Several Long Beach State professors have voiced their support for an academic strike occurring on Sept. 8 and 9 aiming to focus on racism and violence across the country.
Initiated by two professors who are not affiliated with CSULB, the strike is slated to take place for 48 hours immediately after Labor Day to accommodate professors working two-day teaching schedules and intends to pause normal academic duties for those days.
Thanks to @TattoedProf for helping me to organize and set up our apparatus!
— ProfB (@AntheaButler) August 27, 2020
When the strike reached CSULB, David Shafer, history department chair, decided to take a “tangible” stand on this issue rather than just making a statement of sympathy.
In an email to the College of Liberal Arts faculty, Shafer, along with Rigoberto Rodriguez, Chicano and Latino studies department chair, Teresa Wright, political science department chair, Kristine Zentgraf, sociology department chair and Maulana Karenga, Africana studies department chair, declared their participation in the strike.
“I don’t have any illusions that it’s going to lead to monumental change, especially when it’s academics who are doing it,” Shafer said. “I mean it’s possible that some will give it a great big shoulder shrug if it gets any publicity, or people are going to say, ‘Well what do you expect, it’s a bunch of ivory tower intellectuals.’ But the point is it starts something, it moves us away from statements, it moves us to some sort of action, and this is where it becomes impactful.”
Anthea Butler, associate professor of religious studies and Africana studies at the University of Pennsylvania, started the strike along with Kevin Gannon, professor of history at Grand View University in Iowa.
After Butler posted a tweet promoting the strike, she and Gannon engaged on Twitter and eventually met on Zoom to collaborate on the project.
“#ScholarStrike at its core is about standing up against the racism and racial injustice that is happening right now in America, especially but not limited to African Americans, educating our students and the public about radicalized violence, and working for a just society,” Butler said on Twitter. “It’s something we need to do if we are [going] to see structural and lasting change in America regarding racism, policing and injustice.”
Quick Notes about #scholarstrike….If you signed up, we sent you an email this weekend.. and if you didn’t get it, here’s some quick info
— ProfB (@AntheaButler) August 31, 2020
The nationwide strike will include virtual discussions on racial injustice and inequality, as well as a curation of online reading material to help participants learn about these issues.
With over 2,000 signatures in support, the strike is meant for participants to refrain from any and all teaching or administrative duties and instead use this time for “a public teach-in about police brutality and violence in our communities from both historical and contemporary perspectives,” according to their statement.
“Given the recent events of police brutality, most recently the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and the murders of Breonna Taylor in Kentucky, George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota and many other police shootings during the summer of 2020—an intensification of the trend we’ve seen in recent years—we can no longer sit quietly amidst state violence against communities of color,” the statement read.
The demonstration, Shafer said, will most likely be a deviation from the curriculum so instead of covering course material, students can use the time as a forum to express themselves in a safe space. There will be alternatives to normal instruction announced Friday, he said.
He encourages participating professors to include alternative programming options during this time, including films, student forums and webinars, and to use this time to promote voter registration and census participation.
Gannon said he hopes this disruption from “business as usual” will be a chance for scholars to put their skills to work in a real world setting and invites the public to question its purpose.
“If I am not answering work emails for two days, what does that disruption mean, and what message is being sent by the allocation of my skills and labor to this public project?” Gannon said in an email. “And while this isn’t a mass demonstration in the streets, it is a disruption, a collective stand taken by those of us in higher education to hold ourselves, our institutions and our communities accountable to the ideals they supposedly stand for.”
Butler said on Twitter that she understands some individuals may place their jobs at risk by formally participating, such as faculty on tenure track or within union agreements, and maintained that those able to join should do so.
Initially, CSULB President Jane Close Conoley, Provost Brian Jersky and Associate Vice President for Faculty Affairs Kirsty Fleming did not explicitly encourage faculty to participate in the strike, according to Shafer, but instead provided “conceptual and tangible support” for the alternative programming and “would offer logistical support.”
Since then, Jersky has expressed general support for the efforts in an email to all Beach faculty.
The CLA Dean’s office, however, has expressed its support, which Shafer said “means a lot,” and he hopes the College of Liberal Arts acts as “a lead role in academia” to inspire other liberal arts colleges and departments.
“Their support emboldened me to think that no matter what happens, if somebody chooses to participate, that there would never be any retaliation or retribution or that they have anything to worry about,” Shafer said.
The significance of the strike occurring the day after Labor Day, he said, relates to the pay disparity faced by working class people of color.
Shafer maintained that his email to the Beach’s CLA faculty was not meant to pressure anyone to participate, but instead he felt it was important for professors to be aware of the strike to determine if they wanted to engage.
“We see our efforts as simply part of a larger national and international effort to work for justice and for Black lives,” Gannon said. “You start where you are, and for us, this is the place.”