The speaker for this year’s All College Day celebration will be queer black feminist scholar and author Alexis Pauline Gumbs. Every year, All College Day features a keynote speaker and a theme that is meant to address issues germane to the campus climate. Working with Vassar administrators, faculty and students, Gumbs crafted a talk that fits into the themes of self-care and healing. Her talk is titled, “Breathing in Chorus; Self Care and Communities in Transformation.” She will open the All College Day festivities on Feb. 16 at 6 p.m. in the Villard Room.
Gumbs’ work focuses on the intersection of race and gender. After receiving her undergraduate degree from Barnard College, Gumbs went on to earn a Ph.D. in English, African and African-American Studies and Women and Gender Studies from Duke University. Her poetry has appeared in several publications, including Kweli, Vinyl, Backbone and Everyday Genius.
A press release from the office of the Dean of Campus life and Diversity Ed Pittman described Gumbs’ activist work. “Alexis is the founder of Brilliance Remastered, a service to help visionary underrepresented graduate students stay connected to purpose, passion, and community. She is co-founder of the Mobile Homecoming Project, a national experiential archive amplifying generations of Black LGBTQ Brilliance.”
Pittman played an integral role in selecting Gumbs and organizing the All College Day proceedings. Pittman expressed a strong interest in fostering healing across campus following last semester’s tumultuous campus climate. “When we started our planning process back in the fall, for All College Day, we had four or five students on the planning committee and we started thinking, ‘So what should our theme be?’ and what kept coming up was, ‘How do we heal as a community? How do we take care of each other? How do we take care of ourselves?’” he said.
Many students spoke of a feeling of fatigue or disappointment after a semester of high intensity protest and social activism, a concern Pittman shared. Hoping that Gumbs will be able to rejuvenate many community members who feel burned out, he said, “I think a lot of students who had been very active in one way or another, many were pulling back and not wanting to be involved because there was a lot of toxicity and pain and energy spent. I think this theme has already generated a number of good activities.”
Kali Tambree ’17, a student who was on one of the committees that helped to organize the All College Day events, also spoke to this recurring sentiment of fatigue and frustration. “[A]s a group, we began thinking about potential themes for All College Day this year by honestly contemplating the upset that many Vassar students have expressed to both administration and to peers,” she wrote in an emailed statement. “We wanted to thoughtfully incorporate many sentiments regarding the violent lack of support from the administration in a way that would induce healing and solidarity.”
Tambree emphasized the need for Vassar students to learn self-care in their activist work. “We also thought of this theme as a means to address a general absence of discussion of the ways in which Vassar students need to practice self care for their own well-beings and mental health as well as for the preservation of a safe and supportive community on campus,” she wrote.
With regard to the lecture, Pittman was hopeful that Gumbs would able to foster frank discussion about the processes of change and transition at Vassar. Sometimes, according to Pittman, compromise and collaboration are necessary. He explained, “She will hopefully talk about what it means to have to reach across to the other side [of the conversation] to build communities even with people who you may disagree with and people who you may perceive as being in power and not listening, but how do you stay open to that kind of process?”
Part of the theme of the talk focuses on communities in transition. Change is not a foreign concept to Vassar. Pittman recalled, “Being a student here and having worked here for 25 years I don’t think there has ever been a time when we weren’t in transition.”
Insofar as Gumbs’ studies relate to the event’s overarching themes of care and support, Pittman was optimistic about the lessons members of the Vassar community will be able to draw from the talk. “I think what she is going to draw upon is this healing way that women and other feminist thinkers have coalesced around: supporting one another. We can draw from that and where we are as a community.”
Tambree explained the vision she had for students’ involvement in the events of All College Day. “I think a successful All College Day would entail campus wide participation,” she wrote. “I would like to see students from varying social and political circles. This would ideally manifest in a diversity of identity in participation.”
She went on to comment, “I’d like to see a willingness to learn, support, and question amongst the students, and I would like for the event to extend to participation from faculty, staff and administration.”