Monday, November 10, 2008

Survival, Violence and Fear

Early in the course I presented “A Litany for Survival” to the students and slowly but surely they began writing their own poems, testifying to and hoping for their own survival in the face of violence. I realized that teaching on a campus that condoned and ignored sexual violence enacted upon and by its students made the act of standing to lead a lecture or sitting to lead a seminar discussion even more scary than my fear of public speaking provided for. And though Audre Lorde’s poetry and essays are often read in isolation (like the rest of literature in the academy) as brilliant products of a brilliant mind, it changed everything for me when I realized that while Audre Lorde was writing the poems that I needed about violence and difference and survival and fear she was a teacher. And she wasn’t teaching just anyone. Audre Lorde was the first black teacher in the English department at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in the City University of New York from 1970-1979. This meant she was teaching police officers in full uniform including loaded guns during the most visible period of racist police violence in the history of New York City. No wonder she was an expert in the permutations of fear. Reading Audre Lorde and teaching about trauma at Duke University during the lacrosse “scandal” taught me that teaching, being accountable to a volatile and vulnerable audience of students changes everything. Honesty in that setting requires a poetic act of faith every single time.

UBUNTU focused a large amount of energy on nurturing the stories of women and especially women of color at the colleges in our areas. After all, this entire movement was sparked by the bravery of a black college student who was brave enough to speak out against the violence she had experienced. At the same time, it was very clear to us, that while college classrooms and programming could make a difference in the lives of individual women, the college campus was not a non-violent space nor was it conducive to sustained healing.

Read ALL of it (please!) here.

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