#CharlestonSyllabus at Vassar

The Vassar Libraries recently added a sampling of titles from the Charleston Syllabus to our Browsing Collection. Below is a personal essay about the difficult public issues related to the South Carolina shootings. The writer, Deb Bucher, is the Assistant Director of the Library for Collection Development and Research Services.

Following the June 17, 2015 murders in Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, I began asking myself some questions. What can I do?  What should I have done? Shouldn’t I be more involved in social justice?  Am I wasting my time working at an elite educational institution?  As a white person, I routinely feel bad about the privilege I get based on my skin color, but also completely overwhelmed by the enormity of attempting to rectify the systemic racism that my privilege comes from.  How can I live my life with integrity knowing I’m the beneficiary of unwarranted privilege?  How can I be part of the solution and not the problem?

#CharlestonSyllabus and Libraries

I often turn to books when I have a question that I need answered.  As a child, I went to the library and read biography after biography and learned to appreciate the lives of others and what they faced.  I learned that going to the library encouraged me to think critically about ideas, about my own life and how I live it, and, most especially, how other people experience life.  So my response after Charleston was to do the same.  Fortunately, I have Dr. Chad Williams of Brandeis University to thank for developing the #Charlestonsyllabus, a list of materials directly related to my questions.  After the Charleston murders, he used Twitter to ask for submissions to a list of readings about the history of race relations and racial violence in the United States.  The #Charlestonsyllabus is now a “library” that brings together histories, movies, personal narratives, poetry and other literature that document the lives of African Americans living with and in the systemic racist and violent society we call the United States.

Libraries as Community

But the #Charlestonsyllabus is more than just a library.  As Chad Williams says, “It is a community of people committed to critical thinking, truth telling and social transformation” (http://aaihs.org/resources/charlestonsyllabus/).   So by reading the books on the syllabus, I will be part of a virtual community of people working to change how we think and act in society.  That’s a start, at least.

If you would like to join the #Charlestonsyllabus community, the Vassar librarians have collected just of a few of the titles on the list and have put them on a shelf in the “Browsing Collection” in the lobby of Main Library.  I invite you look at those titles and take one home.  For the full list, see our guide, http://libguides.vassar.edu/charleston, or the #Charlestonsyllabus website, http://aaihs.org/resources/charlestonsyllabus/.

I believe that libraries are transformative and radical places; I expect the #Charlestonsyllabus to be that kind of library for me, and I hope it is for you as well.

2 thoughts on “#CharlestonSyllabus at Vassar

  1. Many thanks for this rich site, Deb. I am puzzled at the absence of controversial figures such as Cornell West and Angela Davis, especially her memoir and book on “the prison industrial complex”, which disproportionately houses black men and women, and more music from women such as Lauren Hill in jazz. Does this indicate some PC self-censorship on the part of those who compile the Charleston Syllabus?

    • Dear Judith Dollenmayer: As one of the co-developers of the syllabus, I can tell you unequivocally that it was NOT an effort to censor any works. Please remember that this was crowd-sourced so as the suggestions came in, we worked very hard to organize them into the list (in only a matter of hours). In the process, we missed many pieces and naturally, we could not include everything. But, please understand that the failure to have a piece by Davis et. al. was not intentional. I should also say that we DO include links on the syllabus with references to some of the works you mention. For example, see the links on the page to “University of California’s Bibliography on Black Feminism and Womanism” and “RacismReview’s Bibliography on White Supremacy.” You can read more about the process of building the list here: http://aaihs.org/not-just-another-hashtag/

      Don’t hesitate to contact me if you have other questions and/or suggestions for how we can move this forward.



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