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Ousley Keynote speaker Wilson discusses effigy mounds on campus

This year’s Ousley Keynote speaker, Tabias Olajuawon Wilson, spoke at Moore Lounge in Pearsons Hall on Friday, Sept. 15. Wilson’s lecture focused on race and sexuality in the United States, particularly about their experience as a BlaQueer person, and how racial and sexual minorities can move beyond the demands of society.

Wilson is an author, consultant, speaker and Ph.D. student whose work focuses on the intersections and effects of race, law, sexuality and gender in the US.

In addition to performing and creating poetry, Wilson also writes long-form essays concerning black life and popular culture for the blog BlaQueerFlow, as well as Black Youth Project.

“OADI selected Tabias because, in the current political climate, it is important for students to see individuals model how to effectively carry out social justice work both academically and legally,” said Atiera Coleman, Interim Senior Director of Academic Diversity and Inclusiveness and Director of the McNair Scholars Program.  

Students, faculty and community members filled the seats of Moore Lounge and many attendees had to stand or sit on the floor. The Ousley Keynote began with Wilson acknowledging the “bones beneath us,” in reference to the 20 Indian effigy mounds across campus and asked the audience to take a moment of silence to acknowledge the mounds. Wilson later went on to describe several accounts of lynchings and arrests of black people in the United States. Afterwards, Wilson said, “Lynching does not end there. Neither does our duty to defend ourselves.”

The term “BlaQueer,” Wilson said, “is an identity, a politic and a theoretical framework. As an identity it marks the specific experience of folks who are both Black and Queer. The politic notes the political implications of being Black and ties this politic with that of being Queer. The theory notes that folks are not simply Black and Queer as separate or even intersecting identities. It asserts that these things don’t meet at an intersection but instead, have always, already existed together within, among and co-forming and reconstituting each other.

“I developed these concepts nearly a decade ago,” Wilson continued, “after coming into contact with the work of Hortense Spillers and Omiseke Tinsley, via Christina Sharpe.”

After Wilson’s lecture, several of the attendees participated in a Q&A which went until the end of the event. Several topics related to race and sexuality were discussed such as the difference between hypermasculinity and toxic masculinity, how to avoid, if possible, being seen as an ‘angry black person,’ how to deal with being tokenized as a black person, and how to get involved in activism as a young person.

Later in the Q&A, Wilson mentioned that Beloit College is “dead wrong”. In reference to the Indian effigy mounds across campus, Wilson said that “there should have been barriers” protecting the mounds and “there should have been plaques” properly acknowledging them. Wilson spoke freely about their opinion that “there is no reason we should be standing on stolen lands” and about the college’s “poor job of acknowledging them.” Afterwards, Wilson was greeted by a round of applause from the audience.  

“Tabias has successfully found a way to combine their artistic passions with their academic gaze,” Coleman said. “I am excited for students to learn various ways to do this work while also prioritizing their own self-love.”

When asked what they hope students will take away from the event, Wilson said, “I hope students begin to understand the importance of their own truths, of their own voice, even when those who wish to silence them appear with overwhelming force. I want students to understand the silence of swallowing their words, and how that consumption of self, of one’s own essence, will lead to a hunger that nothing can halt.”

“I hope that students walk away believing that it is their duty to be their ancestors’ wildest dreams,” Wilson said, “and that in order to do so, they must speak truth to power, to self and to all with beating hearts in ways their ancestors could not imagine. This freedom, radical freedom, isn’t limited to the spoken word but also includes our style of dress, the demand for the proper pronunciation of our names, the naming of our experiences and oppressions, and the ability to name and experience our desires without shame or punishment. I want students to choose their freedom, always, already.”

The Ousley scholar attends student focus luncheons, classroom visits and presents at the keynote that is part of the #GetWoke series developed by OADI. The 2018-19 #GetWoke series will focus on “Speaking Truth to Power in the age of ‘Fake News.’”

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