Patricia Hill Collins, a well known social theorist and author, spoke Friday April 16 in Cole Cinema on her life’s work and the her perspective on issues like social justice, education and the effect of the intersection of race, class, gender, sexuality and nation on society.
The event was sponsored by Feminists United for Sexual Equality (FUSE) and the title of Hill Collins’ lecture was Cultivating a Sociological Imagination for our Time. Hill Collins described the concept of the sociological imagination as “understand[ing] ourselves in the context of our times,” an idea from sociologist C. Wright Mills.
She said our culture “encourages us to develop as individuals [by separating] from our social selves”, but that realizing society’s influence “one might move forward effectively from the here and now into the future.”
Much of the rest of the lecture reviewed Hill Collins’ experiences as an educator at a community school in Boston for black children, at the University of Cincinnati and currently at the University of Maryland, College Park.
The community school was organized and run by a diverse group of individuals who all had similar goals of providing a better education for students who were not being served well by the traditional educational system in Boston.
“There was conflict [among those running the school]…but we put our own individual agendas to the side.” There was strong focus in the school for “education as a site of empowerment.” The school empowered not only the students but the educators, helping them realize societal influence and different ways to work towards changing oppressive aspects of society.
Hill Collins said, “We have to realize our sense of safety [within our society]. If we are not constantly vigilant, it can be taken away from us.”
Hill Collins also covered her experiences at the University of Cincinnati. While there she continued to “cultivate the sociological imagination” which gave her “the space to ask new questions.”
While teaching, Hill Collins engaged her students to question their beliefs and the formation of those beliefs. She asked, “What does it mean to be anti-racist? What does it mean to commit to a social justice agenda?” She said that everyone needs to ask these types of questions of themselves to understand who they are and how they were formed by their society.
Hill Collins then opened up the lecture to discussion with the audience. Questions ranged from the issue of women’s reproductive rights, how to inspire or get others involved, and the difficulties of fighting against large, seemingly intractable problems.
She said that “reproductive rights were going to be a ground zero for women forever” and that is was important to “push back on behalf of those not in power.”
Later, she said that activists for any issue who are trying to get others involved need to “recognize how people are differentially positioned;” to recognize the value and difference in every person’s experience.
Hill Collins also had advice for actively fighting against oppression and facilitating change. She said that “visionary pragmatism” is “foundational to social change;” that is, “committing to a set of principles that is bigger than yourself” and asking, “what little piece can I chip away at?”
She concluded, “My philosophy is that I can’t possibly know everything, [but] I’m hopeful and that keeps me going.”
Faculty, staff, students and community members responded positively to Hill Collins lecture and encourage words towards effecting change.
Senior Wesley Watkins said, “I was really satisfied with how she’s able to be intellectual and pragmatic at the same time.”
Other students echoed this sentiment. Senior Sarah Shipley said, “She was just really inspirational….[she is a good example of] how to work with all types of students no matter what the system tell you how or what you should teach.”