Occupy Valk

In a Missourian file photo, Matt Johnson gives a presentation to students and faculty members on the right to vote in Valk Sept. 17, 2020. Johnson gave the historical background on how the United States has changed who can vote. 

For a while now, Northwest faculty have wanted to share their research and academic backgrounds relating to systemic oppression reflected in today’s culture. Last semester, the Occupy Valk series was born to accomplish that goal and begin a non-partisan teach-in about issues in America.

The Department of Humanities and Social Sciences is continuing the series, with the first installment of the spring semester Jan. 21. Topics of political science, geography and criminology will be featured by experts in their respective fields throughout the series. Each issue brought up will be shared through historical context with questions and discussion held at the end of each lecture.

All lecture topics this semester are aimed at broadening the conversation from racial injustice to that of gender and ableism, though race will still be a part of the overall discussion.

Associate Professor of Humanities Dawn Gilley serves as chair of the department. In an email to The Missourian, she shared why the series was important to the department faculty.

“I think it is impossible to understate the lack of contextual understanding by the general public of the issues our society is currently facing,” Gilley said. “The more people understand the connections of past to present, the more people will be able to effect change and change is what we desperately need right now.”

Gilley also said perspective can help one separate fact from fiction at times when fiction seems to be winning out. In this endeavor, Gilley said, the faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences is well positioned to help through their academic training in hopes of providing context.

“We chose the ‘occupy’ and ‘teach-in’ models specifically to highlight injustice in all its forms because of the historical context of civil rights and because we see such injustice on the Northwest campus as well as in the greater Maryville community,” Gilley said.

For Gilley and the lecturers, that goal remains — to help to cultivate a better understanding of issues at hand and promote change for the better.

Since its beginning, Occupy Valk gathered a large following, even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The first lecture of last semester brought 30 socially distant in-person viewers and another 20-40 live stream participants. The lectures posted online from last semester garnered about 4,000 views. 

This semester there is a plan to livestream from another classroom that would allow enough space to socially distance if enough people are interested in attending in person. The plan, as of Jan. 18, is that all installments will be held in Valk 118 and virtually via the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences Facebook page.

The first presenter in this semester’s series will feature assistant professor of political science Jessica Gracey on the topic, “How the Suburbs Became White and Why It’s a Problem.”

Gracey, presenting on Jan. 21, said she will discuss the government's role in segregating metropolitan areas. She will go over programs that encouraged — and sometimes mandated — racial segregation in housing that created overwhelmingly white suburbs and predominantly Black urban areas.

“These racist policies haven’t existed for many decades, but the impact still lingers and I’ll also talk about that — how racial segregation in housing has also led to segregated schools and a racial wealth gap,” Gracey said in an email.

Gilley also made note of two lecturers whose topics and perspectives may be different than what some students expect at a teach-in series. 

The first is assistant professor of political science Bronson Herrera’s conservative lens in “But Wait I’m Conservative”: The Natural Law Approach to Social Justice. The second is assistant professor of political science Luke Campbell’s lecture on “Can Political Violence Be Justified” and its relevance now following the events of Jan. 6, at the U.S. Capitol

Gilley commended her colleagues for engaging with students and the public on difficult and controversial topics, especially doing so amid a pandemic. Now is a time, she said, so few campuses in the country can say they have continued a lecture series, let alone begin a new one.

The complete schedule for the series can be found via the flyer below provided by the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences.

Occupy Valk22

The full schedule for the Spring 2021 Occupy Valk series.

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