Section: News

Kenyon professors take part in nationwide #ScholarStrike

On Sept. 8 and 9, a number of Kenyon professors joined the racial justice strikes and teach-ins happening on college campuses throughout the nation as part of the #ScholarStrike. 

The national teach-ins were inspired by University of Pennsylvania Professor of Religious Studies and Africana Studies Anthea Butler, who tweeted that she was “down as a professor to follow the NBA and strike for a few days to protest police violence in America.” The WNBA and NBA players’ strikes, prompted by the shooting of Jacob Blake, a Kenosha, Wis. resident who was shot seven times by police, moved professors and academics to organize on their own campuses and teaching spaces.   

On the eve of the teach-ins, Kenyon’s own Associate Professor of English Jené Schoenfeld, chair of the English Department, sent out an invitation to the student body. In the email, she explained how the movement originated with Butler.

“I learned about it on the second [of September] from my colleague [Assistant] Professor [of English Orchid] Tierney and decided to cancel the English Department meeting,” Schoenfeld said. “I wanted to participate in the event and I thought perhaps there would be others who were unaware and would want to participate, so I emailed the faculty as a whole.”

After that, Schoenfeld began preparation for the events. Professors canceled their classes and offered teach-ins: an alternative to standard classes which prioritize student dialogue. with the goal of creating spaces for dialogue about racial issues on campus. 

Professor Schoenfeld consulted Professor Mason, the Associate Provost for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and Vice President Meredith Bonham because she planned to invite students to be involved and wanted to check with them about how best to do that. It was primarily a call to faculty and an invitation to students.

Many departments participated in the teach-ins, but all stayed true to the common goal of emphasizing Black voices and experiences, and encouraging dialogue around police brutality. Professors who weren’t in a position to cancel classes found creative ways to participate and instead guided their students towards other teach-ins. 

Sunset Press, Kenyon’s first student-run publishing press, also joined the nationwide days of protest and learning. On Sept. 8, Sunset hosted “IN SOLIDARITY,” a virtual read-in celebrating Black literature. Kenyon faculty, alumni and current students gathered to read pieces by Terrance Hayes, Saeed Jones, Jerald Walker and Camille Dungy, as well as their own pieces.

Professor of Sociology and Legal Studies Jack Jin Gary Lee hosted a teach-in discussing the opening pages of The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois, emphasizing the writer’s reflections on race and exclusion. 

“One thing that has always stuck with me in regard to the book was a conversation I had at Oberlin [College] with a Black student,” Lee said. “Du Bois gave him words to finally articulate a feeling that he felt before: that of seeing oneself through the eyes of others — of double consciousness.”

The conversation dealt with a number of issues, from students expressing their frustration about their friends being attacked during protests to the impact of high-profile events on the amount of activism in the United States. While Du Bois’ book was a point of departure for the discussion, it was dominated by accounts of the students’ personal experiences.

“I think the focus [of the teach-ins] should be on self-discovery, on conversation and on a reckoning with regularly troublesome issues,” Lee said. “I hope that other events like these will continue this conversation for a longer time and bring in students and perspectives to address the question of how Kenyon wishes to deal with larger problems of social injustice in U.S. society.” 

Schoenfeld, who was also active in organizing last year’s climate strikes on campus, emphasized how these events bring a unique type of discourse to campus.

“I’m always interested in Kenyon students becoming more aware and more deeply critical thinkers around issues of racial justice and injustice,”  Schoenfeld said. “I think that Kenyon students tend to be pretty sympathetic towards issues of diversity, equity and inclusion, but may not always know about some of the histories involved or even some of the current issues. And so one of my hopes [with the teach-ins] is that students would have the opportunity to learn more and to be galvanized to become more involved.”

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