Director for Intercultural Life Tianna Cervantes discusses the Thurgood Marshall lecture with a student. (Dan Perez/TKS)
“Activism For Social Justice” is the theme the Center of Cultural Life came up with for a series of events they are hosting. On Oct. 11, the CIL took students to Western Illinois University to see the annual Thurgood Marshall lecture hosted there. Director for Intercultural Life Tianna Cervantez said she wanted an easy way to convey what the Center of Cultural Life could do for students.
Cervantez noted that Knox College is in a very rich location, as there are a variety of higher learning institutions nearby. When Cervantez heard there would be a lecture on Justice Marshall, she decided to add it to the CIL’s events calendar. According to Cervantez, this event will be one of many co-campus events the CIL hopes to sponsor.
The lecture was given by Professor of Business at Wichita Robert E. Weems. Many know Marshall as one of the greatest political minds to have sat on the bench of the United States Supreme Court. Marshall is also well-known for his work as an NAACP lawyer during the apex of the Civil Rights movements. His membership of Lincoln University fraternity Alpha Phi Alpha is however, not as well -known. Weems used to be part of a fraternity as well. As Weems was introduced, his fraternity brothers in the room were asked to stand in solidarity with him.
“Examination of Marshall’s early life in the law reveals the important role his fraternity played in the evolving battle of ending American apartheid,” Weems said.
“Weems was a founding members at a fraternity at Western, so there was also that thread in the presentation,” Cervantez said. “[Marshall] and his mentor started working on cases through knowing members of their fraternity in different cities. There was some sort of fraternity connection that got Thurgood into school.”
As Cervantez sees it, the preemptive idea behind working on those cases was social justice. For Marshall, education was the way to break a barrier for Black people at the time, not only through education, but by setting legal precedents for education reform.
“While on the bench, Marshall literally spent the rest of his life as an advocate for truth, freedom, justice and equality for all Americans,” Weems said.
What also interested Cervantez was the difference between the event hosted at Western and the events hosted at Knox. Cervantez feels as though students prefer more open dialogue rather than a lecture style. that can come from an audience engaging panel.
“Our students are engaged, our students are challengers,” Cervantez said. “Not to say that westerns are not, but most of the questions were coming from faculty, whereas our students are front and center and they want to ask those questions.”
Cervantez was interested to learn by the time Marshall retired, he felt as though constitutional law was no longer the most effective way to protest on behalf of black lives. At the end of the presentation Cervantez asked Weems if he felt Marshall would have been more open to direct action, like that of the Black Lives Matter Movement and Standing Rock.
“It’s ironic because earlier he was critical of the stance that Dr. King took, but in the context of today’s reality,” Weems said. “He might be more sympathetic to those strategies, especially since the current Supreme Court is not particularly hospitable to addressing issues of racial fairness.”