“Critical Studies @ WAC” critical lecture series kicks off with discussing critical race theory

By Cecilia Cress and Olivia Montes
News Co-Editors

The Washington College gender studies, Latin American studies, and Black studies programs, alongside the William James Forum Fund, hosted the “What is Critical Race Theory?” in-person seminar on the Clifton Miller Library terrace on Sept. 21 at 5:30 p.m.

This seminar is the first installment in the lecture series titled “Critical Studies @ WAC,” which seeks to address “critical keywords that surround us,”  according to the preliminary email sent by Associate Professor of Spanish and Director of the Black Studies Program Dr. Elena Deanda-Camacho.

Created by Dr. Deanda-Camacho, this lecture, as well as the talk series, was modeled after an Ancient Greece-designed open public forum, “where students, faculty and community members could come together to discuss important topics connected to marginalized communities,” according to Professor of Political Science Dr. Flavio Hickel.

This talk, along with the remainder of the lecture series, allows WC faculty members experienced in different related fields of study to lead discussions of background information concerning each subject, and then allow for an open discussion to take place.

At this lecture,  Dr. Deanda-Camacho reviewed the rules concerning the WC diversity statement and maintaining a sense of openness and respect prior to the discussion, which was led by Dr. Hickel.

The event addressed critical race theory, which recognizes institutionalized and systematic racism that has historically promoted white privilege within the U.S. at other marginalized people’s expense, as well as the lack of acknowledgment pertaining to both racism and the actuality of the situation at hand.

The talk also included a Q&A with attendees, in which WC students, staff, and faculty members alike were allowed to contribute to the discussion.

“CRT is simply an honest account of history that pays attention to how race/racism has impacted historical events,” Dr. Hickel said. “Similarly, CRT’s central argument [is] that racism is not restricted to explicitly racist laws or statements shouldn’t be viewed as all that controversial.”

Dr. Hickel addressed the ideas and public opinion behind the teaching of CRT and its importance within society.

“I think it intuitively makes sense to most people that racism often operates in this way. Further, the argument that the problems of racism cannot even begin to be addressed until we acknowledge racism … also seems pretty intuitive to most people,” Dr. Hickel said. “When people hear what CRT is really about, I don’t think they find it to be all that controversial — and I think most find it to be a useful framework for beginning the work of addressing inequities in our society.” 

Associate Professor of Sociology Dr. Erin Anderson, who attended the talk, said that this series could be an important stepping stone in educating people and students about what CRT truly is.

“There’s so much misconception about what the perspective is and what it encourages us to do, [which is] critically examine institutional practices and histories taking race into consideration,” Dr. Anderson said.“I think this talk, and the whole series, will help dispel myths and counter what students may have heard from popular media or political outlets, [and] I was really pleased to see so many students turn out and have an engaging conversation.”

Future installments in the lecture series for the remainder of the 2021 fall semester include “What is Decolonization?” on Oct. 28 at 5:30 p.m. and “What is Queer Theory?” on Nov. 18 at 5:30 p.m. These installments will be led by Assistant Professor of Political Science & International Studies Dr. Carrie Reiling and Assistant Professor of Spanish Dr. Martin Ponti, respectively.

All discussions will be hosted outside the Miller Library. The rain location will be the McLain Atrium.

Photos by Sammy Jarrett

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