CFA LA Member’s Pursuit ‘Toward a Liberatory and Equitable Black Campus Experience’
“My approach to teaching gives students the knowledge they need to survive and help destroy the system of white so-called supremacy.”
Dr. Libby Lewis engages education with purpose and passion.
She has contributed to radio, television, and online media in the U.S. and United Kingdom covering the U.S. elections and the politics of representation in shaping Black history and our worldview. The continued deception and lies about Black history across the political spectrum, makes her work to help dismantle the system of white supremacy important during times of intensified anti-Black racism.
“I know that I engage my research and teaching as though I am fighting for my life, because I am,” said Lewis. “This thing of thinking, breathing, living while Black is a dangerous enterprise.”
Lewis is almost a decade into her time teaching a variety of intersecting topics at CSU Los Angles and reaching the lives of thousands of students.
Lewis is a former lecturer who first taught Liberal Studies, before becoming tenure track and moving into a dual Pan African Studies and Sociology role as an assistant professor. Her knowledge is vast, timely, and uplifting, connecting activism and film, history, government, and the Constitution, sociology of race, gender, and class, and representation of Blackness across the years of her professorial service to her students and community.
“As the only raced Black identified faculty coming into the Department of Sociology, I was disappointed but excited about the potential for intellectual exchange, expansive thinking about race, and collaborations toward building allies and a more diverse faculty! The Department of Sociology now has two additional raced Black identified faculty who are at the start of their first year with the department – that’s progress, and I’m ready to build beyond that increment of progress,” said Lewis. “The amazing faculty and types of research being engaged in both departments, undoubtedly was a major motivation for my decision to become a joint-appointment assistant professor in Pan African Studies and Department of Sociology.”
Researching Anti-Black Racism
“Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.”
Zora Neale Hurston, one of the most successful and impactful Black women writers of the 20th century, authored that quote in her 1942 autobiography “Dust Tracks on a Road.”
Hurston’s statement is impactful for Lewis because formalized curiosity presents additional tools to reveal the inner workings of power brokers. Lewis’ book “The Myth of Post-racialism in Television News” (Routledge, 2017) focused on how journalists negotiate race, gender, and sexuality in a corporate newsroom culture and foregrounds the experiences of Black journalists. Dr. Lewis’ book is informed by her experience as a television news anchor/reporter for CBS and NBC. She got to see up close and personal how power operates.
She has also conducted research and studies of the Black campus climate and its impact on Black faculty, staff, and students. The study was made possible through a collective intention to center marginalized Black histories and perspectives. Knowledge of self is key and centering Black oral traditions and other research methodologies was made possible through her own mentors within the California State University and University of California systems.
“Those incredibly intellectually astounding professors include Sylvia Wynter, Barbara Christian, June Jordan, Veve Amasasa Clark, Roy Thomas, Harry Edwards, Herman Gray, Tommy Lee Lott, Ruthie Gilmore, Trinh T. Minh-ha, Terry Wilson, and Robert Blauner,” said Lewis. “I bring the wealth of knowledge that they and so many more, generously offered. So, I come to Cal State LA on the wings of what I learned from these educators, my travels around the world, my in/experiences of living and thriving despite all the categories of the human that have been assigned to me.”
Lewis’ research brings an awareness to the lived realities of marginalized students, staff, faculty, and administrators on the CSU Los Angeles campus. Lewis and her colleagues from across the educational spectrum recently completed an intensive and collaborative study called, “Black Campus Climate: Towards a Liberatory and Equitable Black Campus Experience.” Their investigation examined key challenges faced by Black faculty, staff, administrators, and students at CSU Los Angeles; they also explored solutions perceived as promising and support networks that were found to be beneficial.
“Some of the major obstacles to Black faculty, staff, administrators, and students at Cal State LA’s academic and social success and well-being is anti-Black racism, under- representation on campus, and barriers to resource support and career advancement,” said Lewis. “Going forward, we’ve come to better understand the unique and shared experiences of our diverse Black campus communities and what’s required of Cal State LA leadership to support the success and well-being of Black students, faculty, staff, and administrators.
“This is crucial at a time when Black skin, the study of race, and Ethnic Studies is being weaponized to maintain the inequities already in place. Cal State LA has an opportunity to make an impact on civil society and be the change we want to see on college campuses across the U.S.”
Unionism and Activism
Lewis views unionism and activism as crucial to further dismantling white supremacy culture and moving CSU Los Angeles to be a more welcoming campus for everyone.
Lewis was elected as an at-large representative to CFA Los Angeles, and she is a member of CFA’s Council for Racial & Social Justice and the Black Caucus, which Lewis says, “has generated difficult and necessary discussions.”
“But it has also been fun meeting people from other CSU campuses who share my concerns over anti-Black racism and interest in strategizing a path forward against the white so-called supremacy we witness throughout the CSU system against several marginalized groups,” said Lewis. “I’m using the position to progress the union and the university through an anti-racism and social justice lens.”
That pursuit becomes even more possible through leadership and activism with CFA Los Angeles’s Faculty Organizing for Racial, Gender, and Economic (FORGE) Justice caucus.
“Fighting this beast individually feels daunting,” said Lewis, “but as Assata Shakur wisely tells us: ‘It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.’
“I’m happy to follow her lead on fighting the powers that be.”