Dr. Beverly Tatum Speaks at Skidmore College

Dr. Beverly Tatum Speaks at Skidmore College

On Thursday Oct. 12, Beverly Daniel Tatum was conferred an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters by President Glotzbach and Vice President for Strategic Planning and Institutional Diversity Joshua Woodfork. Woodfork spoke on Dr. Tatum’s excellence as an academic leader, a distinguished author, and a role model for courage and change. Tatum was also invited to speak at Skidmore to celebrate the 20th anniversary of her book, Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria: And Other Conversations about Race, which analyzes racial identity development and reflects on the interpersonal influence of self-perception via white American culture. The newest edition of her book, released this year, also focuses on recent political shifts and the urgency for dialogue.

The lecture was facilitated by Dr. Cerri Banks, the Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students at Skidmore College, and Dr. Kristie Ford, the Director of Center for Leadership, Teaching, and Learning as well as the founder of Skidmore’s Intergroup Relations (IGR) Program. The conversation began with a question posed by Dr. Tatum on the age of the audience’s first race-related experience. A variety of answers came forth in terms of age -- generally the answers fit into childhood -- one recalled a memory from as early as the age of two, while another recalled a memory well into their late twenties. Dr. Tatum then asked what emotion was associated with that race-related experience, in which most answers were synonymous with an experience of discomfort: fear, vulnerability, shame, anger, sadness, and so on. She then connected this with the idea of discussing race as one that was met with these strong emotions of discomfort. She added that these notions were introduced and reinforced by parental and authoritative figures during formative years of a child’s cognition, saying the strength of that silence carries on into adulthood.

This theme of silence reoccurred throughout the talk, including challenging the idea that millennial generation is a colorblind society. Instead, Dr. Tatum argued, we are a “color-silent” group that avoids the discomfort in talking about race identity and its respective relations. Dr. Tatum also brought in the idea of hope and courage in a racially tense political climate, such as looking for sources of positive change and development, such as Skidmore’s own IGR Program.

The conversation was opened to questions from members of the audience. Some topics included the intersection between race and other social identities, understanding race in spaces that seem non-inclusive, exploration of racial identity, and the aspects of the privileges certain people of color have— Tatum references her being a light-skinned black woman and having a New England accent that White people find familiar. A particularly encouraging statement given by Dr. Tatum during this segment was to examine the social spheres of influence that students have and to view their potential impact in their work, with a quote from Californian Senator Kamala Harris saying, “This is not a time to throw up your hands, it’s a time to roll up your sleeves.”

The event was followed by a meet-and-greet and a book signing; Dr. Tatum’s book is available at the Skidmore Shop.

The lecture is part of the “In It” collective, offering opportunities to the Skidmore community to promote conversations surrounding diversity and inclusivity. 

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