By Virginia Riddle
This Thursday, September 29th at 11:00 p.m., Robert Crutchfield, Professor Emeritus of the University of Washington and a 1971 graduate of Thiel College returned home to delivery a presentation regarding the Black Lives Matter movement to a host of students and faculty alike. The speech was part of Thiel’s annual lecture and Visiting Fellows Program which was established to focus on issues of criminology, criminal justice, and sociology. After the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020, he was initially asked to speak in the fall of that year. Due to COVID-19 precautions his event was rescheduled to 2021, resulting in the presentation this past week titled, “Race and Justice: Black Lives Matter?”
He greeted the crowd with clear intentions, stating that, “It’s good to look out and see some familiar faces, some long-time friends, I’m hoping that I won’t say anything or do anything that will be terribly embarrassing for you. For the rest of you, I hope I will say some things that may frustrate you, perhaps even anger you, but if nothing else that will challenge you to think…”
From there, he tackled the controversy around the Black Lives Matter movement by saying, “Black Lives Matter is a call to action and saying that all lives matter isn’t specific enough to convey the message that Black Lives Matter activists want to convey.” This statement served as a strong foundation to raise the question of how black lives have been valued, both historically and contemporarily, in the United States.
The presentation included extensive research on the treatment of Africans and African Americans, including horrifying historical data on the slave trade during the annals of American history, the frequent lynching of black men, women, and children in both the 19th and 20th centuries, as well as statistics such as death sentences targeting black lives as recent as the 1980s.
Crutchfield continuously reminded the crows that, “…the declaration of Black Lives Matter is not exclusionary. There is no one saying white lives don’t matter. There’s no one saying anybody’s lives don’t matter. But its instead saying that Black Lives Matter too. Black lives should matter.”
It was this overlaying sentiment, combined with his extensive research, that led him to ask, “Do black live matter? Judge the evidence for yourself. For me, I say black lives should matter, but they don’t yet.”
By the end of his hour-long presentation, the crowd was only left with more questions. Flocks of audience members continued to engage in discussion with Crutchfield even after the Q&A following his speech. On top of this, Dr. Crutchfield was seen across campus for the rest of the day, participating in social and academic interactions.
One such interaction was during a Thiel provided dinner with President Traverso’s independent study group, who had been studying the writing of African American sociologist W.E.B DuBois for past several weeks. During Thursday evening, Thiel students and other attendees wove the ideas of DuBois’s The Souls of Black Folk into their discussion with Dr. Crutchfield. The small group addressed a variety of politically and socially relevant issues in United States, and, similarly to Crutchfield’s presentation audience, left with exponentially more questions and enthusiasm for discussion than they came with.