Du Bois: Statement in Solidarity with Those Protesting Anti-Black Racism and Police Brutality

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Author: W.E.B. Du Bois Scholars Institute Board of Directors

Since its founding in 1988, the W.E.B. Du Bois Scholars Institute has sought to identify and invest in a cadre of change agents, talented student leaders from marginalized communities, and instill in them a commitment to use their talents and use their collective voice to help others from those very communities. Our hope is that these future leaders will help to combat society’s most persistent social ills, primary among which is the racism that has been on full display with the recent killings of Black people—George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery, Rayshard Brooks, and countless others whose names we remember and whose names we will never know.

The W.E.B. Du Bois Scholars Institute categorically denounces these killings of black people and stands in solidarity with those protesting these acts of anti-Black racism.

We know that many of our student-scholars, faculty, staff, parents, and alumni are directly affected by these and other interrelated events. Ours are communities that are also hardest hit by the COVID-19 public health crisis. Ours are communities that are experiencing the highest rates of unemployment during the accompanying recession. And ours are communities that are the most heavily policed and targeted by a myriad of carceral forces: criminalization, self-deputized civilian vigilantism, and mass incarceration, just to name a few.

In addition, our communities face the most urgent need to use all means at our disposal to voice our discontent with current affairs, while also navigating disenfranchisement at the ballot box and risk of violent escalation and backlash by law enforcement when we protest in the streets. Our communities will also, sadly, be the slowest to recover from the fallout of protest and rebellion. We want our community members to know that we understand this daunting combination of undeserved burden and stand ready to provide support.

Our hope is that we have been successful in fulfilling our organizational mission, so that our current and former scholars will not be met with this historic moment unprepared. Our focus for now and the future is that their experiences in our classrooms, experiences with our residential programming, and experiences with our year-round educational offerings equip our students with the higher-order thinking skills required for sound decision-making. This level of awareness and justment are necessary to understand the deep-seated historical nature of the challenges we face, the imagination required to formulate new strategies, and the discernment needed to distinguish between patchwork reforms and the truly fundamental shifts needed to bring about lasting social improvements.

Concretely, as we move into our 32nd summer of educational programming, we are offering online educational experiences in lieu of our traditional in-person experience. Our online courses—such as Self and Social Change, Contemporary Social Problems and The Past, Present, and Future of Black American’s Pursuit of Liberation—will allow our scholars to grapple with the most trying questions of the day: including issues of identity, oppression, and liberation. Our STEM courses on the biological sciences and virology will additionally help our students to understand how matters of social justice intersect with issues of public health.

We expect our students to move beyond surface-level and prima facie analyses of the roles of looting and rioting alongside nonviolent protest, to dig deeper than prima facie critiques of defunding or police abolition, and to resist accepting the disproportionate rate of COVID-19 infection among communities of color as a foregone conclusion. Rather, we call on our scholars to explore the underlying conditions that have led some to seek strategies other than non-violent protest. We call on them to rigorously interrogate the role that policing has played in our communities, in the present and historically, and the ways in which alternative modes of safety might fare compared to the status quo. We call on them to analyze how differential access to health care and overrepresentation in frontline working positions contribute to differences in COVID-19 exposure and risk. We trust that our scholars will not shy away from the most challenging and most important questions raised by this current moment, and instead will embrace this moment confidently, buttressed by their past experiences in the classroom, their engagement with fellow W.E.B. Du Bois scholars, and their ongoing development and growth. And we stand ready to support them as they do.

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