A Look Back at Angela Y. Davis’ Week at UM-Flint

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Angela Y. Davis at UM-Flint
Angela Y. Davis at UM-Flint

Angela Y. Davis has concluded her time at the University of Michigan-Flint as the 2015-2016 Myron and Margaret Winegarden Visiting Professor.

During her time on campus, Davis visited classrooms, presented separate forums for the public, faculty, and students, and held question and answer sessions with each audience. The visiting professorship, run through the Office of the Provost and Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, was formed in 2001 through a generous gift from the estate of Margaret Winegarden. Visiting professors are chosen by a faculty selection committee.

Public Forum

Davis’ March 22 public forum, presented as a Women’s History Month lecture, covered a wide range of topics relating to women’s roles in movements for education, equality, and freedom. She spoke passionately on the power of the feminist approach, and its ability to address “the interconnectedness of struggle.”

Many of the themes she covered during her first talk were picked up at the subsequent forums, giving audience members multiple chances to engage deeply with Davis.

At each event, Angela Davis took time to meet with her audience members.
At each UM-Flint event, Angela Y. Davis took time to meet with her audience members.

Faculty Forum

On Wednesday, March 23, Davis presented “Critical Theory and Pedagogies of Resistance” to a large number of faculty at UM-Flint. Introductions were given by Vahid Lotfi, Senior Vice Provost for Academic Affairs and Dean of Graduate Programs, and Susan Gano-Phillips, Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences.

Davis spoke about the need to teach students to ask questions. She noted, “knowledge is dangerous” as it can be a catalyst for dissatisfaction and change. She urged the faculty to not only focus on statistics and information that are easily available, but to go deeper with students and explore the interdisciplinary answers to issues. She spoke about the the next generation of educators noting, “our generation created tools, but not solutions.” She reminded the audience that students have much to offer, “I have learned so much from hanging out with 20-30 year olds . . . that has given me an optimism I might not otherwise have had.”

At the close of the event, Dean Gano-Phillips said that she hoped to build on Davis’ inspiration, “using non-traditional methods to create longterm goals and have a continued conversation.”

Angela Davis signs a book for a faculty forum participant at UM-Flint.
Angela Y. Davis signs a book for a faculty forum participant at UM-Flint.

Student Forum

On her last day at UM-Flint, March 24, Angela Davis spoke with students on “The Meaning of Freedom.”

Davis began by speaking about her personal trajectory in her “own quest for the meaning of freedom.” She shared her story of growing up in a highly segregated city. She said, “as a young person, I thought about freedom all the time.” Davis had imagined that if she went north, she would find freedom, so she moved to New York for the latter part of high school. She noted that though her new school was more progressive—allowing girls to wear pants, students to address teachers by their first names, and having Marxist history teachers— “something was still wrong.” She learned that racism isn’t always overt.

Angela Davis speaks with students after her final UM-Flint forum
Angela Y. Davis speaks with students after her final UM-Flint forum.

Davis’ journey next took her to France at the peak of the Algerian revolution. There, said Davis, “I found international solidarity. The sense of belonging in something so much larger than myself. I found freedom.” Davis used the stories of her past to connect to current issues in the world: the violence at the Brussels airport, embedded racism in social institutions, and the prison system. She showed students how the experiences of her life created the framework for her activism.

Davis urged students to consider the power of education as a path to freedom, even adding that her 18-month incarceration as a young woman was made more tolerable by her habits of being a scholar. She called on the audience to embrace their time at school, and embrace the freedom that “being engaged in educational pursuits offers.”

Angela Davis with social work major Kristen Twitty and her children
Angela Y. Davis with UM-Flint social work major Kristen Twitty and her children.

The Message of Angela Davis

Throughout her talks, Angela Y. Davis kept returning to the idea that just as the ills of this world are interconnected, so should the response be. She provided inspiration to each of her audiences, but also tasked them with looking forward, thinking differently, and challenging the assumptions that are often made in society.

Social work major Kristen Twitty attended the student forum. She said, “As a student, and especially as a social work major, having the opportunity to hear Angela Davis speak was incredible. Angela Davis embodies the kind of social justice activism that is critical to true social work practice. As someone who has spent a lifetime speaking out against oppression, injustice, and the status quo, even in the face of incarceration and death threats, Ms. Davis is truly an inspiration to those of us who aspire to create positive social change.”

Angela Davis at the University of Michigan-Flint
Angela Y. Davis at the University of Michigan-Flint

For more information on UM-Flint’s visiting professorship, including past recipients, please visit the website for the Office of the Provost & Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs.

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