Letter to the Editor: Professor pleased with critique, controversy

Dr. Rita Shah February 13, 2013 0

Two years ago, I was hired on as an assistant professor of sociology here at Elizabethtown College. While there are many things that drew me to this campus, the desire to truly advocate for social justice and have open and honest conversations about what that means and the various (and sometimes contradictory) ideas of how to achieve it were key.
Therefore, I was thrilled when we brought Dr. Angela Davis to campus as the keynote speaker during Martin Luther King, Jr. Week. I was excited for a variety of reasons. For one, the topic of her talk is precisely a subject that we should be discussing if we are to truly understand issues of peace, violence and social justice. The prison-industrial complex is a far-reaching and incredibly impactful part of society. It is also, sadly, a part of our world that is woefully under-discussed and often ignored. Dr. Davis is incredibly knowledgeable about all of the issues that surround the PIC, including the connection to slavery, the impact on race relations, the connection to private enterprise, and the impact it has on achieving real reform within the criminal justice system. Yes, Dr. Davis uses this knowledge to fight for decarceration, but she does not hide her position. Rather, she uses what she knows to advocate for what she believes is what is best for society, to achieve peace, and to fight for a better world. Dr. Davis’ talk raises an interesting argument and a fruitful point of conversation of what’s possible and what’s desirable in the quest for social justice.
What has really excited me about her talk, however, is its far-reaching impact. Much to my delight, Dr. Davis sparked numerous conversations all over campus. I have heard from faculty members who were enthused by her visit and the discussion points she raised. I have had some wonderfully critical and thoughtful conversations with students both inside and outside of my own classes. I, and others, have seen and read some fascinating feedback as evident in the Etownian articles covering the event and the Twitter feed during her talk. Even more amazing, she sparked conversation beyond our campus boundaries, reaching students from neighboring campuses such as Dickinson and Harrisburg Area Community College, and community members from as far away as Philadelphia.
One of the remarkable things about institutions of higher education is that they provide an avenue to develop critical thinking skills, expose the community to diverse ideas and perspectives, and provide the means by which to question the very world in which we live. The fact that so many of us are discussing Dr. Davis’ talk—whether to praise or criticize it—is a testament to Elizabethtown’s commitment to the goals of a liberal arts college. It is also a testament to the members of our community for so willingly engaging with these topics and putting their liberal arts education to use. To quote Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York, “The freedom to discuss ideas, including ideas that people find repugnant, lies really at the heart of the university system.” We are fortunate that the College offers the space for such varied conversations.
I hope Elizabethtown College continues its tradition of bringing thought-provoking speakers to campus, especially those who bring members from the College and the community together and promote life-long and truly critical conversations about the state of our world and how to take what we discuss within the campus barriers to the world at large. Doing so not only accomplishes our goal of “Educating for Service,” but it also takes us one step closer in meeting our mission on a daily basis. And that is a truly beautiful thing.
Dr. Shah is an Assistant Professor of Sociology who specializes in criminology and the sociology of law.

Leave A Response »