Why We Started the #ScholarStrike

tags: labor, activism, academic labor, Scholar Strike

Anthea Butler is an associate professor of Religious Studies and Africana Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. She is the author of Women in the Church of God in Christ: Making A Sanctified World (University of North Carolina Press). Follow her on Twitter: @antheabutler. Kevin Gannon serves as Director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL) and Professor of History at Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa. He is the author of Radical Hope: A Manifesto (West Virginia University Press). 

It is a misconception to think that Universities are not engaged in the world around them. Much of the time, they are shaping the cities and towns that they are in, for good and for ill. The truth of the matter is, our colleges and universities also suffer from the problems of racismpolicing and violence. We are not immune from the issues that are going on in the nation. Many of our students were engaged in protests this summer or have experienced racism on and off campus.

Whether we like it or not, the issues of the summer spill into the fall, and at the beginning of our semester, 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.

When the NBA players went on a strike (some have categorized it as a boycott), following the lead of the WNBA players who have been staunch relentless advocates for racial and social justice, we started working together on Scholar Strike. One of us took to Twitter and made a fateful tweet, sharing the willingness to strike for racial justice.

That was the beginning of Scholar Strike -- 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. Scholar Strike is a two-day action on September 8-9 where professors, staff, students and even administrators will step away from their regular duties and classes to engage in teach-ins about racial injustice in America, policing, and racism in America. Colleges and universities in Canada will be holding their own Scholar Strike Canada on September 9-10.

Protests in various cities over the deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, among others, and the shooting of Jacob Blake are all too familiar reminders not only of the summers we have had since 2014, starting with the shooting of Michael Brown, but the long summers of the Civil Rights movement, and especially 1968. As scholars and educators, we are acutely aware that this is a moment in American life when race, racism, policing, and violence are on the news every evening. Add in the pandemic, and the urgency of where we are multiplies.

A Scholar Strike isn't as simple as it sounds. Some of us are in collective bargaining agreements that preclude an actual strike, and 73% of faculty positions, according to the American Association of University Professors, are not on the tenure track.

Those in secure positions work on campuses where fiscal crises and a pandemic make all of our employment status uncertain, tenured or not. We are indeed labor, as are the professional athletes who went on strike two weeks ago. As American history shows, there are times where the most powerful way that workers can force an issue or work for change is to withhold what others see as their most important feature: their labor.

Read entire article at CNN