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Activist Bailey gives inaugural lecture as Ousley Scholar-in-Residence

Northeastern University

The Black queer feminist scholar and activist Dr. Moya Bailey became Beloit College’s first-ever Office of Academic Diversity and Inclusiveness Ousley Scholar in Residence when she visited the college on Thurs, Sept. 28 and Fri, Sept. 29. She spent those days holding workshops on campus, and her time at the college concluded with an inaugural lecture for students, faculty and community members in Moore Lounge on the evening of Fri, Sept. 29. The lecture was the first installment in this academic year’s “#GetWoke: Organization and Activism Under 45” syllabus.

Dr. Bailey reflected upon her position as the first recipient of the Ousley Residency and how “being the first” has been significant elsewhere in her life, before using the rest of her time for a conversation with those in the room about resilience and activism.

The Ousley Residency honors Grace Ousley, who enrolled at Beloit College in 1900 and became the school’s first female African-American alumna; and her brother, Laurence Ousley, who enrolled in 1890 and was among the first African-American students to attend Beloit. When Laurence passed away in 1943, he left a gift of $10,000 to the college on the condition that it “be used to assist needy colored students therein.” Dr. Nicole Truesdell, senior director of OADI, has said that the Ousleys have been honored “…physically at the college, within the student body, and now academically” with the inauguration of this residency.

The goal of the new residency, Dr. Truesdell told those attending the event on Fri, is to center marginalized individuals through discussion and to honor James Baldwin when he wrote that “the purpose of education…is to create in a person the ability to look at the world for himself.”

Bailey, who is an assistant professor in the Department of Cultures, Societies, and Global Studies and the program in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Northeastern University and who is notable for coining the now-popular word “misogynoir” to address the brand of misogyny reserved for Black women, began her lecture by acknowledging a number of “firsts,” beginning with the Ho-Chunk and Lakota people on whose land her audience was gathered. She went on to say that she comes “from a family, as many Black people do, of firsts:” her parents were both first-generation college students, and in high school Bailey was often the only Black Student in her Advanced Placement classes.

“We are still in an era of firsts,” Bailey told the audience, recognizing Dr. Debra Majeed, a professor in the religious studies program who is the first African-American woman to be granted tenure at Beloit College. She also spoke about Claudette Colvin, who laid the groundwork for but was also overshadowed by Rosa Parks’s activism when she was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Al. earlier in 1955; and about Diane Abbott, who currently serves as the first Black female member of British parliament and who regularly encounters acts of misogynoir.

Bailey addressed her reaction to the popularity of that word, which she first used on the Crunk Feminist Collective blog while she was a graduate student at Emory University in 2010. She said that while she was glad that she was able to put a name to a concept which had been namelessly wounding Black women for centuries, she was upset that it had been so necessary to point out and describe, as well as that it had not been given a name before. The intersections between racism, misogyny, and other marginalized identities are too often underrecognized, Bailey said.

Following Bailey’s prepared remarks, Truesdell joined her onstage for a conversation about intersectionality, activism, and self-care. Bailey spoke about the need for activists and organizers to find their own “recipes for resilience” in order to ensure that they care for their own health and sanity while fighting for those of others. She said it was necessary, in fact, to protect one’s own health in order to be a strong and effective advocate. Bailey cited a passage from Toni Cade Bambara’s 1970 book The Black Woman in which Bambara writes, “if your house ain’t in order, you ain’t in order.”

This idea can also be applied to education, Bailey noted, reassuring the student activists in the room that she didn’t feel they were mistaken to be seeking college degrees while problems outside the bubble called for help. “It’s not always right to immediately hit the ground,” she said. “If you can [institute a change] at Beloit, you can do it in a place that’s bigger, like the world.”

Bailey took questions from students in the audience about grappling with both privileged and marginalized identities within oneself, about building a community within an underrepresented group on campus, about using one’s relationship to power structures for good, and about the power of social media as a social justice tool.

Bailey closed her remarks by reminding attendees that the “anxiety of a guilty conscience” is not conducive to powerful advocacy work. Rather than apologizing for their privilege, she said, Beloit students should acknowledge it and understand how to use it – and not use it – to advocate for one another.

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