January 24, 2019
On January 23, more than 1,500 people in UNE’s Harold Alfond Sports Forum on the Biddeford Campus cheered as legendary political activist Angela Davis took the stage to deliver the keynote address at UNE’s 32nd annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration. The event space quickly filled to capacity, requiring the setup of an additional room to livestream the event to the overflow crowd. Hundreds more attended a scheduled livestreaming of the lecture on the Portland Campus.
President James Herbert welcomed the packed audience, expressing his deep honor in hosting Davis, whom he described as a “pivotal figure in the history of American activism.” He reflected on the day, nearly 55 years ago, when King made his historic visit to the campus, then part of UNE’s precursor institution St. Francis College. “Our campus has changed quite a bit since Dr. King’s visit. And our institution has as well. But our devotion to inclusion and creating a future of diversity and fairness has not wavered,” Herbert said. He noted the University’s commitment to a “welcoming, inclusive and vibrant community,” expressed in UNE’s new strategic plan, and he recounted several relatively recent efforts by UNE in support of diversity, such as the inaugural Scholars of Color Welcome Breakfast held this past August, the creation of a Muslim Student Association, the expansion of dining hall menu options that are sensitive to religious dietary restrictions, and new meeting spaces on both campuses for underrepresented students.
Herbert expressed his gratitude to the coordinator of the day’s event, Director of UNE’s Intercultural Student Engagement Erica Rousseau, who had the honor of introducing Angela Davis.
Davis, now a distinguished professor emerita at the University of California, Santa Cruz, has been deeply involved in our nation’s quest for social justice through her activism and scholarship over the last decades. Having authored nine books and lectured throughout the United States, Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia and South America, she draws upon her own experiences in the early 1970s as a person who spent eighteen months in jail and on trial, after being placed on the FBI’s “Ten Most Wanted List.”
In her keynote address, Davis shared viewpoints expressed in her latest book, Freedom is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement, illuminating the connections among various types of struggles throughout time and around the world. She devoted much of her talk to addressing interrelatedness of racial violence and gender violence, addressing how important and beneficial it may have been early on to the women’s movement “to cultivate a political consciousness that linked rape to racism.”
She also expressed her view of the prison system as both a gendering apparatus as well as a systematic implementation of state violence, pointing out the absurdity of relying on a violent system to remedy the social problem of violent behavior. “How ridiculous is it to assume that the violent institution of a prison can solve problems of violence?” she pondered.
Davis highlighted the connections between the prison system to both racism and gender violence. “If we want to eradicate gender violence from our worlds, we have to address the conditions surrounding those who are most subject to violence,” she said referring to disabled women and transgendered women of color. “How does our view of gender roles change if we look at it from the point of view of [minority] women, who are much more likely than any other group to be in prison?” Davis asked the audience.
At the conclusion of the keynote, Davis fielded questions from the crowd and then met with a variety of student groups at a meet-and-greet event.