Several Yale professors from the history, English and ethnicity, race and migration departments joined colleagues nationwide for the Scholar Strike — a call to racial justice amid a national reckoning over inequality.
On Tuesday and Wednesday of last week, over 4,900 people across the country participated in the work stoppage, which gained traction via Twitter. Just 48 hours after political organizers announced the strike, around 600 professors had committed to participating by Aug. 28 by signing onto a Google form petition. Yale faculty members from a variety of departments and programs also participated in the strike.
“I’m participating because I believe we’re in a moment of crisis around these issues,” said history professor Stephen Pitti. “It’s important for people who can stand up and draw attention to questions about justice, violence and equity, to do so.”
Pitti, who is also the director of the Center for the Study of Race, Indigeneity, and Transnational Migration (RITM), canceled his undergraduate lecture, “Race, Radicalism, and Migration in Latinx History,” on Tuesday in honor of the strike.
University of Pennsylvania professor Anthea Butler and Grand View University professor Kevin Gannon organized the protest online to “call awareness to the racial climate in America,” as stated on the Scholar Strike website that they made ahead of the action. The strike sought to promote anti-racism within higher education, gaining inspiration from recent NBA and WNBA demonstrations.
Since Yale faculty members did not organize the protest, Pitti found out about the strike via Twitter. He emailed his students in support of the nationwide effort and provided them with resources linking racial justice to the course on Latinx history. Pitti also said he plans to use his role as RITM Center director to coordinate future programming that will continue similar discussions on race in America.
“We understand how critical it is to do work in these subjects and pay attention to these subjects, and we need to be listening with and standing with communities that are most affected by these subjects,” Pitti said.
Some professors did not cancel class but assured their students they were free to skip on Tuesday or Wednesday in recognition of the demonstration. One such professor — Timothy Kreiner, a lecturer in English — emailed information about the strike to students in both of his English seminars: “Racial Capitalism and Black Revolt” and “Against Racial Capitalism.”
When he learned about the call to action a little over a week ago, Kreiner decided to dedicate class time to topics of racial justice and how they related to readings he had already listed on the syllabus. He also told his students about various campus organizations tackling similar issues.
Kreiner said his status as a faculty member without tenure impacted his decision to hold class during the action, bringing attention to the broader question of instructional faculty and political organizing.
“Instructional faculty, in general, including at Yale, are often much more precariously employed than people who are on the tenure track,” Kreiner said. “There’s no security of employment, which makes things a bit more difficult when it comes to matters of political organizing and work stoppages.”
In their recent CNN op-ed, both Butler and Gannon wrote that roughly 73 percent of all American university faculty members do not have tenure, meaning that they might have less leverage to participate in such strikes. Both professors wrote in the op-ed that they were confident that academics unable to strike would participate in other ways to help their students learn more about “racism, social justice, policing and the kinds of racial injustices that have happened against Black, Indigenous and other people of color in America.”
Kreiner pointed to ongoing initiatives relating to faculty hiring in the English department as well as pushes for more inclusive scholarship. In a summer statement, Department Chair Jessica Brantley called upon Yale administrators to authorize the completion of the open-rank search in African-American literature. Brantley wrote that appointing many new faculty members to bring new perspectives to the University was “an essential part” to the department’s “institutional commitment to anti-racism.” The department has already established a speaker series called “Initiative on Literature and Racial Justice,” which will kick off at the beginning of next month.
In collaboration with the United States strike, Canada’s Scholar Strike began on Sept. 10.
Zaporah Price | firstname.lastname@example.org