Inspired by athletes, such as Colin Kaepernick, professors have organized a nationwide “Scholar Strike” to raise awareness and prompt “action against racism, policing, mass incarceration and other symptoms of racism’s toll in America.”
According to its website, the Scholar Strike was initiated by an Aug. 26 tweet from Anthea Butler, an associate professor of Religious Studies and Africana Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, amid news nationwide of racialized violence and police brutality. The Scholar Strike is a teach-in and two-day action from Sept. 8-9 that calls university students and faculty to refrain from their usual scholarly duties and participate in advocating for racial justice.
According to a CNN op-ed by Butler and co-organizer Kevin Gannon, the Director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL) and professor of History at Grand View University, “now is a good time to reflect and interrogate what has been happening in our nation, and the ways in which historical issues of race, racism and policing in America have bought us to a precipice today.” The Scholar Strike in the United States is also in solidarity with Canadian universities for its Scholar Strike Canada from Sept. 9-10.
Wake Forest University staff and students are following their lead by holding a virtual Prison Abolition and Racial Justice Teach-In via Zoom at 5 p.m. on Sept. 9, which would “introduce participants to the realities of mass incarceration and racial justice in Winston-Salem.”
Kristina Gupta is a co-organizer the teach-in, along with Celeste Holcomb (of Forsyth Court Support), Tanisha Ramachandran, Mir Yarfitz, and Brittany Battle (of the Triad Abolition Project and the 48-day #OccupyWSNC movement).
“A number of Wake Forest faculty have decided to participate in different ways in the nationwide Scholar Strike, by withholding their labor and/or devoting their class time to teaching about anti-Black racism,” Gupta wrote. “Mass incarceration is a cornerstone of anti-Black racism and white supremacy in the United States, so prison abolition is a key component of any anti-racist agenda. Our hope is that the teach-in will give members of the Wake Forest community an opportunity to get involved in on-going anti-racist activism in Winston-Salem.”
The primary audience for the teach-in is Wake Forest students, faculty, and staff, but it was also open to the public. Gupta is also an associate professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Wake Forest and one of the coordinators of Wake Forward— a group of progressive Wake Forest faculty, staff, and students.
They wrote that Wake Forward, along with student-led groups like the Anti-Racist Coalition (ARC), has been involved in anti-racism organizing since spring 2019, after WFU yearbook photos from the 1980s “came to light featuring students who would go on to become current Wake Forest administrators posing with the Confederate battle flag.”
“We will continue our efforts to challenge institutional racism at Wake Forest, including pushing for a college curriculum that more robustly addresses race, anti-racism, and white supremacy, and calling for COVID-19 responses to more fully address inequities and the university’s role in the larger community.”
This teach-in came to fruition after Holcomb proposed the idea of inviting members of the Triad Abolition Project/OccupyWSNC, Forsyth County Community Bail Fund, Housing Justice Now, Siembra, Forsyth Court Support, Prisoner Outreach Initiative, and the Democratic Socialists of America’s (DSA) Brake Light Clinics to present the work being done by these groups in Winston-Salem and how others can get involved and support.
“As a non-Black person and as a feminist scholar, I believe it is my responsibility to support anti-racist educational and activist efforts,” Gupta noted of their motivation for helping organize this teach-in. “Hopefully, the teach-in will get more people involved in Winston-Salem community anti-racist initiatives.”
At the moment, Gupta wrote that there are no plans to repeat this exact teach-in, but some of the aforementioned organizations are also hosting court watch training the same night at 7 p.m. to specifically address the recent rise of evictions amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Obviously, the abolition initiatives have been organizing for a long time and will continue to do so in the future.”
This story is still developing and will be updated