Tompkins lectures on antiracism

The Karl W. Weiss ’87 Faculty Lecture Series kicked off this past week, on Wednesday, Sept. 16 featuring Associate Professor of Communication Arts Joseph Tompkins giving a presentation titled “What’s Richard Sherman Got to Do with Michael Brown? Mapping the Discourse of Official Antiracism.” Tompkins’ presentation featured information primarily sourced from his own work: an article of his written on the same subject that is soon to be published in the Journal of Sport & Social Issues.

A near-capacity crowd of students, faculty and Meadville community members filed into room 301/302 of the campus center, which Tompkins was happy to see.

“The turnout was great,” Tompkins said. “It’s a testament to people who take these issues seriously, that they show up and we have these conversations.”

Rachael Robertson, ’16, also finds value in these sorts of conversations.

I think conversations and ideas that are brought to the table from talks such as Professor Tompkins’ are vital to Allegheny learning,” she said. “Engaging yourself and applying what you learn from your studies is crucial to making connections to the real world, to talking about topics that matter and for making changes to and imagining radical alternatives to unsustainable and unjust systems.”

The conversations Tompkins alluded to were focused on capitalism, neoliberalism, diversity and social and economic identity.

All of these were examined primarily in their relation to racism and antiracism, specifically the circumstances surrounding two recent and high-profile racial events. Tompkins’ primary focus was the media uproar over NFL star Richard Sherman’s 2014 NFC Championship post-game interview. He also alluded to the racial rhetoric surrounding Michael Brown’s killing, while unarmed, at the hands of a police officer in the Fall of 2014.

An active crowd stayed once Tompkins was finished with his presentation, and a lengthy conversation took place, which was not a surprise to Tompkins.

“Part of the point of the talk was to be provocative,” he said. “Not for the sake of being provocative, but to engage people in conversation about important issues like race and class and identity and social justice, these things that we talk on campus a lot, but we don’t have these community forums.”

The conversation after Tompkins’ presentation proved to be the sort of community forum that he wanted. People engaged with Tompkins from a variety of angles, as well as each other, for approximately 25 minutes after the lecture ended.

David Miller, professor of English, believes the title of the talk was responsible for the number and attitude of the crowd in attendance.

“I think the title of it drew people,” Miller said. “Everybody’s thinking about Ferguson. Richard Sherman is a sports figure people recognize and anti-racism is a really loaded term, so there were a lot of African-American people, but also the liberal contingent of the faculty were showing up.”

The next speaker in the Karl W. Weiss ’87 Faculty Lecture Series will be Associate Professor of Economics Stephanie Martin giving a lecture titled “Meadville’s Volunteer Income Tax Program: Outcomes for Student Volunteers.” She will present on Wednesday, Oct. 7 from 7-8 p.m in CC 301/302.