Dondré Taylor-Stewart, a sophomore visual and media arts major, is one of many students concerned about civil rights awareness on campus. Taylor-Stewart said he would like to see more activism on campus.
“People are here mostly for what art can do for them and not what it can do for the world,” he said. “Which is so sad because art is so much more bigger than us.”
Journalism and African-American studies professor Roger House said he has a solution to Taylor-Stewart’s concern.
February is nationally-recognized Black History month, and to celebrate, House, who is African-American, organized Emerson’s first ever Victory Stride, a program celebrating the civil rights movement.
With 2014 marking the 60th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education case and the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, House said he felt it was necessary to hold an observation.
Brown v. Board of Education was a Supreme Court case in 1954 that declared segregation of black and white students in school unconstitutional. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed any form of discrimination against all races, genders, and religious minorities.
The commemoration will be separated into two parts, according to House. The first is an informal faculty teach-in, in which some professors will use class days in the month to go over social justice issues.
“I reached out to [the faculty] back in the fall to propose the idea and see who might be interested,” said House. “To my great pleasure, there were a number of people who wanted to do it.”
According to the website House created, the nine teachers involved are Tim Riley, Angela Cooke-Jackson, Michael Weiler, Richard West, Spencer Kimball, Claudia Castañeda, Tom Cooper, Wendy Walters, and Paul Turano.
These professors teach students in a variety of majors — journalism, communication studies, visual and media arts, interdisciplinary studies, and writing, literature, and publishing.
“This may be the last time that the generation of people who worked so hard for progress in the 1960s will be with us,” said House. “Ten years from now, a lot of these people will no longer be on the scene.”
Riley said he will be giving a lecture to his Introduction to Music Journalism class about Motown, a record label from Detroit that helped black music spread to a wider audience.
“One of the things I do in the class is teach a brief history of classic rock, including The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and Bob Dylan,” he said. “One of the key themes is how much borrowing of black style there is by white groups and how much more popular black musicians become in the mainstream.”
Riley said he has always been fascinated by the civil rights movement, though he has never formally taught a class on the subject.
“These people contributed to the civil rights movement through the music,” he said. “This amplified the way people would think about the protesting going on in the streets.”
House said Victory Stride isn’t just about black history, though; it also addresses women’s and gay rights. Any student is able to join in participating professors’ open class discussions, which are listed on House’s website.
According to the site, some topics covered in the classrooms will include same-sex marriage; the 1992 Los Angeles riots, spurred by the acquittal of police officers who brutally beat an African-American man; and the Harlem Renaissance, a period of increased black influence in popular culture.
Some students said they think this classroom setting could help spark discussions.
“If you can’t do it in the classroom, where can you do it?” said Taylor-Stewart. “I guess I’m just worried about student engagement in it. The student population is split in half because a lot of students are interested in it and engaged in it. But I guess a lot of people just don’t see the value in it because they don’t see the connection to it.”
Laura Wu, a junior visual and media arts major, said she believes Emerson does a good job at being a tolerant and inclusive school, but could be doing more.
“In terms of multiculturalism we can still go a lot further,” she said. “It’s great to engage people in discussions and not only to teach but to hear people talk about it so it isn’t a one way street.”
At the end of the month, House said there will be a celebration rally held where local musicians, poets, and speakers will perform for students. The performers will share their feelings on civil rights and what they think should be done in the future, according to House.
All of the artists are from Boston, including Professor Lyrical, who raps about social issues; DivinePURPOSE, a gospel choir that sings freedom songs; humorist Jimmy Tingle; folk singer Thea Hopkins; and slam poet Janae Johnson.
“This celebration rally is a way for people to take a victory stride for what they were able to do, and to pass the torch to the younger generation, and give them some idea on what still remains to be done,” said House. “Progress is a continuum.”
According to House, the first 20 students who arrive to the Victory Stride will receive Starbucks gift cards.
“I’m hoping what will come out of the event is to foster a climate of discussions and appreciation of civil rights,” said House.
The celebration rally will take place Feb. 26 from 12-2 p.m. at the Semel Theatre, and is open to all students, faculty, and staff members.
“These rights don’t exist without vigilance,” said House. “They have to be recognized and appreciated and reinforced with each generation.”