associated Students 2021-2022 board, this will be the first time Scripps’ commencement speaker will be paid.
“I’m really glad that [Ritchie] is getting compensated for her time,” said Niki Chinamanthur SC ’22, a member of Ritchie’s Seminar in Feminist Activism course at Scripps College.
As a member of the class of 2022, Teague felt bittersweet about having an in-person commencement.
“I’m very excited, of course, to be able to have the first in-person commencement since 2019,” she said. “But I do understand and recognize that there are many students within Pitzer’s population, as well as around the 5Cs … and people that are coming that are supporting students that may be immunocompromised and express their discomfort with it.”
Teague emphasized she was confident that Pitzer would take all of the necessary precautions, including ensuring masking, vaccination status and prior testing.
Earlier this semester, Pomona College announced that Nobel Prize-winning biochemist Jennifer Doudna PO ’85 and former Board of Trustees President Stewart Smith PO ’68 would speak at the college’s commencement ceremony this spring.
Scripps College will also be holding a celebration ceremony for Class of 2020 and 2021 graduates May 20 and May 21, respectively.