In honor of Black History Month, Dean College has been holding a number of events through the support and efforts of several groups campus-wide, including students, faculty and staff; the Athletics department; and the Social Responsibility, Equity and Antiracism Work Team. These events provide an opportunity to celebrate, reflect and engage in critical discussions as we collectively move toward creating the pluralist ideal in the places where we live, work and socialize.
Uprooted: A History of Jazz Dance
On February 13, the College hosted a screening and discussion of the film “Uprooted: A History of Jazz Dance,” a documentary that “celebrates the history, lineage and future progressions of jazz dance. Commenting on political and social influences, it is an honest conversation addressing topics such as appropriation, racism, socialism and sexism.” The event also featured guest speaker Professor Robin Gee, who is a commentator in the film, an associate professor of dance at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro College of Visual and Performing Arts, and a dancer, choreographer and filmmaker.
The documentary traced the history of jazz dance from its roots in slavery throughout various influential time periods when jazz evolved to mirror what was happening in the country politically. The film focused on how jazz - and dance and music in general - acted as ways to communicate, to resist, to find joy, power and passion. It also highlighted the influence jazz has had on other dance forms and vice versa, as well as important figures whose names are often left out of the conversation because they are people of color, women or other marginalized groups.
Following the film screening, students, faculty and staff had an open discussion with Gee, where they discussed their immediate reactions to the film and what they think makes a great jazz dancer. Gee shared her own view of the film from an Africanist lens, and the importance of both attribution and representation as a way to honor the history of those who came before us and how we can dance that honor.
“We understand ourselves through movement and no one can own that,” she said. “It doesn’t matter to me if my name is spoken. It matters if the names of the people that came before me are spoken, and I speak their names all day long.”
Also discussed was the evolution of the field of dance in representation, in what is studied, and what students can do to continue to learn and communicate the history of jazz to their own dance students.
“It’s important that we have these conversations and are uncomfortable,” Gee said. “We still live in a space that is charged and we have to do the work in order to affect change, so that when you go out into the world and dance this work, you understand it better.”
Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin
On February 15, the College hosted a special program to celebrate and reflect on the life and work of Bayard Rustin — a visionary activist and strategist for civil rights, nonviolence and LGBTQ+ rights described by TIME Magazine as “perhaps the most critical figure in the struggle for African American dignity that many people have never heard of.”
President Elmore led a discussion on Rustin’s life and legacy with two special guests who joined the event via Zoom: Walter Naegle, who was Rustin’s life partner, and Bennett Singer, a filmmaker who co-directed the award-winning documentary “Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin.”
A key organizer in nonviolent movements including the March on Washington and the Freedom Rides, Rustin was long left out of the history books because he was gay. This event provided an opportunity for students, faculty, staff and members of the Franklin community to view clips from the film “Brother Outsider” and engage in discussion with both Naegle and Singer, who joined the event via Zoom. The discussion began with Rustin’s commitment to nonviolence and the civil rights movement, and his strengths in organizing, strategizing and bringing about concrete movements in order to affect change.
“He believed being nonviolent was the strongest way to bring about change and that violence in fact impedes social transformation,” said Singer.
Also discussed was the importance of intersectionality and what this film can do for the BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities, as well as for students for whom these key historical figures and events have been removed from their education. Singer shared his hope that this film can help people find common ground and build bridges with others, while Naegle believed that people could find inspiration from how Rustin lived his life.
“It can be an inspiration to other people to try and be your authentic self, even though it is not always going to be easy,” Naegle said.
The discussion concluded with what Rustin might have organized for and said to us today.
“He would say we need to fight to save our democracy, nonviolently of course,” said Naegle. “But his most important message would be to not get discouraged.”
Dean in Action
On February 14, members of the Dean community participated in an open discussion on the pluralist ideal with President Elmore and the Social Responsibility, Equity and Antiracism Work Team. Meanwhile, student organizations MyBlackSpeaks and the Black Student Union are holding the 6th Annual Black Excellence Showcase this Saturday, February 18 to celebrate Black and Brown artists and creators on the Dean campus. During the men’s and women’s basketball games on Saturday, both teams will be wearing pre-game warm-up shirts that honor influential Black players and their work both on and off the court. The men’s team will be recognizing Bill Russell, the legendary Celtics player and first Black head coach in the NBA, while the women’s team will be recognizing Maya Moore, “the greatest winner in the history of women's basketball” according to Sports Illustrated, and an advocate for criminal justice reform.
As we celebrate Black History Month this February, we recognize that this crucial work continues all year long as we move toward the future vision of Dean College as a model for living the pluralist ideal.
Learn more about diversity and inclusion at Dean.