Introduction by Ramona Davis ’21
Since the first enrollment, Black student activism has been essential to carving and maintaining a space for Black study in academia. In his book “From Black Power to Black Study,” Fabio Rojas (2010) details the role of large-scale student activism on college campuses in the founding of Black Studies Departments across the nation. Although Africana Studies appeared recently at Davidson College, in 2013, the Black campus community has been creating opportunities for Black study and student success wherever possible. Black students have consistently taken ownership over their educational experiences, pushing Davidson to incorporate Black study, rather than simply integrate Black people.
Alongside offering opportunities for Black students and Africana scholars to form communal identities rooted in critical Black memory, these photographs assert Black visibility at Davidson College and remind us that the practice of Black study should never be limited to the classroom.
For the purposes of this project, I define Black student activism as the intentional efforts of Black students to resist and oppose oppressive institutions in and outside of the academic community. Activism encompasses everything from large scale protests and organized movements, to everyday community building. Furthermore, Black student activists understand their connection to the larger goal of Black liberation beyond Davidson’s campus.
Africana and Black studies gives Black students the tools to make sense of our worlds within and beyond the Davidson “bubble,” a conceptualization that isolates the college from the outside word. My analyses will show the contradictions in Davidson’s stated commitment to diversity and inclusion, which simultaneously encourages and limits the space for Black student activism to produce long-term change. I conclude that the institution may symbolically value Black studies and activism but remains resistant to actualizing the demands of Black people.
As an Africana scholar, I have seen the ways that Africana students, specifically Black women, have been at the forefront of creating change in our community. Black student activists have put forth new visions of and helped create the conditions for Black studies at Davidson. When student activists graduate from Davidson, their institutional knowledge often leaves with them. My project offers an opportunity to explore the different forms of student activism while bringing visibility to the underrecognized labor of Black students to improve the Davidson community. I hope that these photographs contribute to a reimagining of Black student roles at Davidson and portray the humanity of all Black subjects.
The entirety of Black student activism cannot be fully represented in an exhibition of 8 photographs. However, I hope to join and continue the ongoing conversation.
Methodology by Ramona Davis ’21
The project originated from reflections of my experience with activism as a Black woman who has attended 8 years of predominately white institutions. In my time at Davidson, I practiced activism through participation in the Student Initiative of Academic Diversity (SIAD) and Strategies for Success mentorship programs. Leading SIAD has encouraged me to think about the evolution, institutionalization, and collective memory of Black student activism on campus. How do student activist efforts evolve and continue to shape Davidson as an institution?
The research began by utilizing a previously compiled selection of images of black people found throughout the Davidson Archive. The Commission on Race and Slavery Report provided a useful, though incomplete, timeline highlighting moments of student intervention. The Davidsonian provided images and information on demonstrations (and demands) that have occurred since Black students came to Davidson. The Quips and Cranks yearbook helped to identify students within the photographs, and I incorporated snippets into the exhibition. I combed through reports by local news organizations.
Limitations arose. The fragmented records only showed activism efforts deemed “significant enough” to be documented through writing and photography. Therefore, I interviewed Morgan Spivey, a Davidson alumna, about her participation in the 2014 Die In protest and SIAD. Her invaluable story shaped the project’s direction and gave oral context to other activist projects.
 A interview with Morgan Spivey informs my definition.
Amendment 1 on 01.21.2021. In the exhibitions afterlife beyond the Fall 2020 Capstone semester, the Archives staff recommends additional resources such as: Activism and Protests at Davidson College