Eqbal Ahmad Lecture At The Center of Dialogue About Race

Treat Shepardson

Hampshire hosted an educational series called “Looking Back, Moving Forward” this week, fulfilling a promise first minted this past August. The series, first announced in President Lash’s August 2016 update, was planned by the Advisory Council on Hampshire’s Commitment to Anti-Racism, part of the college and council’s wider effort to address inter-community concerns about racism experienced last spring. Previously, Acting President Eva Rueschmann had announced that this council would be conducting a review of the school’s Diversity Action Plan with recommendations to come in 2017. These actions will be a continuation of one long process that began with the implementation of the Strategic Plan in 2013.

The week was organized around two major events: Hampshire College’s most notable, prestigious annual lecture, and an interactive exhibit.

The first Eqbal Ahmad lecture was delivered by Kofi Annan at convocation in 1998; it became an annual event after Ahmad’s 1999 death. Eqbal Ahmad was a scholar of political science and Middle Eastern studies who taught at Hampshire starting in 1982, remaining at the school until a few years before his death. His impact is still felt at Hampshire, particularly in the school of Critical Social Inquiry, and he is remembered annually with the dedication of each lecture.

The 19th Annual Eqbal Ahmad Lecture was divided over two days, a Tuesday evening keynote and Wednesday morning panel. This year’s keynote lecture addressed “Life in a Penal Democracy: Race, Policing, and the Limits of Liberal Reform. Speaker Khalil Muhammad, Professor of History, Race, and Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, presented a historical reading of mass incarceration in the United States. He posited that the logic behind the prison state has always been advanced by liberals as well as conservatives and rooted in the social sciences. Naomi Murakawa, Associate Professor of African American Studies at Princeton University, was previously announced to speak at the keynote as well, but fell sick at the last moment and was unable to attend. The second part of the lecture was a symposium panel the following morning, “Resisting Racial Violence: Making Our Communities Safe,” featuring Charlene Carruthers of the Black Youth Project 100 (BYP 100) in Chicago and Cara Page (88F) of the Audre Lorde Project.

The other anchoring event of the week was an interactive exhibit in the Airport Lounge of the library, itself titled “Looking Back, Moving Forward.” This was a timeline of anti-racist organizing at Hampshire, preconstructed but with blank space for students to contribute information, responses, questions and clarifications with pens, stickers and sticky notes. Over the course of the week, it became crowded with contributions. Also present in this exhibit were many relevant documents from the history of the school, including Hampshire’s stated commitments to anti-racism and a locally famous paper by founding faculty member Robert Rardin titled “Liberal Corporations or Radical Collective: Two Models for a College.” In a corner hung recent letters and demands from campus groups, including the demands presented by the Decolonize Media Collective (DMC) last spring and an open letter from faculty of color that circulated the prior November. The open letter, along with another faculty letter published just after last spring’s community meeting, called for more support and positions for faculty of color, positions that have not yet materialized.

Additional programming during “Looking Back, Moving Forward” included three “timeline talks,” panels featuring alums who had been involved in anti-racist organizing during their time at Hampshire. On Tuesday, Beth Mattison, an alum part of the movement to increase recruitment of students of color at Hampshire in the 1980s and current Assistant Director of the Children, Youth, and Learning (CYL) Program, presented alongside Assistant Dean for Community Engagement and Community Partnerships for Social Change director Mary Bombardier. Thursday morning’s talk, “Dis-Orientation,” featured J. D. Stokely (07F), part of Action Awareness Week in 2008, notable for producing the Disorientation Packet, an alternative history of Hampshire from the perspective of race, class, gender, sexuality, and disability. Later Thursday afternoon, Aurelis Troncoso (11F) and Dre Woodberry (07F), members of the Hip Hop Collective and DMC who participated in the Yurt Takeover of 2012, presented “Decolonizing Media.” The full week of events also included meditation spaces, training seminars, and theatrical performances. It will all be concluded and taken down by the time this paper is in your hands.

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