The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

American Studies keynote advocates student activism

By Leewana Thomas

President of the American Studies Association Ruth Wilson Gilmore, gave the 12th Annual American Studies Conference keynote address Thursday, Feb. 10 in Kagin Ballroom. Her speech, entitled “What is to be Done? Activist Scholarship for a World in Crisis,” was delivered to a crowd that filled much of Kagin.For twelve years now the American Studies Department at Macalester has held an annual conference to foster discussion about social justice, race, and civic engagement issues, and most importantly, said American Studies Department Chair Jane Rhodes, “to help us think about what American Studies means.”

Wilson Gilmore opened her address with a story about her family history that was interwoven throughout the speech: her grandfather was a janitor at Yale University, her father was a Yale machinist, and Wilson Gilmore herself later became a student at Yale. With her own life story as evidence, Wilson Gilmore spoke of the need to “infiltrate what exists, and innovate what doesn’t.” Citing her father as an innovator of his time when he protested discriminatory hiring practices at Yale University, Wilson Gilmore has continued the legacy of activism within her family and urged Macalester students to do the same.

“The world is in political, economic, military, environmental, and ideological crisis,” Wilson Gilmore said. “Recent scholarship and organizing strives to de-center the United States, while remaining meticulously mindful of its forceful-although by no means decisive-role in globalization. The broad measure of U.S. unemployment, at this writing, is stuck at nearly 18 percent, while one in a hundred U.S. adults is locked in prison or jail.”

“While we may have one black man in the White House, we have one million black men in the Big House.”

After her speech, she took questions ranging from what she saw as the trajectory of the American Studies discipline, and how to use a variety of educational degrees to aid activism.

Wilson Gilmore offered a personal anecdote of when she herself proved to University of Southern California that the Higher Education Act in fact did not require this practice, and urged students to write letters to those in positions of power about this topic.

“If you keep sending them, there will always be someone who will read them,” Wilson Gilmore said.

Speaking further on the topic of higher education, Wilson Gilmore told the room that “none of you should be paying for this education. I believe that all students should be paid to go to college regardless of their financial background.”

Students were urged to organize around their rights and the rights of others.

“All of the great organizers during the great period of protesting from post WWI through the 70s met at school,” she said.

A positive example of student organizing she offered was when Dartmouth College took away scholarships from their students and replaced them with loans that could be paid off by the college only if the students entered the clergy. In protest of this, the students organized.

David Rao ’14 stated that “she made me realize the stigma associated with prison sentences; prison can affect one’s life so much even after they are released.”

“Her discussions about race really cemented her thesis about how the world is in crisis,” Joe Speer ’14 said. “Her message about higher education is something the entire student body should hear.”

“It’s weird that our academic silos often prevent us from making links she was able to make from globalization and economics to the issues like unemployment at home,” American Studies Professor Karin Aguilar-San Juan of the American Studies Department.

Aguilar-San Juan also praised Gilmore’s work by saying that “she can do things like this because she doesn’t just talk about grassroots activism, she has a background in it and is still active.

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