Campus, Long Beach, News

Scholar Strike: Students, faculty discuss takeaways, raise concerns over accessibility

After the post-Labor Day scholar strike concluded its two-day pause of normal academic studies, students and faculty reflect on their experiences as participants in the event.

Anthea Butler, associate professor of religious studies and Africana studies at the University of Pennsylvania, created the strike to bring awareness to issues of racial violence and injustice by having participating faculty stray from traditional course material and administrative responsibilities for 48 hours.

With over 5,000 participant signatures, the event exceeded Butler’s expectations as the strike spanned several states, even reaching Canada. She said she expected between 500 and 1,000 participants at most. 

“I’m really grateful for all the people who decided to participate,” Butler said. “I think for the first time, this was pretty decent. I don’t think I’d do anything different.”

Butler started the strike on Twitter after being inspired by the NBA and WNBA’s walkouts, feeling professors should do the same. 

While Butler managed most of the social media, the website and YouTube accounts, Kevin Gannon, professor of history at Grand View University in Iowa, assisted with the execution of her vision by organizing email lists and spreading information about the strike.

“[Gannon] was really instrumental because he came right at the front and said, ‘You know, whatever you need I’m happy to help you,’” Butler said. “It was a lot of work, I have to tell you, it was a lot of work. I could not have done it by myself, I’m really grateful to him for helping me.”

The two organized the majority of the work that went into administering the strike, along with help from a few others including Charles Davis, an assistant professor of higher education at the University of Michigan, who provided the logos.  

During the two-day movement, Butler’s established hashtag #ScholarStrike was trending on Twitter a few times, she said. There were several marches and events occurring nationwide, according to Butler, in relation to the issues brought to light with the strike, including a march to end police violence Tuesday afternoon at Recreation Park in Long Beach.

With roughly 75 attendees, Tuesday’s march included members of Black Lives Matter Long Beach, the People’s Budget Coalition and the Democratic Socialists of America Long Beach, all calling for the Long Beach Police Department to be defunded. 

Butler said she envisions the scholar strike to become a recurring event, but hopes several other events occur in the meantime to continue to provide a platform for discussions about race and racial violence. She also said she wants more active involvement in local and academic communities. 

“I see us doing some stuff, not just next year, but I see us, you know, trying to continue to raise awareness and do some actions and things like that,” Butler said. “It might not be to the same extent that it was today, but I want to see that we can keep going. Now that we have this linkage of all these professors, we have to think about what more we can do.”  

Some participants in the strike at Long Beach State expressed concerns regarding the accessibility accommodations for disabled individuals.  

Barbara LeMaster, director of American Sign Language Linguistics and Deaf Cultures at CSULB, expressed her concerns about the lack of accommodations, particularly for deaf participants.    

Just a few days before the strike was set to occur, LeMaster said, there was “nothing in place for communicative inclusion of deaf students and faculty,” and felt it was important for organizers to ensure the sessions were accessible for students who wished to attend.

“It is extremely important to provide accommodations to a segment of our campus that often gets forgotten, left out, or, in some of this population’s own views, inadequately served on this campus,” LeMaster said. “I felt torn. I support the strike and do not support exclusion of deaf colleagues and students. I did my best to argue in favor of inclusion by provision of interpreters.”

Vanessa Cruz, a third-year dance major, voiced her disappointment with CSULB’s execution of the sessions, specifically during the session titled “13th: What the Film Teaches Us About Anti-Blackness in the U.S.,” in which there were no sign language interpreters visible on-screen, she said.

Cruz said that captioning or closed captioning should have been secured and image descriptions for visually impaired individuals should have been provided, but these accommodations were never added to any of the webinars. 

She brought this to the attention of the Bob Murphy Access Center, formerly known as Disabled Student Services, who informed her that they were not notified in a timely manner to provide these accommodations. When she brought it to the attention of the organizers, however, she was told it was an issue with her Zoom account not being up-to-date.  

“They were trying to blame it on [me] not having Zoom updated, but my Zoom was updated,” Cruz said.

According to Cruz, this lapse in information availability was “detrimental” to those who needed these accommodations to be able to engage in the sessions. 

“It becomes just another simple mistake as they would call it, but in reality it’s not. It’s a microaggression towards disabled people, specifically to Black disabled people and people of color who have disabilities as well,” Cruz said. “What upsets me most of all was the fact that police brutality targets a lot of Black disabled people, and the fact that we are still putting disabled needs secondary is a form of discrimination [and] a form of segregation.”

LeMaster said she made sure to inform deaf students and faculty to check to make sure the session they wanted to participate in had proper accessibility. 

She said she “lobbied hard” for disability accommodations to be added to the strike’s events and reached out to the administration with her concerns. 

“I thought that maybe, if someone high up enough in the administration wanted this to happen that maybe they could make it happen,” she said. “I reached out to people with this kind of access and asked them to please state the case for accessibility, and the irony of striking for such a noble cause while excluding a segment of our own university community. Maybe that message got through?”

Nathan Hunter, a third-year political science major, said he felt his professor’s participation in the strike was “half-hearted.”

“I’m a political science major, and my professor for media and American politics is the one that striked and told us to use the day to educate ourselves,” Hunter said. “But wouldn’t that be a great class to educate us in?”

Instead of sending students to the sessions being led by others, Hunter said he wishes his professor would’ve fostered discussions on race and racial violence in the parameters of the course. 

One of CSULB’s initial supporters of the strike, David Shafer, history department chair, said he hopes the strike increases students’ awareness of the importance of voting and census participation. 

“My biggest hopes are that it will raise consciousness amongst our students, get them to register to vote and encourage them to complete their census forms,” Shafer said. “Nothing will change if California, and Los Angeles County in particular, does not have its population counted and if people don’t go out and vote. If the scholar strike is able to accomplish both of these objectives, it will have been a ringing success.”

Madalyn Amato, editor in chief, contributed to this article.

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