Our Past as Prologue: Building a More Inclusive and Equitable World

On the morning of November 9th, 2016 classes resumed but our campus was quiet. It was the morning after the 2016 Presidential Election and in the Atlanta University Center (AUC)—the nation’s oldest and largest collegiate consortium of historically black institutions—people were beginning to process what had happened the night before. Well into the early morning hours, students were glued to their phones and TVs during what was supposed to be a celebratory watch party. Spelman College has been the site of historic firsts over the years and on that night, we were preparing for another: the nation’s first female president. But that’s not what happened that night.  Instead, the news of the election results was quite sobering. We were not prepared to imagine the impact of the 2016 election.

Photo part of Spelman College Archives Photographic Collection.

Historically black colleges and universities challenge the racialized politics of progress. By that, I mean that the legacies of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy are multilayered and transgenerational. Colonization, slavery, and racial cleansing are the processes by which the current post-industrial global economy was built. The world today—and the lens through which we are taught to see it—would not exist without centuries of free labor or subsequent systems that deprived communities of color of the resources required for the self-determination we were supposed to promise by citizenship.

Despite American notions of post-racialism, there still remain remnants of a pathological, deliberate history of racism in the United States that has played a large part in the way the country is formulated. It is a legacy and a way of thinking that has resulted in the ways societal structures and communities are formulated, what resources they have, and the hegemonic way in which they are perceived in the public sphere. Students are taught about the existence of this reality upon their matriculation to historically black colleges and universities across the nation. Courses on colonial legacies, racial formation, and hegemonic patriarchy teach us precisely how something like the night of November 8th, 2016 could happen in the supposed land of the free—and the more we know about our history, the less we can be surprised by our present.

So, despite our hope for a different outcome, many of my peers at Spelman understood what the nation chose that night. And it was a choice that it has been made time and time again over generations, usually at the expense of people like us. Despite the many strides made toward greater racial equity over the course of our young lives, there is clearly so much more work to be done. Personally, I think Election Night was a disappointing albeit necessary reminder of this reality. The question on most minds the next morning was, “where do we go from here?”

It is a year later and the original shock of that moment seems to have mostly worn off, even if the pain has not. The work for social justice which predated the election has continued, but there seems to be a palpable sense of preparation—so that the next time we exercise our right to vote, we turn the tide towards a more equitable world. The conversation I am most excited to be a part of on campus now is about updating our methodologies in activist practicums. Whether the focus is on public health, voter rights, or education, these groups see the importance of interdisciplinary solutions to interdisciplinary problems. They are learning how to be even more inclusive and even more considerate of the ways that economic/class inequality impacts our causes.

Vote Everywhere Ambassador Skylar Mitchell at the 2017 National Civil Leadership Training Summit

The addition of Vote Everywhere to our campus has strengthened pre-existing initiatives at Spelman College and Social Justice programs such as Women in the Halls, a weekly event that teaches students how to lobby Georgia state legislators in the General Assembly. While providing valuable instruction on civic engagement, students simultaneously teach each other how to develop their social justice agendas. This program has been a part of a larger mission of coalition-building between the many different organizations that comprise the Spelman Social Justice Fellowship, a program founded by Spelman Vote Everywhere Campus Champion and sociology scholar, Dr. Cynthia Neal Spence. The fellowship unites Spelman students of varied academic disciplines to research and implement activism, drawing on the teachings of critical race, class, and gender theorists.

I hope that by finding new ways to engage and collaborate with young voters on campus, we can eliminate institutionalized racial inequality once and for all and reclaim our country. We must use our privilege to help serve vulnerable communities who are disenfranchised and largely forgotten by our commander-in-chief and make sure that November 8, 2016, will never happen again.

 About the Author

Skylar Mitchell is a Vote Everywhere Ambassador at Spelman College. She is a Comparative Women’s Studies major and Writing minor. Skylar has volunteered with her county’s Board of Elections since the 2008 Presidential Election and served as an election judge for the 2014 Gubernatorial race. At this same time, Skylar has been developing her critical framework as an activist, focusing mainly on women’s rights and minority student achievement. She continues this work through Spelman’s Social Justice Fellows Program.