Professors and students strike for racial justice

USC professors joined educators across the nation who cancelled classes to raise awareness of issues of racial inequality.

USC Building

Several classes were canceled at USC on Tuesday and Wednesday as professors and students joined the Scholar Strike, a national movement to raise awareness about racial injustices.

The Scholar Strike was inspired by protests by players of the Women’s National Basketball Association and National Basketball Association as well as several other athletes, including former NFL player Colin Kaepernick.

Participants of the strike come from college campuses across the nation hoping to “underscore the importance of addressing racism and injustice in the United States,” according to the Scholar Strike website.

“This is no longer the thing that you can just push to the side and pretend like nothing is happening,” said Professor Chris Finley, a race scholar at USC and Scholar Strike participant. “I think we need to start reckoning with our past of conquest and slavery in the United States.”

Finley, assistant professor of American Studies and Ethnicity, said she used her seminar and lecture times to provide office hours for students to talk to her about racial injustice or other issues.

Douglas Becker, an assistant professor of international relations and environmental studies at USC, also participated in the strike."If we’re going to treat everyone with a goal of equality, that means addressing people who are more vulnerable with even greater attention," he said.

Though many USC professors joined the movement for the two days, others held classes. Some like Ryan Boyd, an assistant professor of writing, who supported the Scholar Strike, remained limited in their ability to participate due to their lack of tenure.

“There are labor conditions that limit the ability of a lot of faculty to go on strike by themselves, even for something as momentous as this,” Boyd said.

With USC lacking a faculty union, he added, no labor protections mean professors would not be allowed to strike.

Kiara Simmons, a sophomore communications major, is a member of USC’s Black Student Association and remains unsatisfied with what she called the university’s “empty promises” in regard to racial justice in past occurrences.

Simmons hopes the Scholar Strike will force the university to acknowledge Black student voices.

“Professors are more powerful than students, so I think that the university is more inclined to listen to them versus us,” Simmons said. “I think if enough professors take part in it, then USC will have to acknowledge it because they’ve done a lot of ignoring of Black voices on campus.”

Angelina Crittenden, a junior forensics and criminality major, expressed similar discontent with USC’s handling of racial injustice.

“I think that they like to fight battles that make it appear that they really care,” Crittenden said. “Just so they can avoid kind of enacting real change, the change that we want.”

Crittenden worries that efforts to combat racial injustice will lose momentum after the Scholar Strike.

“It’s not just about doing one thing,” Crittenden said. “It’s about trying to do the right thing all the time.”

Faculty and student participants in the Scholar Strike acknowledged that lasting change will not happen immediately.

“It’s going to take a long time for real political change to actually occur,” said Finley. “This has been going on for 500 years. It doesn’t get to be changed in a year.”

Issues of race have “always bedeviled” USC, Boyd said. “I think it’s long overdue that faculty have begun to think about our role and things like racism, systemic racism, white supremacy.”

Simmons and Crittenden challenged their fellow USC students to do the necessary work now, including looking at the Scholar Strike website for learning resources.

“Just listening to Black students, specifically reading the @black_at_usc page, just understanding what the Black experience at USC is, would probably be helpful,” Simmons said.

Crittenden said that while she doesn’t think that the Scholar Strike will have a great impact, it is an indicator that greater change is to come.

“But, you know, in a perfect world, we wouldn’t even have to do this,” she said.