By Marisa Valentino
Professors and students at Fordham University participated in the nationwide Scholar Strike on September 8th and 9th to raise awareness for racial injustice and advocate for necessary changes in academia.
“Scholar Strike is both an action, and a teach-in,” said the Scholar Strike website. “Some of us will, for two days, refrain from our many duties and participate in actions designed to raise awareness of and prompt action against racism, policing, mass incarceration, and other symptoms of racism’s toll in America.”
The strike was sparked by a tweet from Anthea Butler, a religious studies professor and graduate chair at the University of Pennsylvania. “I would be down as a professor to follow the NBA and strike for a few days to protest police violence in America,” said Butler.
Her incendiary post references the walkout pro-athletes participated in that started on August 26. The Los Angeles Clippers, the Milwaukee Bucks, and other NBA teams went on strike in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter Movement to raise awareness of the police brutality against Jacob Blake. Other professional sports leagues, including the W.N.B.A., Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer, and the Western & Southern Open tennis tournament, joined the cause as well.
Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, was shot by a police officer seven times in the back in front of his three children outside of an apartment building in Kenosha, Wisconsin on August 23. Police were initially called to the scene to respond to a domestic complaint. Blake’s lawyer Ben Crump said Blake was trying to de-escalate a fight between two women when the police arrived on the scene. He was shot while trying to get into his car.
The officer who shot Blake, Rusten Sheskey, and two other officers involved “were placed on administrative leave while the Wisconsin Division of Criminal Investigation investigates the shooting,” according to a New York Times article.
The injuries Blake sustained have left him paralyzed from the waist down. The shooting was caught on video by a neighbor and spread quickly across various social media platforms.
This is not the first incident of the police shooting unarmed Black Americans. The untimely deaths of George Floyd, Elijah McClain, Breonna Taylor, and many others prove this is not an isolated incident. In response to these tragedies, protests against police brutality erupted nationwide this summer.
In addition to the protests, letters have been written to state and federal officials, petitions have been signed, and educational resources have been distributed via social media. This list of advocacy efforts now also includes the Scholar Strike.
Butler and Kevin Gannon, co-facilitator and history professor at Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa, created the website scholarstrike.com to spread the word and share brief YouTube lessons on racial injustice. From there, the event gained popularity. “Some 600 professors have committed across multiple universities, and #ScholarStrike has taken off as a hashtag,” said a CNN article.
“We’re not so much protesting our individual universities, as we are protesting police violence and racial injustice in this country,” said Butler in a CNN interview.
Professors at Fordham University joined the cause. To raise awareness for racial injustice some refrained from instruction entirely while others opted to do a “teach-in.” Those who decided to host “teach-ins” used their class time to foster a discussion about racial justice and how it can be established on Fordham’s campus. Some professors also shared educational information with students via email.
It seems an appropriate time for higher education institutions to become involved as a response to Trump’s criticism of educational institutions and critical race theory.
In the president’s Fourth of July speech he referenced the Black Lives Matter protests. “The violent mayhem we have seen in the streets and cities that are run by liberal Democrats in every case is the predictable result of years of extreme indoctrination and bias in education, journalism, and other cultural institutions,” said Trump. “Against every law of society and nature, our children are taught in school to hate their own country and to believe that the men and women who built it were not heroes but that they were villains.”
According to an NPR article, “The Trump administration has instructed federal agencies to end racial sensitivity training that addresses topics like white privilege and critical race theory, calling them ‘divisive, anti-American propaganda.’”
Critical Race Theory is the belief that law and legal institutions are fundamentally racist and that racism was created and is perpetuated by white people to further white privilege despite its negative effects on non-white people.
In addition to Fordham professors, Father McShane also addressed racism. McShane sent an email on September 8 to the Fordham student body with the annual report of the Chief Diversity Officer (CDO) and Fordham University’s Action Plan: Addressing Racism, Educating for Justice.
“You will find here that the University is moving forward on multiple fronts in pursuit of greater diversity, equity, and inclusion,” wrote McShane. “That said, it is not everything we can do, nor is it everything we intend to do. This work—dismantling racism, especially structural racism—is neither linear nor ever finished.”
The goals of the action plan include “Develop Robust Admissions Strategies for Effective Recruitment of Students of Color to Fordham,” “Recruiting and Retaining a More Diverse Faculty, Administration and Staff,” “Develop Curricular and Cocurricular Initiatives That Support the Imperative of Confronting Racism and Educating for Justice,” “Develop Curricular and Cocurricular Initiatives That Support the Imperative of Confronting Racism and Educating for Justice,” “Create a More Welcoming and Affirming Campus,” “Build Lasting Partnerships With Our Neighbors,” and “Amplify our Voice in Educating for Justice Beyond the Campus.” The plan also details the means by which these objectives will be supported.
The CDO annual report said Fordham has made improvements in various DEI areas including “Students and Student/Community Programs,” “Faculty and Staff Diversity,” “Capacity Building,” “Faculty Development and Pedagogy,” and “Policy.”
It is evident that there is much work to be done not only at Fordham University and other educational institutions but nationwide to establish racial justice. It is important that events like the Scholar Strike continue to occur. This will hopefully encourage further steps to be taken towards racial justice.