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Saint Mary’s seniors reflect on Black Women’s Activism panel

| Tuesday, March 20, 2018

On March 8, three Saint Mary’s seniors spoke on a panel entitled “Black Women’s Activist: Living and Learning from Audre Lorde” at the Niles Public Library in Michigan. The panel, which featured seniors Taylor Thomas, Nina Steele and Alexandria Shambery, was organized in honor of Women’s History Month.

Thomas said in an email that the trio previously discussed Audre Lorde on a panel in the fall semester of 2017.

“All of us are very passionate about gender and women’s studies,” she said. “To be completely honest, Nina and I, on pulling up to the Niles Library, were extremely nervous and skeptical about the talk. Niles appears to be a predominantly white area. Plus, the library was very open, and patrons could walk by and hear what we were saying and that made us nervous. Not many people in our current political climate are open to listening to people discuss black activism and critiques of white academia.”

Despite her initial reservations, Thomas said the audience was welcoming and encouraging. She said their insights were welcomed and some audience members shared stories of their own.

“I was very surprised by the willingness of these women to listen to what I had to say,” she said. “It was a very inspiring experience listening to these older women and their experiences in the 1960s and watching the generations now go through similar situations that they had to endure. They asked us questions that made us feel like they truly believed that our ideas could change the world.”

In her speech, Thomas encouraged people and institutions to study the work of Audre Lorde.

“She stuck up for what she believed in and that was a powerful thing,” Thomas said. “Her words and poetry help implement change not just in hearts, but in classrooms as well. Simply discussing an Audre Lorde poem [on] predominantly white campuses can help expose students to subjects they may have never had to confront: police brutality, sexuality, classism. This is crucial because anti-blackness has always been seen in higher education.”

Thomas said she believes it is important to discuss women’s history, especially that of black women because they are underrepresented in the American political and social sphere. She said as a black student she feels Saint Mary’s should do more to include and represent black voices on campus.

“I want to see more black presence on this campus,” she said. “I want more black women. More black music. More black history, and not just in February. I want more black food — properly cooked and seasoned. I need Saint Mary’s to start reflecting that if they want to claim ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusivity.’”

In the concluding statements of her speech, Thomas said Audre Lorde and black activism remind us that despite recent societal strides, there is still much progress to be made.

“I believe it is important for us to continue fighting for what is right, but we will become the monster that we are fighting against if we aren’t addressing those same demons within ourselves,” she said.

Steele said in an email that for her, the panel was a positive occasion.

“I feel that every time people are able to come together and speak about the injustices in our world, everyone involved learns something and this causes a shift in thinking,” she said. “Whether the shift is big or small, it makes a difference, and to me, that difference is of utmost value. We should always be listening to those who are oppressed, and not [let] privileged voices tell the stories and experiences of the individuals who they marginalize.”

Steele said she was inspired by the stories of women in the audience. She said she believes that for any major change in society to occur, dialogue is necessary.

“The audience’s reaction somewhat shocked me because I was expecting more negative responses, but everyone in the room [was] happy with our speeches,” she said. “Many of the audience members shared their own experiences, and that was the best part of my night. We need people to come together so that we can see actual progress in the world and on our campus.”

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