On Thursday, Nov. 3, the Women’s and Gender Studies and African American and African Diaspora Studies departments sponsored a forum to discuss how the Black Lives Matter Movement affects the UNCG community; both academically and culturally.
The panel of four representative women were asked questions such as: “How does the movement suggest changes to how and why we teach,” “what resources does it offer for analyzing the dynamics of the university life” and “how does it call on us to reconsider the connections between what happens inside the university and what happens outside it?”
These are very complex questions to ask at any time, particularly in front of others. They were akin to the sort of questions students are given to think about from a historical standpoint, rather than something that is currently happening, and the Black Lives Matter movement is an ongoing endeavor.
The event was structured in such a way that each panelist would speak and then the floor was opened for a group discussion. The speakers consisted of: Sarah Cervenak, Femi Shittu, Carly Springs, and Andrea Hunter. Each person offered a unique insight.
Sarah Cervenak, a professor in the African American and African Diaspora Studies and Women’s & Gender Studies programs, and author, was the first speak. The main question she focused around was: “What is it like to teach with Black Lives Matter?”
She concluded that she was trying to teach along side of the movement, acknowledging that the lesson does not simply begin, nor does it simply end.
To emphasize this point, she said that people are confronted with the same issues again and again. So with this reality, Cervenak explained that the classroom should not always be the place that ideas are finalized, nor where analysis is the only explanation given. Rather, the classroom should act as a safe place, where silence can heal.
The second speaker was Femi Shittu. A representative of IGNITE NC, Shittu spoke more of the institutional aspect of academia, rather than the classroom.
Shittu also spoke about centering the importance of workers rights: “Who takes care of our buildings? Are they being paid enough? Are they represented and appreciated?”
Shittu also troubled the reality that most funding for African American Studies programs goes to Ivy League schools; which most people cannot attend or afford. Along with these points, Shittu spoke of the burdening aspect of student loans and debt.
The third speaker was Carly Springs, a representative from Defund Racism. Springs emphasized that Black Lives Matter shows the power of students, and that students have authority and can inspire change.
However, Springs also expressed disappointment in the UNCG’s administration for sending a warning that she would be arrested if she took her protest to the streets after Charlotte protests in September. She also pointed out new ways that colleges can encourage diversity, and questioned their inclusiveness. Springs also used the recent events at the University of Mizzou as an example. She also spoke of gentrification in the nearby Glenwood neighborhood.
The last speaker was Andrea Hunter, from the Human Development and Family Studies department. Hunter spoke of the long, continuous fight of the African American community and argued that the Black Lives Matter Movement is a product of a generation of struggling.
Hunter read an incredibly moving passage from her writing, “An Imperfect Memory” that told the story of her seeing the movie “Selma.” She recounted entering the theater for Selma, and said seeing young black children made her think about their struggle today in comparison to hers struggle, as well as that of her parents. Hunter expressed her concern of a disconnect between these generations.
During the open discussion, each panelist emphasized that the Black Lives Matter Movement is not just a movement for black men. In fact, the coiners of “Black Lives Matter,” Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi and Patrisse Cullors, are all black women and lesbians. Further, there are many Black Lives Matter activists and protesters at the intersections of various struggles, which deserve their due respect and recognition.