The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences

Reflections On Black History Month by Jordyn Turner '16

Leah Daughtry

The focus of Rev. Leah Daughtry's remarks, during one of several Rockefeller Center’s programming events organized in recognition of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, was on the importance of civil discourse.

Black Lives Matter

The #blacklivesmatter course was introduced in Spring 2015 and is on track to be offered again this coming Spring 2016.

16W Public Program_Black Lives Matter

Professor Richard Wright and Jordyn Turner ’16 during the dinner discussion that followed the Jan 26, 2016 Public Program "Teaching Why Black Lives Matter.

Article Type 

February marks the observance of Black History Month. However, the discussion on race does not begin or end with this month: issues of race are pervasive and have significant effects – both tangible and systemic – on the lives of people of color in this country that span well beyond the parameters of 28 days. 

Rev. Leah Daughtry, pastor of The House of the Lord Church and CEO of the 2016 National Democratic Convention Committee, reminded us of the universal nature of race issues with the delivery of her powerful message on the importance of civil discourse – one of several of the Rockefeller Center’s programming events organized in recognition of Martin Luther King Jr. Day last month. 

Civil discourse, Daughtry observed, occurs at three different levels: public, political, and personal. For each level, the requirements for civil discourse were the same: humility and respect. In the public sphere, Daughtry asserted, for someone to say that they “are colorblind” is not a gesture of goodwill but instead represents a total lack of respect for and a delegitimizing blow to the experiences of all people of color by refusing to acknowledge them. In the political sphere, Daughtry cited Republican opposition to Obama’s initiatives to curb gun violence - for seemingly no reason other than ill will – as the antithesis of civil discourse. On a personal level, Rev. Daughtry discussed the refusal to respect the use of the label ‘African-American.’ To say that one feels burdened by having to call someone by their name, Daughtry said, is the height of arrogance. She followed this with the statement that personal civility requires the recognition that each side has the freedom to speak their truth.  

A woman of strong Christian faith, Rev. Daughtry began and ended her talk with scripture from the book of Proverbs around the power of words to relay her overarching point: words can carry a great deal of weight when delivered correctly and genuinely; if not, they can have dangerous ramifications and be one’s undoing. In a powerful closing, she challenged the Dartmouth administration to uphold the integrity key to genuine civil discourse. She referred specifically to the College’s Alumni event, “Become an Informed Voter,” to take place in Palm Beach, Florida on February 27th. According to its schedule, the event features a 5-person panel composed of four white men and one white woman – which Daughtry cited as a problem in and of itself as that panel is not at all representative of the active voting demographics according to national statistics. This larger issue to Daughtry, though, was that the panel is representative of the composition of the College’s Government department. Civil discourse, she said, means nothing in the presence of contradictory actions. The rhetoric of the President’s and the Provost’s Office promotes diversity of faculty, but Daughtry pointed out that the college’s actions have yet to align with its words. In a relevant and profound call to action, Daughtry reminded us that as we the explore the wide-reaching issues such as the relevance of civil discourse in relation to the current state of race relations and the upcoming elections in the United States, we would be remiss to overlook their applicability to reform at our own College on the hill. 

These sentiments were echoed several days later in a panel discussion on the College’s #Blacklivesmatter course held as part of the Rockefeller Center’s MLK Day Programming lineup. “If we are to truly take on the call of #blacklivesmatter, then we must recognize that one class is not enough," says Professor Abigail Neely, Assistant Professor of Geography, and a member of the panel. "We need the lessons and politics of difference to infuse all aspects of campus life, informal and formal. The #blacklivesmatter class and the awareness and conversations it has instigated is an important part of that, but it is only a part.” The #blacklivesmatter course was introduced in Spring 2015 and is on track to be offered again this coming Spring 2016. The faculty panelists - some of whom were involved with the creation and teaching of the original course - discussed the original intentions behind the creation, the difficulties associated with the administration of, and changes that would be made to the class moving forward.

Later at the dinner discussion that followed, the conversation changed from an in-depth course evaluation of sorts to focus more on institutional change and important applications of the issues unpacked by the course to the Dartmouth community. There was acknowledgement of the ‘politics of politeness’ that exist within Dartmouth classrooms that often hinders discussion of serious issues such as race relations for the sake of comfort - and preservation of a certain status quo. A panelist made the distinction that being uncomfortable in class settings and feeling unsafe are two very different things, and it was generally acknowledged that discomfort is a prerequisite for progress, especially when covering issues such as activist movements and race. The above quote from Professor Neely accurately captures an evident desire for an institutional shift such that interdisciplinary approaches and integration of the discussion of race issues in the classroom becomes a part of more ‘mainstream’ curricula and courses at the College.

The introduction and reform of the #blacklivesmatter course shows much promise in terms of the direction of interdisciplinary education at Dartmouth, but just as it cannot be confined to the month of February, the discussion on race does not and should not begin – or end – with the #blacklivesmatter course. The Rockefeller Center’s MLK Day programming provided an insightful few days of important - and hopefully actionable - opportunities for critical engagement with and discussion of issues whose effects are just as relevant to the Dartmouth community as they are to the population at large. 

Submitted by Jordyn Turner ’16, Rockefeller Leadership Fellow and Rockefeller Center Student Program Assistant for VoxMasters and Special Projects.

The views and opinions expressed and any materials presented during a public program are the speaker’s own and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of the Rockefeller Center or constitute an endorsement by the Center.

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