Are academics working class? Is the university a space where we can realize racial and economic justice? How can we reshape higher education to be a democratic and inclusive public good? On February 23rd, NPQ’s Economic Justice Editor Rithika Ramamurthy and scholar Dennis Hogan moderated a conversation between Professor Robin D.G. Kelley (UCLA) and Professor Naomi R. Williams (Rutgers) to explore this set of questions. The two labor historians and their interlocutors discussed labor’s defeat and resurgence in the twentieth century, the rise of organizing in non-industrial sectors, the need to bargain for the common good, and the potential for mass social movements within and beyond the university. Retelling the story of the labor movement to center efforts of Black workers and other works of color reframes the story of working class struggle as one of anti-racist transformation and revolutionary possibility.
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The event, hosted by Swarthmore University’s Aydelotte Foundation, was the latest in a longer series titled “Race, Racism, and the Liberal Arts,” which examines the relationship between the university and insurgent forms of knowledge, identity, and politics practiced by Black people, indigenous people, and people of color.