Black Scholars Matter
On October 19, 2017, I sent the letter below to one of my high school teachers along with #BlackScholarsMatter stickers for current students.
Mr Guthrie & the Young Scholars of Color of Highland High School,
On October 2, 2017, I contacted the top administration at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA to deliver a message: Black Scholars Matter.
Throughout the history of higher education in America, Black scholars across the country have stood up, sat in, and taken a knee to demand and fulfill their vision of an equitable experience for Black scholars at all levels of education. Beyond that, the overarching goal of these movements has been to promote the advancement of all scholars of color from historically minoritized, marginalized, and disenfranchised groups.
In my own experience, as well as that of many other young Black scholars I know, the systemic functioning of institutions in higher education and academia often diminish and ignore the contributions of Black academics and intellectuals.
I incorporated a simple, but powerful, slogan into a symbol of the African Diaspora to remind myself and everyone I encounter in my daily life that Black Scholars Matter. Even though it seems that is not the case, I firmly believe that it ought to be.
To the Young Black Scholars of Highland High: You matter. Period.
What you will contribute to academic knowledge and human progress matters. Reaffirm yourself, your peers, your teachers and administrators of this daily through your words and actions with the goal of making positive change. Share these encouraging words with others who need them, especially those who do not know what they need to hear. Use the symbol as a way to engage with others to show a mutual sign of love and support.
Importantly, what I am sharing with you all does not mean that other scholars do not matter. So, work together with your peers and friends of color to develop and amplify our voices, elevate our self-worth, and connect us to our heritage. Call in ALL of your peers and friends, regardless of their race, ethnicity, or background to join us too. Have the tough conversations that lead to understanding. Engage in dialogue that fosters deeper connections with each other over shared values and dreams.
If we rise, we rise together.
Peace, Love, and Power,
Kevin Jarbo, PhD Candidate in Cognitive Psychology & Neuroscience
Social Activism Chair, Black Graduate Student Organization, CMU
Highland High School Alum 2002
On September 25, 2017, I drafted and addressed the letter in the section below to the administration of my university, Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh, PA. Though I hoped to have received a formal response by now, or even acknowledgement of its receipt, it will have been 9 days of silence as of this post, October 4, 2017.
I had a simple message: Black Scholars Matter.
I wholeheartedly believe this and will endeavor to continue proving it day in and day out for the rest of academic career.
Importantly, the message that Black Scholars Matter is absolutely NOT intended to suggest in any way whatsoever that any other scholars do not matter. What I am conveying with this message is that Black Scholars do not appear to matter at many levels of academia, especially at predominantly white institutions. This is egregiously, and painfully, apparent to Black and many non-Black scholars alike.
Considering that as of October 2016, fewer than 5% of the 700+ faculty in CMU's tenure stream and only 19 out of 1800+ PhD students total across the entire university identify as Black, I would be hard pressed to find any meaningful argument that the recruitment, retention, and success of Black Scholars does indeed matter.
As such, I strongly encourage any Black scholar at any university to look at these same numbers and ask WHY those numbers are what they are. Follow that by questioning what--or whether--your institution is doing anything about those numbers at ALL levels, including top-level administration, faculty, postdocs, graduate students, and undergraduate students.
The symbol above was conceived of and designed to do 3 very specific things:
- Reaffirm Black Scholars, individually and collectively, from pre-K through professorship, of the importance of both their presence in academic settings and the intellectual contributions of their work to human knowledge, educational advancement, and social progress.
- Invite students, postdocs, faculty, and administration to meaningfully engage in culturally responsive dialogues surrounding the experience of marginalized groups in academia, especially Black Scholars, in this particular case.
- Serve as a model for how any, and hopefully all, members of a collegial community can signal their willingness to provide a compassionate source of support for marginalized individuals and groups at any level of an educational institution.
To those ends, regardless of if you are a Black Scholar, I invite you to use this symbol for its aforementioned intended purposes. I also recommend that you read the letter below and send it to your own faculty and administration, inviting them to adopt and support this initiative. More than that, I strongly encourage you to work with other marginalized individuals and groups to find ways to amplify their voices and show them the compassionate support that will empower them to take agency over their success in higher education.
All I ask is that you credit the Black Graduate Student Organization at Carnegie Mellon University for the original conception, creation, and distribution of the symbol and its purpose.
Last year’s “Call to Action to CMU faculty” in The Tartan was met with campus-wide efforts to provide platforms for marginalized students across CMU to be heard. Here, we members of the Black Graduate Student Organization (BGSO) seek to contribute to ongoing progress initiated by student representatives from many diverse groups, and amplify our own message to all CMU faculty to do more than listen, but also visibly extend empathetic understanding and support to Black undergraduate and graduate students.
Our personal and academic backgrounds often intersect with our daily lived experiences at the university. Every day, we must find ways to persevere through microaggressions and invalidations, or even overt racism and discrimination from non-Black peers and faculty. In many instances, we are advised to compartmentalize. We are asked to learn to shield our academic lives from our personal lives, as well as our racial, cultural, and ethnic identities, in order to assimilate into a predominantly white system of education. This salient and, at times, painful aspect of our everyday interactions at CMU is where we believe students and faculty relationships have the greatest room for meaningful improvement. We ask that you join us in inviting CMU faculty to help us prove this to be true.
To that end, BGSO designed a logo and incorporated a slogan that faculty can use to signal their efforts to support Black students. Red, black, and green form a highly recognizable and resonant symbol of the African diaspora that reconnects Black students to our heritage. Our message: Black Scholars Matter.
By opting to share this symbol with us, faculty can make a strong and clear statement of their willingness to heed our call to action. Black students passing between classes might see the logo beneath an office placard. It will show us where we can find a compassionate member of the CMU community to engage in deeper dialogues surrounding our university experience. Black students, who you will see with this logo emblazoned on laptops, notebooks, water bottles, and backpacks all over campus, will also feel empowered to succeed academically. Not just as individuals, but as a collective. We hope that CMU faculty and administration will readily reinforce our sense of pride and champion all of CMU’s Black scholars at any level of the institution.
The conception of this symbol for us CMU students, by us, is a direct step that we are taking toward strengthening our connection to all faculty who will reciprocate our invitation for engagement. In just days since its creation, this symbol has been distributed to students from at least a dozen universities across the country to promote this radical effort. It is of paramount importance to us that CMU leads its peers nationwide in this simple, but deeply powerful, way of promoting the achievement, advancement, and equity for a generation of Black scholars far beyond our own campus.
We look forward to CMU faculty and administration joining us in this work.
Kevin Jarbo, Cognitive Psychology + Neuroscience PhD Candidate, BGSO Social Activism Chair