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Course Investigates COVID-19, Systemic Inequalities and the History of Black Women Worker Resistance

June 2021

During the spring 2021 semester, two Spelman alumnae offered a course centering on the intersecting and systemic inequalities prevalent during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the historic impact on Black workers. 

The 14-week lecture series, "COVID-19 and Black Workers: Race, Gender and Labor," was taught virtually as a Comparative Women’s Studies special topics course and was co-sponsored by the Social Justice Fellows Program.

Alumna Sheri Davis Teaches COVID-19 Related Course at SpelmanSheri Davis-Faulkner, Ph.D., C’97, co-director of WILL Empower and senior program director with the Center for Innovation in Worker Organization in the School of Management and Labor Relations at Rutgers University co-taught the course alongside Danielle Phillips-Cunningham, Ph.D., C’2004, program director and associate professor of multicultural women’s and gender studies at Texas Woman’s University.

The curriculum delved into a historical analysis of systemic inequalities in relation to Black labor beginning with the 1881 washerwomen strike, which took place in Atlanta in July -- just a few months after Spelman was founded as  the Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary on April 11. 

“We wanted to make this rich tradition of Black women’s labor organizing relatable to students by constantly tying the course materials to Atlanta, Georgia. Atlanta is a particularly rich site to begin this history because so many labor organizing initiatives began in the city and throughout the US South,” added Dr. Davis-Faulkner.

“We covered the many modes of labor organizing that Black women engaged in for a living wage that range from the washerwomen’s strike to Spelman alumna Selena Sloan Butler’s scholar-activism against the inhumane working and living conditions of imprisoned Black women, men and children in Georgia’s prisons. By the second half of the course students were encouraged to put this history in conversation with the contemporary experiences of Black women workers.”

In its first offering, 23 Spelman students registered for the class, which is taken as an elective. 

Phillips Cunningham“We have defined labor broadly to include a wide range of work that women do and their multiple strategies of resistance as domestic workers, prison workers, teachers, factory workers, scholars, policy researchers and artists,” said Dr. Phillips-Cunningham.  

The class encouraged students to explore that idea that race, class and gender inequalities shape laboring experiences and how they could work to change the landscape through activism. 

“Students can become community organizers, policymakers, worker leaders, labor researchers, labor economists, labor historians of the working class, scholar activists and most importantly advocates for themselves and their communities,” said Dr. Phillips-Cunningham.

“We hope that they will get involved with campaigns and develop innovative strategies that challenge labor inequalities in ways that center Black workers, especially providing the protections and regulations that would save Black families lives during a pandemic.”

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