I. Padalecki, with M. Norman
On April 13th, 1984, Janet Stovall and Stone Bynum, student members and leaders in the Black Student Coalition at Davidson College edited and published a summarized list of demands, curated in a recent BSC meeting, and directed at the institution. Their proposal, entitled “Project ‘87,” listed action items the college needed to take immediately “if its black students [were] ever to view the Davidson experience as a positive one,” challenging the school to meet these goals by 1987.1 Stone Bynum and Janet Stovall, “BSC Proposes Project ‘87,” Davidsonian (Davidson, NC), April 13, 1984, 11. These demands imagined radical and direct action to make Davidson College a more inclusive, nurturing, and empowering institution for the Black and broader campus community, at a time in which the school had only fifty-two Black students, one Black professor, and one Black dean.2“How to Get Serious About Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace: Janet Stovall,” YouTube video, 11:04, posted by TED, September 13, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kvdHqS3ryw0. Changes included hiring at least ten Black American professors, a Black Dean of Students, and the enrollment of at least one hundred Black students.
These demands challenged and changed the institution, and the students who created, published, and defended these demands and their validity presented new contributions to the public “official” histories curated by Davidson College in the 1980s. Official histories acknowledge the significance of the 1980s as a turning point for racial justice at Davidson, but they typically do so by emphasizing the leadership of Davidson President John Kuykendall, who established the Task Force on Racial and Ethnic Concerns in the fall of 1984.3 Roxanna Guilford, “Kuykendall Appoints Project 87 Committee,” Davidsonian (Davidson, NC), September 14, 1984, 1.3 By (re)centering the leadership that defined the history of the institution during this moment of change, we further amplify the continued labor of Black students deconstructing racist ideologies and priming Davidson for such a task force. The BSC originated from community-centered values and a vision of Davidson rejecting simplistic notions of racial equality defined as the presence of Black students. Though there had been previous organizing between and amongst Black students on campus several years prior, the organization was officially chartered by the college in 1972. The charter members emphasized three goals: fostering a “spirit of solidarity” among Black Davidson students, creating campus-wide awareness of Black student contributions, and aiding Black residents of the town in “overcoming many of the problems” they faced.4 BSC Charter. 1972. RG 12.13.30. Black Student Coalition. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.
Foundations of Davidson’s Black Student Coalition
The BSC originated from community-centered values and a vision of Davidson rejecting simplistic notions of racial equality defined as the presence of Black students. Though there had been previous organizing between and amongst Black students on campus several years prior, the organization was officially chartered by the college in 1972. The charter members emphasized three goals: fostering a “spirit of solidarity” among Black Davidson students, creating campus-wide awareness of Black student contributions, and aiding Black residents of the town in “overcoming many of the problems” they faced.4 BSC Charter. 1972. RG 12.13.30. Black Student Coalition. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.
Early BSC initiatives show a commitment to systemic change through direct action against anti-Blackness at Davidson while building and nurturing space for Black students on campus. Alongside the creation of Project ‘87, which inspired the Task Force on Racial and Ethnic Concerns, the early members hosted fashion shows and events that demonstrated how “Black culture has made a significant contribution to the world.”5Treeby Williamson, “BSC to Hold Fashion Show Sat. Night,” Davidsonian (Davidson, NC), November 2, 1984, 5. Tethering of art and culture in these temporal spaces has been an important piece of Davidson and broader traditions of Black southern student organizing. Scholar of Black Studies LaMonda Horton-Stallings affirms such cultural, emotional, and social organizing as an essential counterpart to political activism and explains that “the pursuit of…equity and freedom requires declaration and action, but it will also require a particular type of vulnerability.”6LaMonda Horton-Stallings, A Dirty South Manifesto: Sexual Resistance and Imagination in the New South (Oakland: University of California Press, 2020), 169.
In envisioning and writing BSC’s charter and Project ‘87, Black students made manifest their belief in a more equitable Davidson and reimagined pathways to it. The measures outlined in Project ‘87 echoed the charter’s vision of a Davidson that “realiz[es] its obligations to its Black members.”7 BSC Charter. 1972. RG 12.13.30. Black Student Coalition. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.
Gender, Emotional Labor, and Project ‘87
Immediately following the announcement of Project ‘87 in the Davidsonian, BSC’s student members faced backlash from the white campus community. White students called the Project ‘87 demands made by these students as incendiary, claiming that they stood apart from a politic of racial unity and drew attention to race, which disputed the college’s de facto policy of color blindness. Color blindness essentially ignores or erases race, which dulls faculties needed to identify racism. If you cannot “see race,” you cannot see and combat racism. Minoritized populations then must convince fellow students about the urgency of these demands, the presence of anti-Blackness in and around Davidson, and the necessity of institutional change. Cycles of gaslighting & erasure require substantial counter labor, emotional, intellectual, so on. Records of student debates and publications show that largely Black female Davidson students, several of whom are cited below, took on the work of publicly defending the Project ‘87 demands.8 Chris Linder and Katrina L. Rodriguez, “Learning From the Experiences of Self-Identified Women of Color Activists” Journal of College Student Development 53, no. 3 (2012): 383-398; Louwanda Evans and Wendy Leo Moore, “Impossible Burdens: White Institutions, Emotional Labor, and Micro-Resistance,” Social Problems 62, no. 3 (2015): 439-454.
Students advocated for Project ‘87 by refuting several entrenched narratives about race at Davidson. They worked against false ideas and the white perception of Black hypersensitivity and anti-white bias within discussions and critiques of institutional racism. An article written by white student Eric Hill in the April 20, 1984 edition of the Davidsonian, entitled “Project ‘87: Emotional Outcry Hard to Implement,” exemplifies the dismissive responses that misrepresented Black students’ vision. In releasing the Project ‘87 demands Hill asserts the “Black Student Coalition has lost whatever hope it ever had of being considered a group opposed to racism. Their “Project ’87” as revealed in last week’s Davidsonian is a purely emotional outcry — presented with an attitude to be expected of overindulged twelve-year-olds — calls for the Davidson College administration to adopt a policy of blatant racism in admissions and faculty hiring.”9Hill, Eric, “Project ‘87: Emotional Outcry Hard to Implement,” Davidsonian (Davidson, NC), April 20, 1984, 11. While such comments highlighted the legitimate concerns of the BSC, Black students continually confronted anti-Blackness and refuted accusations of being irrational and anti-white. Hill’s language reflects American histories of erasure and color-blind racial politics, delegitimizing Black communities through respectability, demonizing emotive and vocal resistance, and encouraging silence.10Anibal Quijano, “Coloniality and Modernity/Rationality,” Cultural Studies 21, no. 2-3 (2007): 168-178; Antron D. Mahoney and Heather Byrdie Harris, “When the Spirit Says Dance: A Queer of Color Critique of Black Justice Discourse in Anti-Transgender Policy Rhetoric,” University of Maryland Law Journal of Race, Religion, Gender, and Class 19, no. 1 (2019): 7-43.
Student defenders of Project ‘87, and particularly Black women, led debates between those defending Hill’s ideas, evident in “Does Davidson Really Desire Minority Students?” Black student and BSC member Anne Elliot did the important labor of discrediting Hill’s claims. She argued against the concept of “reverse racism” that her white peers used as a critique of project goals. Challenging her critics to reflect, she asked, “How will the admission of 100 black students and 10 black professors hurt white people as a race? It might hurt individuals…but it can’t touch your race.”11Anne Elliott, “Does Davidson Really Desire Minority Students?” Davidsonian (Davidson, NC), April 27, 1984, 11. She also legitimized Project ‘87’s emotive weight: “So we tell you why we hurt and you choose to dismiss our explanation as the emotional jubberings of a spoiled twelve year old…damn. We expect it of you though. Men use it on women all the time, labeling them as emotional hens in order to undermine the significance, the truth of their argument.”12 Elliott, 11. Elliot utilizes this moment of critique created by Hill to educate and provoke reflection among her fellow students, urging them to see the white supremacist ideologies in the charges of “reverse racism,” gaslighting, and erasure of the voices of Black women enacted by their white peers.
Tasks Forces and Revivals: Results of Project ‘87
While the Project ‘87 demands advocated for the entire Black campus community, Black women also had to defend the legitimacy of themselves, as scholars and organizers, and their lived experiences, critiquing anti-Black racism and white supremacy at Davidson. Combatting anti-Black racism benefited those beyond the Black:white campus communities, targeting “color-blind” policy that ignores long histories of racism embedded in Davidson and the American South.13Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, Racism Without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in America (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2009). What began as a list of demands would later become the Task Force on Racial and Ethnic Concerns created by college president John Kuykendall. The Task Force, which included several BSC members, led to many formal institutional changes, including increased admissions budget for recruiting Black students at Davidson in 1985.14John Gathings, “Admissions Office Focuses on Minority Recruitment,” Davidsonian (Davidson, NC), April 10, 1985, 1.
The formal changes must be considered in context of the history of Black student labor. Official histories of institutions like Davidson often de-emphasize the campus wide educational work of Black students who taught their fellow students and introduced them to nuanced anti-racist frameworks for understanding social change. Scholarship suggests that women of color do a disproportionate amount of this labor in college and university settings.15Bridget Kelly, Turner, Paige J. Gardner, Joakina Stone, Ashley Hixson, and Di-Tu Dissassa, “Hidden in Plain Sight: Uncovering the Emotional Labor of Black Women Students at Historically White Colleges and Universities,” Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, 2019. Horton-Stallings identifies such cultural changemaking as an essential component of radical, anti-racist reimagining of ourcommunities and institutions.16LH Stallings, A Dirty South Manifesto: Sexual Resistance and Imagination in the New South (Oakland: University of California Press, 2020). The work continues today, intensified by the events of 2020: student visions still unrealized and creating institutional change. In fact, in fall 2018, several Black women on campus launched an initiative to revive and revise the Project ‘87 demands in the wake of the revelation that two students on our campus had hidden white supremacist, neo-Nazi social media presences.17Bry Reed, “Reflect on Our Past Before Planning for the Future,” Davidsonian (Davidson, NC), February 13, 2019. The work continues, and documents like these Davidsonian articles must be considered to be as essential to official proceedings of the Task Force on Racial and Ethnic Concerns and broader Davidson histories.