Emory students and faculty members participated in a two-day Scholar Strike for Racial Justice on Sept. 8-9, in which some participating professors canceled classes, others shifted their lesson plans to include discussions of racial justice and the Faculty-in-Residence Program held a Racial Justice Hour. 

Although the strike only lasted two days, University faculty felt its impact will live beyond that duration.

“Scholar strike is not just a two-day event, the call is for educators and scholars to think about their role and their circles of influence,” Associate Professor of Philosophy Dilek Huseyinzadegan said. “One thing I would like to see is these conversations becoming a part of our regular lives.”

When discussing the strike, faculty shared that Emory still has a long way to be a truly equitable institution.

“Emory needs to do more,” Senior Lecturer in the Department of Sociology Tracy L. Scott said. “Some of the decisions that have to be made by the Board of Trustees and the Board of Trustees tends to be really, really conservative.”

Students echoed Scott’s sentiments and pointed out that since its founding, the University has consistently failed to listen to the Black community’s calls for change. The first list of Black student demands was published in 1969.

The idea for the strike was tweeted out by Anthea Butler, an associate professor of religious and Africana studies at the University of Pennsylvania, who was inspired by protests from athletes in the WNBA, NBA and Colin Kaepernick. The strike took place all across North America and paid homage to the teach-ins of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. 

College Dean Michael Elliot acknowledged the strike in an email to faculty and stated the University welcomes the protest and faculty autonomy.

“We also have a long tradition of recognizing faculty autonomy in determining course content and in taking absences, provided that we preserve the academic integrity of our courses,” the email from Elliot read. “In the current context, I am aware that faculty who are choosing to participate in the #ScholarStrike are electing different options, including altering their course content, delivering content asynchronously, and rescheduling synchronous meetings.”

In lieu of the scheduled Sept. 9 Emory College of Arts and Sciences Senate Meeting, the University invited faculty to discuss anti-racism efforts on campus to “discuss what faculty can do to help create a climate of equity and justice at Emory and exchange ideas of actions that are being taken to combat racism in your individual departments and programs,” according to a faculty email from Senate President Jennifer Heemstra.

Convocation Hall./ Jackson Schneider, Photo Editor

Around 35-40 faculty members attended the virtual session, she said. Discussion topics included how to incorporate learning content on racism and racial justice into classes across multiple disciplines, recruiting and retaining diverse faculty and the best practices for the equitable evaluation of graduate program applications.

The strike comes after the Coalition of Black Organizations and Clubs (CBOC) released a set of actionable demands for the University in July. A month later, Emory committed to examining Emory’s current police system and improving spaces for affinity groups.

“I hope that the fact that so many faculty and students are participating in the Scholar Strike that the University, and specifically the administration, continues to uphold their statements and policies on equal representation, and addressing student demands, and being responsive to what needs to be addressed on campus,” Taylor McGhee (21C). “I’m already seeing that change happening with the new President being super cognizant of that.”

Some students felt their professors’ commitment to the Scholar Strike was an act of unity.

“It feels really good that people actually care and that people are putting in the work to help their fellow brothers and sisters, and their friends and peers,” Cicely Jackson (24C) said. “I feel like my life truly matters.”

Associate Professor of Film and Media Tanine Allison decided to cancel her sole synchronous Tuesday and Wednesday classes, opting to assign asynchronous material discussing the Black Lives Matter movement.

“It’s trying to draw attention to broad inequities in our culture, our country and universities across the country,” Allison said.

Some participating professors decided to keep their synchronous Tuesday and Wednesday classes and made space for discussion on voting, mass incarceration, racism in academia, the history of policing and screenings of films such as “The 13th.”

As a non-Black person of color, Huseyinzadegan felt that taking the day off would be contrary to Butler’s message. Other professors also chose to still hold class.

“I didn’t want to cancel class because … I think about how weirdly isolating it can feel,” Longstreet Professor of English Michelle M. Wright said. “Some students may not feel comfortable going outside or attending something in person, some may not want to attend an online teach-in and would rather be an active participant in class.”

Lecturer at the Emory Center for the Study of Human Health Jennifer C. Sarret in conjunction with other faculty invited their students to a Racial Justice Office Hours event where students and faculty discussed early education, institutes of white supremacy and what it means to be a racially just society to care about racial justice and reparations. 

On Wednesday, Faculty-in-Residence Huseyinzadegan and Director of the Portuguese Program and Senior Lecturer in Portuguese Ana Catarina Teixeira facilitated a virtual discussion about the Scholar Strike, where students shared personal stories about interactions with police, experiences as people of color in the U.S. and their general comfort levels talking about race.

“We’ve got really great Black faculty and other great faculty from other racial groups and they have great things to say,” Scott said. “What students should be doing is taking their classes.”

Update (9/16/2020 at 11:15 a.m.): The story has been updated to include additional comments from Faculty Senate President Jennifer Heemstra.

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Digital Operations & Podcast Editor | Gabriella Lewis (she/her, 23C) is from San Francisco, California, majoring in political science and women, gender and sexuality studies. She hosts the podcast Wheel Talk. Outside the Wheel, she is involved with residence life and voting rights at Emory. She also enjoys national parks, eating ramen and telling people she's from California.