Angela Davis to speak at University of Vermont
By Tim Johnson
March 25, 2010
When the Vermont Senate last week endorsed the early release of
nonviolent offenders, the news was of more than passing interest to
That's because Shabazz, an assistant professor of geography at the
University of Vermont, has a scholarly interest in incarceration and
its manifestations, inside and outside prison walls. In particular,
he's interested in how prison-like spaces have been replicated in
massive inner-city housing projects, home to prison-like behavior
patterns. He explored the interplay between these two worlds in his
Ph.D. thesis under the guidance of a renowned professor who has made
the transformation of prisons and society her life's work.
His professor was Angela Davis. She's the keynote speaker today (7
p.m., Ira Allen Chapel) at UVM's Blackboard Jungle symposium, and
Shabazz will give the introduction.
The two-day conference for educators, an initiative of the UVM
provost's office, enlists a wide range of speakers to address issues
of diversity and equality in the classroom.
Davis, an intellectual and activist, was a household name in the
early '70s for her prominence in radical causes. She was associated
with the Black Panthers, made the FBI's most-wanted list and spent 18
months in jail and on trial before she was acquitted in connection
with the Soledad Brothers' prison escape in California.
In the '80s, she ran for vice president twice as candidate on the
Communist Party ticket. She's the author of eight books and helped
found a grass-roots organization, Critical Resistance, that advocates
breaking up the "prison industrial complex." She recently retired as
a tenured professor in the history of consciousness department at the
University of California, Santa Cruz, where Shabazz was a graduate student.
Davis' speech is expected to focus on the importance of ethnic
studies and women's and gender studies in the university curriculum.
If she makes reference to carceral studies, which were one of her
primary research interests, her listeners shouldn't be surprised.
After all, prisons and higher education have emerged as competing
spending priorities in states across the country.
In Vermont, as in California, state spending on corrections far
exceeds that for higher education, and the early release of inmates
represents an initial effort by state legislators to start redressing
Shabazz's dissertation focused in part on the similarities in spacial
geography between prisons and the Robert Taylor Homes, a housing
project in Chicago. The housing project's caged isolation from the
surrounding city, its dead open spaces, its surveillance measures --
all echoed prison-like spaces and reinforced a kind of exaggerated
masculinity and toughness that proved to be a survival strategy for
men in both environments, men whose lives followed a kind of circular
path between the two.
The U.S. prison population surged in the '70s and '80s, and by the
'90s "the iconography" of prison and project life, as Shabazz calls
it, was making its way into society at large.
"As Blacks entered and exited prisons," he writes in a recent
article, "prison (and gang) culture congealed into the lyrical
content of hip-hop music." Shabazz sees the hip-hop "aesthetic" --
muscular bodies, loose-fitting pants, tattoos -- as rooted in prison life.
Shabazz, 34, remembers several visits to the Robert Taylor Homes when
he was growing up in Chicago. He remembers the caged look, the
security, the limited access, the idle people in the stairwells. The
last of the 16 high rises was torn down in 2007.
"It was a world unto itself," he said.
Contact Tim Johnson at 660-1808 or email@example.com.
Renowned activist and scholar Angela Davis comes to UVM
By Amanda Hayward
March 29, 2010
Being charged with murder, facing the death penalty three times and
working with the Black Panthers are only a few of the things that Dr.
Angela Davis can say she has done. Now, speaking in Ira Allen Chapel
can be added to that list.
"Tonight it is fitting that we kick off with someone who exemplifies
the strength and courage of women across the world," President Daniel
Mark Fogel said.
Davis' speech marks the start of the Blackboard Jungle 3 Symposium,
Fogel said. "The Blackboard Jungle Symposium aids to complement the
key tenets of our six-credit diversity requirement," Fogel said.
The symposium is designed to help educators address the challenges of
approaching issues like equality, social justice and cultural
competence, according to a statement from the Office of the Associate
Provost for Multicultural Affairs and Academic Initiatives.
Davis spoke to a diverse crowd at Ira Allen Chapel on March 25.
"I was your age in the '60s and [Davis] was a real firebrand,"
Marilyn Gillis, a Shelbourne resident, said. "She's someone I've
admired for a long time."
Before the event even started, there was a buzz of anticipation in
the room that freshman Jamie Jackson said she noticed.
"I'm excited to sit in the second row and hear her speak," she said.
"Not a lot of people get that opportunity."
UVM Professor Rashad Shabazz brought Davis to the University.
Davis served as his dissertation advisor for six years, Shabazz said.
"Angela means a lot to me as a scholar and as a mentor," he said. "We
read Angela in my classes."
Davis discussed many subjects during her speech, including women's
rights, ethnic studies, her time spent in prison, the state of the
public education system today and gender equality.
"People in some places not Burlington have problems thinking
about transgender or gender non-conformity," Davis said. "It is
logical to assume that decades from now, transgender issues will be
Freshman Jen Gustafson said that she had a very positive reaction to
"Last semester, my women and gender studies class focused a lot on
Dr. Davis and her work, so seeing her speak in person was an amazing
experience for me," Gustafson said.
The faculty members in attendance said they had high hopes for what
students will take from this event.
"I hope they recognize the important scholarly activist contributions
that Angela Davis has made to how we think about and conceptualize
freedom," Shabazz said.
President Fogel said he felt similarly.
"I hope that students develop a passionate commitment to make a
difference, and persistence in the face of adversity," he said.