9/8/20 Scholar Strike

Hundreds of university professors, faculty members and graduate students nationwide joined a virtual strike, requesting racial justice across the country and throughout their workplaces. 

Days after the second Black Lives Matter protest on campus this semester, professors and scholars across the University chose to forgo teaching the past two days, focusing their energy instead on diversity and inclusion.

The Scholar Strike, a national initiative inspired by a tweet by Anthea Butler, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, gives professors a platform to uncover issues within the higher education community. The event centers on calling awareness to racial injustices in the U.S., per the Scholar Strike website.

Professors used the strike as a platform to uncover issues within the higher education community at large.

That especially includes Purdue, one professor said.

“Of all the university statements after George Floyd was killed and the ensuing protests, Purdue has the shortest and least actionable statement,” said Nadia Brown, professor of political science and African American Studies. “And there’s no name attached to it … that’s telling.”

The June 1 statement — released a week after Floyd was killed — addressed the “work that remains for all of us” to eliminate racism and bigotry, adding that “we hurt with those who are hurting” and pledging to work toward a solution.

“Boilermakers must persist,” it ends, “now more than ever, to build a better world together.”

Brown described other perceived University pitfalls, all of which have taken place in the past few months.

“And then in the summer of racial reckoning, our University moves to consolidate identity-based programs,” she said, referring to budget cuts proposed within the School of Interdisciplinary Studies over the summer.

These cuts, which would have brought the school from having 16 department heads to six, according to an email sent to affected faculty, were later mitigated and given a year’s “transition period,” according to a later email from Provost Jay Akridge.

This grace period only postpones the issue, Brown said, and will leave the school with the same dilemma next summer.

She also addressed the University’s new “Pursuing Racial Justice” series, which she described as off-color and misguided.

“We don’t necessarily need big name national speakers, who are charging the University thousands of dollars to come speak to white professors,” Brown said. “That money is better used by strengthening the existing programs and faculty that are already here doing the work.”

While the initiative is taking place on a national level, Brown said she found out about it through her union, the American Association of University Professors.

“The point is that you slow down your academic work to focus your scholarly activity on protesting racist policing, state violence against communities of color, mass incarceration and other manifestations of racism,” said Alice Pawley, chapter president of the Purdue AAUP and professor of engineering education.

Pawley said the strike is focused around a “teach-in” aspect, with professors across the country preparing 10- to 15-minute videos on their areas of expertise regarding issues of racial injustice.

She said she wasn’t sure how many Purdue professors and scholars participated in the strike, which she attributed to the Purdue community having to grapple with online and hybrid classes.

“At the moment, I’ll be honest, it’s been extremely difficult to get faculty to organize around anything other than the desperation they feel regarding their classes,” she said. “The way the students feel, they also feel.”

Her hope, she said, was that union members would garner more professors to participate in the second day of the strike through advocacy on social media.

Mindy Tan, a professor of African American Studies, also spoke about the strike while marching to the steps of Hovde Hall of Administration during the protest on Monday.

“I decided to participate in the scholar strike (Tuesday), and I shared some links for my students to look at regarding the strike,” she said. “And we’ve been talking a lot about the whole Black Lives Matter movement in class, so this is an extension of it.”

Brown said that while she is refraining from teaching for the duration of the strike, the two days are far from a break in her work as a whole.

“I’m not neglecting my students, I’m not shrinking from service responsibilities or even my own research,” she said, “but I’m prioritizing work that sheds light on diversity and inclusion in the academy and also some scholarship.”

Brown said she is still meeting with graduate students studying topics of diversity, as well as engaging in research and initiatives to increase awareness around diversity, equity and inclusion.

She also shared basic information about the strike with her graduate students, saying she wanted to provide them with the resources to participate if they chose. In addition, she said she shared her experience as a black scholar in the U.S., giving her students a glimpse of how recent events have shaped her thinking.

“It’s emotional to get up and work when the country is falling apart at its seams,” she said. “And there’s leadership in the White House that is stoking racial animus instead of trying to bring people together and try to have a national dialogue around racial inequity.”

She spoke about having her three young children ask her why police are hurting black people and being unable to give them a valid explanation.

“That’s kind of the emotional toll that being black in America takes,” she said, pausing for a moment. “But it’s even more heightened when you study racism, you teach about racism, you open up the newspaper and you read about racism. You go to hug your kids at night, or your husband, talk to your brother on FaceTime, your dad and say, ‘I can’t hug you but I am so concerned and worried about you guys.’

“It’s that unquantifiable angst.”

Campus editor Sean Murley contributed to reporting.

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