Professors go on strike to protest racial injustice in American higher education

September 18, 2020

Brandeis faculty members joined professors across the country in a two-day strike to draw attention to racial injustice in American higher education on Sep. 8. Professors walked out of their academic duty and implemented their educating roles about racism in non-traditional settings, such as social media, Youtube and other discussion platforms. 

Professor Dorothy Kim (ENG) wrote to The Brandeis Hoot in an email that her strike experience  “was mostly concentrated on social media and particularly Twitter to share these resources and materials specifically about Anti-Blackness, police violence, and #BlackLivesMatter.” The technology-based strike provided a platform to be more participant-driven and knowledge-exchanged, according to Kim.

“Since so many of us are now teaching remotely and it’s difficult to do in-person teach-ins and demonstrations, I think the effort towards digital media—[Facebook], Twitter, Youtube—allows us to highlight the range of topics, teach-ins, and education that highlight these issues that can be shared and used with faculty and students throughout the world,” said Professor Kim.

Some Brandeis professors have also adjusted the class materials to acknowledge racial injustices, according to Kim. She assigned the entire book “Race After Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code” to students, changing the original plan from only reading the introduction and the first chapter. The book talks about how technologies can reinforce racial inequality and white supremacy. She hoped to discuss the topic when returning to the classroom and provide the students with an option to reflect. While not participating directly, some other professors acknowledged the strike and shared resources about the Black Lives Matters movement. 

The Scholar Strike was “an action inspired by the NBA, WNBA, Colin Kaepernick and other athletes,” according to the strike’s official website, in response to the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, WI, on Aug. 23. It started with a tweet on Aug. 26 by Anthea Butler, an associate professor of religious studies and graduate chair at the University of Pennsylvania, who stated, “I would be down as a professor to follow the NBA and Strike for a few days to protest police violence in America.”

In the early stage of the strike, Inside Higher Ed revealed that over 600 professors had committed to strike on Aug. 28. On Sep. 7, Butler told Washington Square News that “more than 5,000 people have signed up and expressed interest in participating.”

The strike was entirely online because of the coronavirus pandemic. The official YouTube channel released 58 short videos featuring professors across the country that discussed a wide range of related topics from “Black Muslims and State Violence” to “Scripture in Racial Projects.”

Inside Higher Ed reported that “few institutions have openly endorsed the Scholar Strike, but colleges and universities haven’t gone out of their way to discourage faculty or student participation, either.” According to Washington Square News, the dean of Steinhardt in New York University sent an email to the Steinhardt community stating that “I want to recognize those members of our community who may choose to participate in the upcoming #ScholarStrike.”Co-organizer Kevin Gannon, a historian at Grand View University, said that he was paying attention to institutional responses to the strike since many institutions issued statements of support for the uprisings this summer.

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