Who Speaks on Campus? African Americans and American Higher Education in the 20th Century

AHA Session 88
Friday, January 4, 2019: 10:30 AM-12:00 PM
Crystal Room (Palmer House Hilton, Third Floor)
Jonathan Scott Holloway, Northwestern University
Martha Biondi, Northwestern University

Session Abstract

This panel attempts to disentangle the constituent strands of the debates that fall under the umbrella of “free speech” on campus and explore historically how these issues have developed in the last century. Are there limits to what constitutes legitimate intellectual inquiry, and, if so, who arbitrates? What role have universities played in creating or perpetuating inequality along racial lines and what, if anything, do they owe to historically disenfranchised communities? What do diversity and inclusion mean, and are they ends in and of themselves? What relationship, if any, do the ideals of diversity and inclusion have with the ideal of meritocracy? What constitutes appropriate grounds for disciplinary action against students? Is there room on campus for all political ideologies?

To throw these questions into historical relief, this panel looks at the experiences of African Americans on college campuses in the U.S. during the twentieth century. In doing so, the panel considers how competing loyalties—to the pursuit of knowledge, to the university community, to improving conditions for historically disenfranchised people—have shaped university communities broadly.

Each paper highlights a particular aspect of the university community: faculty composition, student life, and administrative policies. “Race or Merit: The Rosenwald Fund and Paternalism’s New Mask in the American Academy,” presented by University of Chicago doctoral candidate Emily Masghati, explores the 1945 effort by the Rosenwald Fund to desegregate college faculty by urging college presidents to hire former Rosenwald Fund fellows to their faculties. It suggests how the paternalism specific to university administrators and Fund officers set enduring limitations on future attempts to desegregate faculty. ““I Didn’t Know I Was Sending You to a Convent”: Institutional Cultures of Respectability and Student Resistance to In Loco Parentis at HBCUs, 1950s-1960s” presented by University of Illinois doctoral candidate Jennifer Ash, focuses on student resistance against the remnants of the “missionary paternalist” model of education at Historically Black Colleges and Universities during the late 1950s and early 1960s. Special attention is paid to how students challenged campus gender and sexuality norms and furthered the movement against in loco parentis. University of Chicago Professor Adam Green will present “The Forgotten Racial History of Freedom of Expression: 1960-1990,” which reconstructs the equivocal course of these protections as well as how important freedom of expression has been to Black movement building. The paper draws a distinction between First Amendment theory that concentrates on freedom of expression, and a more broadly defined freedom of inquiry that mirrors the debate regarding the appropriate scope of African American intellectual investigation in the eyes of administrators. Professor Martha Biondi of Northwestern University will provide comments, and Northwestern Provost Jonathan Scott Holloway will serve as panel chair.

These historical sketches reveal the deep roots of many of the questions Americans are asking about campuses today and provide critical context that sheds light on the various ideological agendas that continue to propel these debates.

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