By Melanie Moyer
Along with many other changes, the COVID-19 pandemic has altered the scholarly approach to technology. Suddenly, terms such as ‘hybridity’ and ‘zooming’ have found their way into circles of higher education, along with creative new mechanisms of shaping the use of technology in—or as—the classroom. On September 8th and 9th, the use of technology was further shaped to fit a new model of usage: the advocation for social justice, inclusion, equity, and diversity in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.
The #ScholarStrike began as a tweet from University of Pennsylvania professor Anthea Butler, who was inspired by the recent strikes of NBA and WNBA players. Described as a “movement designed to bring recognition to the mounting numbers of deaths of African Americans and others by excessive use of violence and force by police” by Butler and co founder Kevin Gannon, the strike was a “two-day action on September 8-9 where professors, staff, students and even administrators [stepped] away from their regular duties and classes to engage in teach-ins about racial injustice in America, policing, and racism in America.” This hybrid model of protest is among the first of its kind, demonstrating the adaptability activist professors have brought to our first fully-online semester. Beyond the nationwide movement, Butler and Gannon also began a website comprised of several ten-minute videos to provide professors with material on injustices in America, policing, and organizing. Thus, educators across the country were provided both the opportunity to use their class time to recognize the racial injustices that have taken and are currently taking place in our country, as well as the proper material to do so.
On the (virtual) Saint Mary’s campus, the strike was observed by faculty members upon their own motivation, with many finding unique and effective ways to make the striking meaningful. According to a poll held on the Saint Mary’s Black Student Union Instagram story, 88% of students recorded having some form of observation of the strike from their professors. Various professors took the opportunity to cancel classes to observe the strike, supplementing material on social injustices and Black Lives Matter for regular class activities. Others held teach-ins, protesting in the classroom by centering the conversation around discussions of racism and social inequities. Some of these teach-ins focused specifically on racial injustices within their field of study; for example, some faculty members from the Music department educated their students on the history of Black musicians and their exclusion from the music world that is still perpetuated today. Different Seminar professors took the opportunity to discuss the diversity of the literary canon and Seminar readings, brainstorming ways to challenge our notions of ‘classic’ literature. Thus, many meaningful conversations were held during the strike for SMC students and professors alike.
In response to the strike, faculty from the Saint Mary’s community also created a Youtube channel with several videos discussing racial inequities and injustices, as well as statements of action on the part of faculty members. On the Youtube page, professors from the Justice, Community and Leadership and Sociology departments; members of The Counselors, Activists, Scholars, and Educators for Liberation organization on campus; the SMC association of Retired Staff; and the SMC Leadership Center all contributed to the conversation. They discussed topics pertaining both to racial injustices, its analysis in regards to the SMC campus, and its presence in collegiate fields such as technology. Their videos were moderately short in length but full of applicable information, with the total time needed to watch all of the videos a little over an hour (the length of Saint Mary’s shortest class time).
It should be acknowledged that some faculty members did not participate in the Scholar Strike, with reasons such as not knowing about its existence until too late or their disagreement with the strike. Some professors—who presumably were unaware of the resources available on Butler’s website and from the Saint Mary’s Community—felt they were unqualified to discuss topics related to racial injustices in their classes. Regardless of their motivation, choices made on the part of professors to not observe the Scholar Strike left several students unaware of it until after its occurrence. Thus, those who chose not to observe the strike had an impact of their own.
*Author’s Note: Although I am a student at Saint Mary’s College who experienced the Scholar Strike firsthand, it is important to note that the perspective I write from is that of a white student. This article should not be taken as a consensus of the Saint Mary’s student body, nor should it speak for anyone’s perspective of the strike other than my own. When evaluating protests of this kind, it is crucial to amplify Black voices and perspectives and it must be acknowledged that the impressions gathered by white participants and bystanders will be incomplete. That being said, after reaching out to the Saint Mary’s Black Student Union, they did not respond to requests for comment. In lieu of a statement, I attempted to utilize information provided by the club’s social media accounts.
For further reading, please see the resources below:
#ScholarStrike at Saint Mary’s College:
Why we started the #ScholarStrike:
SMC Supports Black Lives Matter:
Victoria Vidales '21,