‘Scholar strike’ for racial injustice includes divinity school professors

Faculty at Yale Divinity School, Vanderbilt Divinity School and Brite Divinity School ‘are participating in teach-ins,’ an organizer said.

The Scholar Strike logo. Screengrab

(RNS) — A religious studies professor at the University of Pennsylvania said thousands of faculty are supporting a “scholar strike” during which they are focusing on racial injustice in or out of their classrooms this week.

“I would be down as a professor to follow the NBA and Strike for a few days to protest police violence in America,” said Anthea Butler, who also teaches Africana studies, in an Aug. 26 tweet.

Since then, Butler said, more than 5,000 faculty have backed the initiative, which started Tuesday (Sept. 8) and is to continue on Wednesday.

In a blog post, Butler and co-organizer Kevin Gannon, a professor of history at Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa, said the initiative — reminiscent of 1960s teach-ins — is a response to the Aug. 23 shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and the killing of two demonstrators days later.

“Some of us will, for two days, refrain from our many duties and participate in actions designed to raise awareness of and prompt action against racism, policing, mass incarceration and other symptoms of racism’s toll in America,” Butler and Gannon wrote on Academe Blog.

RELATED: Click here for complete coverage of the protests for racial justice on RNS

Anthea Butler. Courtesy photo

Butler told Religion News Service that she does not know how many religion or divinity school professors are involved but that faculty at Yale Divinity School, Vanderbilt Divinity School and Brite Divinity School “are participating in teach-ins.”

The initiative includes YouTube videos that are being offered as teaching resources available to professors, students and the general public. Some of the videos are live, some are scheduled for Wednesday. They feature professors speaking on topics such as white supremacy, redlining and racial disparities in the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In one, Erika Gault, assistant professor of Africana studies at the University of Arizona, speaks about “Three Fast Facts on Black Religion and Black Lives Matter,” noting the diverse religious background of social movements, including the Black Lives Matter movement.

Other professors have changed what they are teaching and plan to teach on racial justice instead during the two-day venture. And some schools are pledging to work beyond the two days and have events scheduled about white supremacy and about policing.

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Vanderbilt Divinity, of which Butler is an alumna, said in a statement that it plans to host a watch party for the YouTube teach-in on its VDS Community Facebook page.

Joel Baden, a professor of Hebrew Bible at Yale Divinity School, tweeted Tuesday, “This morning instead of our usual Bible programming, please check out and support and signal boost #ScholarStrike.” He added that he would be co-teaching a seminar on “how the Bible has been used to advance racist positions (incl. slavery) and the racism and colonialism inherent in much of traditional biblical scholarship.”

The Rev. Wil Gafney, professor of Hebrew Bible at Brite Divinity School of Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas, tweeted with the title “A Scholar Striking for Racial Justice,” and listed “some black/brown scholars for you.”

Top officials at Brite Divinity School also issued a video and written statement about their support of the initiative.

“We write to declare our solidarity with this move, and are heartened that this action will include teach-ins by which we all can become more enlightened on what’s occurring and how we might meaningfully contribute to the dynamic changes taking place in our country,” the school’s president and dean said in a related written statement released on Monday. “We respect the stance of Brite faculty who might choose not to participate in this venture, with the confidence that they too pray for the time when justice will roll on like a river and righteousness like a never-failing stream.”

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