Northwest is continuing a discussion on inclusivity, calling out white supremacist notions and teaching students how to make a change around campus.
Occupy Valk is a new teach-in lecture series that students can attend either in person or on Facebook Live. The series this semester focuses on inclusivity on campus. The next lecture is Sept. 17 at 7 p.m. in Valk 118, which will cover how voting can make a change in today’s society and why it’s important to vote.
The first teach-in took place Aug. 27, featuring Humanities and Social Sciences Department Chair Dawn Gilley, who spoke about how the phrase “Western Civilization” is a white supremacist notion.
Gilley said it’s about taking a phrase she hears people use everyday and unpacking it to show that it was made by white supremacists right before the Civil War.
Close to 30 students attended the first teach-in in person, and another 38-40 students live streamed it. Since posting the lecture on social media, it has gained over 1,000 views.
The Occupy Valk series was created by chance when seven Northwest historians came together and tried to figure out how to bring more inclusivity to campus and educate students on racist acts happening across the country.
“It’s a way for the historians of Northwest to present a larger historical context to the big racists, discriminatory, exclusionary sorts of ideas and practices that we are seeing in American culture,” Gilley said.
The lecture series took form one day over the summer when the humanities and social sciences faculty wanted to do something to bring more inclusivity to campus. Gilley said they decided to play to their strengths and provide historical context to students.
Their goal remains to bring discussion back to the present and to racism that’s happening now.
“We felt it was our duty to take our knowledge, our training, our specializations and share that,” Gilley said.
When planning the lecture, they looked back to the ’60s. In 1965, the University of Michigan held the first ever teach-in. This teach-in was put together by faculty and students who wanted to speak out about the Vietnam War. This teach-in had a great effect on citizens and similar teach-ins quickly made their way around the country.
The faculty wants to encourage students to become active members in society and to speak out on racism around campus.
Gilley said it’s really hard to get students out of their comfort zone and to realize that racism is present on campus.
The most common excuse that Gilley said she hears is, “Well I haven’t seen racism, therefore it’s not here.”
“That doesn’t mean it’s nonexistent,” Gilley said. “That doesn’t mean that a black student on this campus isn’t experiencing some sort of racial discrimination in some way.”
Gilley said that in past classes, she has heard students make racial comments and has seen racism around campus, such as blackface. She also noted that she hasn’t seen anything overt in a while.
“I’ve had some students make some offhand, racist remarks in discussion board posts and in papers,” Gilley said.
Gilley said that she wants to help make a change around campus and help students be more empathetic. She wants to help students realize that their words have meaning and that meaning does carry.
Gilley said that the school is getting better at diversity and inclusion, but it still needs to improve.
The school has made recent strides to be inclusive and encourage inclusivity around a predominantly white campus.
Faculty is working on making changes to the curriculum in order to better educate students on race since the death of George Floyd. The department is also working on phasing out the Western Civilization class and replacing it with a world history class in order to become more inclusive and shift focus from western history alone.
These lectures are not required for any students, but Gilley said she recommends all students take the time to go to them either online through Facebook Live or in person.
“You’re not gonna change anybody’s mind by forcing them to hear a conversation,” Gilley said.