The Scholar Strike: American Academics at the Vanguard of Activism

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In the wake of multiple incidents of police brutality against black citizens, many have felt the urge to demonstrate for racial justice. These demonstrations have taken many forms, including the protests led by members of the Black Lives Matter organization, athletes of all stripes and sports making various displays of support before and after games, and celebrities speaking out on social media. Continuing the fight for racial equality, another significant movement finding its roots in academia now is the Scholar Strike, organized and carried out by those in the teaching profession across America. 

The strike’s founder, associate professor of Religious Studies and Africana Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, Anthea Butler, has authored an opinion piece for CNN’s website outlining her movement, its origins, and its stated goals. Butler writes, “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.” In the spirit of the National Basketball Association’s own strike, Butler continues, the Scholar Strike came to fruition. The Strike is defined as “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,” according to Butler’s opinion piece. With the Scholar Strike, Butler hopes to interrupt the status quo of the learning environment and to use the time spared by this interruption to make way for the opinions and the voices of the black community.

The actual strike, which took place on Sept. 8 and 9, gained considerable traction in academic circles, so it’s no surprise that some members of Queens College’s English department, upon hearing of the strike, promptly took up the mantle. Professor Lindsey Albracht of the English department circulated a video among department staff summarizing the Scholar Strike, which incited some to action. Those in the department who did wish to participate, however, met some difficulty in doing so. As Glenn Burger, chair of the English department, relates: “faculty are prohibited from taking any form of strike action by the Taylor Law. Individuals who participated made different gestures of solidarity that were determined at the individual level.” As such, efforts at a unified demonstration that adhered to the intended methods of the Scholar Strike were frustrated, but not entirely severed. Anthea Butler anticipated that such obstacles would arise. In her opinion piece, she suggested workarounds for those who couldn’t strike outright: “Professors who are not able to strike will be doing other actions with their students to help people, and the public, learn about racism, social justice, policing, and the kinds of racial injustices that have happened against Black, Indigenous, and other people of color in America.” This allowed for contributions to the movement that didn’t necessarily involve striking, like Professor Albracht’s creation and circulation of the video.  The first sentence on the Scholar Strike’s official website notes that the strike sought “to underscore the urgent importance of addressing racism and injustice in the United States.” The participating members of QC’s English department, while unable to strike in the strictest sense of the word, certainly did their part to fulfill that mission statement.

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