MA in Applied Gender Studies
It has been profoundly challenging for me to put my feelings into words since the weeks have transpired since the brutal murder of George Floyd, an unarmed African American man in Minneapolis, Minnesota, by a white police officer on May 25th. I’m exhausted, depressed, numb, and angry. As an African American woman who grew up in the segregated South, of course, Black Lives Matter, a concept coined in 2013 after the murder of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman in Florida. Violence against Black people is as old as our existence in this country. Those of us who are descendants of enslaved Africans know well this history beginning with slavery, followed by Jim Crow laws and the brutality of lynching and other violence against Black people’s bodies and property. This violence was coupled with government-sanctioned segregation until the 1954 landmark Brown v. Board decision and the Civil Rights Act and laws of the 1960s. “I can’t breathe,” as Floyd repeatedly pleaded, is a metaphor for Black people’s lives in this nation. Since this recent event, I have spent a lot of time talking with my friends who are Black and of my generation. We are all products of the activist Civil Rights generation of the 1960s. We came of age in graduate school during the late 60s and 70s and were the voices on our campuses for the push for more Black students, faculty, courses related to Black people as well as educational services. We have been reflecting on the flood of statements of “solidarity” and affirmation that Black Lives Matter by corporations, organizations, individuals, and institutions of higher education who have abysmal records when it comes to Black people. Reflecting on our activist years fifty years ago, we want now what we wanted then. We want the words of these institutions put into action. We would like to see Black people on boards, senior administration, faculty, staff, and students by these companies and colleges and universities. We want classes on the Black Diaspora and a department that offers such courses. These are the same requests we made in the 1960s. Recent articles have interviewed Blacks in a variety of fields: banking, communications, the entertainment, and film industry, as well as academe, to name a few. Those interviewed all express the same concern – a desire to see more Black hires and Blacks in leadership in their organizations.
Last year, I was feeling optimistic about the progress in higher education and felt our activism had paid off. I participated in activities across the country as institutions celebrated the 50th anniversary of Black Studies departments. Also, because I research the history of Black women’s higher education and serve as director of Applied Gender Studies, I participated in the 50th celebration of the admissions of women in previously all-male Ivy League institutions. I served twice on panels commemorating the 50th anniversary of the entrance of women to Yale University. I felt that the activism of the 60s paid off in higher education. However, I am wrong. I realize now that all the efforts of the 60s have come full circle. A sizeable number of the Black faculty members who were hired during the 60s and 70s are retired or deceased. They are rarely replaced, despite the steady number of Black people who have earned doctorates over the past half-century and earlier. What is clear to me is, Black faculty and staff are overwhelmingly hired when there is some outside pressure or mandate. While some institutions have made significant gains in the recruitment and retention of Black faculty and have courses as well as departments of Black and African Diaspora, others do not. These courses and departments help inform the next generation of students on the role of race in American culture and history and are essential in improving race relations.
As Director of the Applied Gender Studies Program (AGS) and the Certificate for Women’s and Gender Studies, I am committed to continue exposing our students to Black women speakers, faculty, and curricular offerings. While the movement of Black Lives Matter has overwhelmingly focused on the murders of Black men, we also concentrate on the killings of Black women and transgender women. AGS has produced a steady number of Black students in the program who are successful and continuing our work. Our hearts go out to the family of George Floyd and it is my hope that we can contribute to through our work bring about change in racial and social justice.
—Linda M. Perkins, Associate University Professor and Director of Applied Gender Studies