When anthropology professor Jan French heard Alicia Garza on the radio last spring talking about the Domestic Workers Alliance, she knew she needed Garza to speak at University of Richmond.
What she didn’t expect was Garza’s sudden thrust into the national spotlight. Garza co-founded Black Lives Matter, and it didn’t take long for the movement to gain widespread recognition. It was no longer a simple task to get Garza to speak at the university. But French wasn’t ready to give up; she negotiated with Garza’s people and it paid off. On March 22, Garza will speak on campus.
“I think it’s going to enhance our students’ understanding of how to use human rights as a concept to look at the United States and issues of inequality and racial inequity and gender inequity and social justice,” French said.
French and Jennifer Erkulwater, who co-teach the course “Bringing Human Rights Home,” brought Garza to Richmond to help frame human rights discussions for their course in anthropology and political science, but now other departments are participating in the talk as well. The American studies department is also integrating the talk into course material.
“American studies is trying to tie what students hear from Garza to the work that students and faculty do in the classroom,” Nicole Sackley, American studies professor, said. “How do American studies scholars and historians and anthropologists and cultural critics make sense of what’s happening?”
Other members of the community are not as optimistic about the event's potential effectiveness at raising the level of discourse on campus.
“The University this year has done a really good job of bringing speakers to campus and bringing a variety of viewpoints to students," said junior Cassandra Ceballos. "But it’s always the same people that come to those talks and workshops. It’s always the same faces. People who care about equality and activism on our campus are really excited, but for everyone else it’s just going to be another Tuesday afternoon.”
People experience oppression in varying configurations and degrees based on race, class, gender and other factors. One of Black Lives Matter’s fundamental points has been to look at where those factors intersect. In the New Yorker article “The Matter of Black Lives," Garza said, “People think that we’re engaged in identity politics. The truth is that we’re doing what the labor movement has always done—organizing people who are at the bottom.”
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Garza will speak at 4 p.m. on March 22 in the Alice Haynes room of Tyler Haynes Commons. The event is free and open to the public.
Contact reporter Jess Dankenbring at firstname.lastname@example.org
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