This week UCCS had the privilege of hosting Angela Davis at the first significant speaker event on campus since 2019. The completely sold-out event was moderated by Rame Hanna, Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Chancellor Venkat Reddy welcomed Davis back to UCCS for the second time after her first invitation here in 1973.
Davis, a renowned activist, has been a leader for social change in America for the last 50 years. She stood up against racial segregation as a teenager in Birmingham, Alabama, and is known for being a radical feminist and prison abolitionist. Davis was at one point a leader of the Communist Party USA and associated with the Black Panther Party.
It was when Davis was teaching Philosophy at University of California, Los Angeles in 1969 that Governer Ronald Reagan insisted she be released from her position due to her ties with the Communist Party USA. Despite the courts blockage of the termination, she was fired again in 1970. Reagan declared that Davis would never teach in California schools again – Davis is now a professor emerita at University of California, Santa Cruz in the history of consciousness department.
Davis is best known for her notable arrest and trial in 1970 – which you can read about here – and was the third woman to ever be on the FBI’s ten most wanted list. After her apprehension in New York City Davis was found not guilty by an all-white jury.
Davis left the Communist Party USA in 1991 and established the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism. She has published over a dozen books in addition to her teaching career and is a symbol of justice in the United States.
A spirited crowd welcomed Davis for the 45-minute moderated Q&A, in which she discussed her approach to justice and freedom. She noted how inspired she is by the surge of activism in younger generations, and all that has been made possible by social media organizing. “There was a time when I had to organize a national student strike in the spring of 1970…we had to organize the national student strike through snail mail!”
When asked how Davis found her purpose, her answer was simple; “I didn’t have to search for purpose, I grew up in the most segregated city in the country.” Davis grew up knowing that whatever she did in the future needed to move her community forward. Davis credited her mother for imbuing her with the desire to become part of the “struggle for radical change”, saying it was something she was surrounded by her whole life.
Davis’s hardest hitting message was how the idea of individual identity can hold us back from collective work together. Davis described the intensity of reflection on individual identity as a fairly new concept, but that it should not be the only vantage point for viewing how a difference can be made.
The significant speaker series strives to bring education to students outside of the classroom, and one of the most important questions posed to Davis was what steps need to be taken to create an inclusive learning environment. Her response was that while inclusivity is important, it is simply not enough.
“Inclusion has to happen in the process of changing those structural issues that brought about the exclusion in the first place.” Davis noted that Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion is missing one key component: Justice. In order to truly make it possible for oppressed people to thrive, we must dismantle the systems of oppression in place.
Following the main event there was a Q&A session with audience members which included questions regarding police presence in queer organizations on campus, generational trauma, and electoral organizing.
Davis made note of the nature of progress in our society, specifically on embracing the spectrum of gender identities. “The recognition of gender identifications beyond the binary – if we can do that, we can challenge racism.”
“We can challenge all of those forms of oppression that depend on the ideological effects that depend on people taking for granted certain ways of being.”