On Feb. 25, Stefan Bradley, author and expert in African American and higher education history, delivered the Black History Month keynote address in the Gund Gallery Community Foundation Theater. Sponsored by the Office of the President, the Office of the Provost, the Black Student Union (BSU) and the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, the keynote was part of a month long series celebrating black history, as well as the 50-year anniversary of the BSU at Kenyon.
While Bradley’s new book, Upending the Ivory Tower: Civil Rights, Black Power and the Ivy League, provided the structure for his lecture, much of the discussion centered around what black history looked like at Kenyon and Ivy League institutions. Throughout this discussion, Bradley reminded the audience that without the activism of black students, Kenyon would not be the school it is today.
“How do you think you got a director of equity and inclusion?” Bradley asked. “How do you think you got President Decatur? That wasn’t a bunch of liberal administrators thinking, like, ‘you know what we should have?’ It was young people, who pushed and agitated, and it was administrators who were smart enough to listen to young people.”
Bradley emphasized the resentment and isolation these students often faced in an era in which college campuses were far less diverse than they are today. He told of a student at Princeton University who once had urine poured on his head as he walked to class. The constant injustice was emotionally taxing, but protesting could be dangerous — students who joined groups such as BSU risked not only their status on campus, but their lives.
“What did it feel like to be one of the only black students on campus during the time of organization? What did it feel like to be one of the only black students in a rural area such as this?” Bradley asked the audience. “Think of it this way: If something went down between a few black students on campus and racist forces, no one is coming from Harlem, West Philadelphia or Cleveland to come and get you. These students were on their own to make well for themselves.”
Bradley also worked to break down the psychological trauma that black students dealt with in such a state of isolation, calling such trauma “racial battle fatigue.”
“It’s not just the physical dangers that wear people down,” Bradley explained. “It’s the psychological parts of being one of few and having to justify yourself at all times.”
This event was followed last night by a vigil in memory of Trayvon Martin. Black History Month will conclude today with two dance workshops led by Stacy “Jukeboxx” Letrice ’09.