Activist Dr. Cheryl Clarke read poetry and facilitated discussion about the nation’s changing racial climate Tuesday during the inaugural William Monroe Trotter Lecture.
Sponsored by the Trotter Multicultural Center along with a dozen other university units and departments, the lecture took place in the Michigan League Ballroom and focused on the issues of racism, feminism and lesbianism.
Anjali Anturkar, associate vice president for student life, delivered opening remarks at the event, noting the importance of a regularly scheduled diversity-oriented presentation.
“This inaugural William Trotter Lecture invites us to embrace the reality that each of us have multiple identities,” Anturkar said. “We are called on to create and sustain inclusive space for everyone.”
Clarke, who was introduced as a Black lesbian feminist, is the former dean of students at Rutgers University, where she received her master’s and doctorate in English. Prior to her position as dean, she was the founding director of the Office of Diverse Community Affairs and Lesbian/Gay Concerns at Rutgers.
Known for her poetry and activism, Clarke’s published books of poetry include “Narratives: Poems in the Tradition of Black Women,” “Living as a Lesbian,” “Humid Pitch” and “Experimental Love.” Additionally, she was once a contributor to the editorial collective Conditions, a feminist literary journal.
Clarke has worked very closely with other Black feminists and served on the board of New York Women Against Rape. In 2013, she earned the Kessler Award for outstanding contributions to the field of LGBTQ studies.
During the lecture, Clarke emphasized the importance of being a “troublemaker,” encouraging others to speak out against injustice even if doing so is unpopular. In this vein, she acknowledged William Trotter — for whom the lecture series and the University’s multicultural center is named — as a Black, radical troublemaker of his time, adding that she was pleased to be the first of many speakers in the lecture series honoring his legacy.
Clarke also stressed the need to not merely solve the problems of race, classism, sexism and homophobia, but to create an open forum for discussing these issues.
“I would say that the Trotter Center should be a space where it is indeed possible to act, speak, write and think,” she said.
To illustrate the need for creative thinking in the face of deep political issues, Clarke mentioned Audre Lorde, a Caribbean-American writer, feminist and lesbian, who she said was loyal to both poetry and feminism.
Clarke began her lecture by reading a poem that Lorde wrote, called “Sister, Morning Is a Time for Miracles.” Clarke said Lorde’s poetry attempts to facilitate ongoing dialogue about Black women and the injustice committed against them. She added that U.S. culture rejects Black culture no matter what Black people do to gain approval.
She isolated one of her favorite Lorde-written passages to highlight the road to making amends: “In order to come together, we must recognize each other,” she read, later reflecting that “this can take a strikingly contemporary viewpoint.”
“Lorde uses blackness, feminism and lesbianism to make her voice heard, and her voice to make blackness, feminism and lesbianism heard,” Clarke added.
Engineering freshman Suzy Haupt said the perspectives Clarke brought forth were unique and subsequently enlightening.
“We come here to get a scholarly education,” she said. “But I also think it is important to hear things from different perspectives and grow culturally.”