Dr. Cornel West Graced UConn Two Weeks Ago and Everyone Should’ve Known About It

Cornel West speaking at an event in Tempe, Arizona. Photo by Gage Skimore via Wikimedia Commons

To kick off Black History Month, the African American Cultural Center and the Undergraduate Student Government invited Dr. Cornel West to address the greater UConn community on Tuesday, Feb. 2. I knew of the event because, as an active participant in various organizations within the AACC, I received an invitation via email. I’ll be honest, I was not entirely familiar with who Dr. Cornel West was prior to the start of this month, but I was intrigued and decided to attend. Needless to say, I’m beyond grateful that I did.  

In case you also didn’t know, Dr. Cornel West is one of the most influential and iconic individuals in Black History. He’s taught at Harvard and Princeton. He’s written 20 novels, edited 13 and his most recent work, “Black Prophetic Fire,” received critical acclaim. He’s dedicated years of his life to teaching incarcerated people. He’s been on news programs such as CNN, C-SPAN and Democracy Now. In short, he’s a pretty big deal. His presence at UConn was a gift, and I found it pitiful that more people were not in attendance simply because they didn’t know.  

Don’t get me wrong, the AACC and USG did as much as they could with the resources they had. Other students I know received an email invitation from the AACC or saw one of the USG Instagram posts promoting this event, and likely decided to attend because of these efforts. However, UConn has several marketing and advertising resources at their disposal and did very little to spread the word considering how significant a figure Dr. West is. I’d argue that the people who needed to hear what Dr. West said the most were the ones who were not there.  

Sure, the Office for Diversity and Inclusion mentioned this event in their email blast to commemorate Black History Month, among other celebrations, at the start of February, but this was sent out the day before Dr. West visited UConn. It was also buried in an unnecessarily long and pretty pretentious email, and was likely deleted by most students before it was opened. I’m in no way blaming ODI for people not reading their emails, but it should come as no surprise that most students don’t regularly check their inboxes, let alone read lengthy messages. A more efficient way to promote this event could have been contacting professors directly and encouraging them to share this opportunity with their students. This worked with past events such as the Rally for a Peaceful Planet and the #SaveUConn walkout this week.  

I’m positive Dr. West would have been just as charismatic and engaging had there been three people in the room, but in a perfect world, he should’ve addressed the entire UConn community, faculty and students alike. Every word he spoke was intentional and struck a chord. There was something about his presence that felt deeply genuine and honest. He reminded those of us in attendance how dangerous it is to conform when our world needs more people to stand up and speak out. He warned us of the consequences of indifference in the face of injustice. His words felt timely and necessary, especially when senseless violence and blatant disregard for the humanity of those from different parts of the world is becoming dangerously normal.  

He shared words to sustain and uplift, particularly for the young Black students in the room. He reminded us that American democracy has been and will continue to be dependent on Black Resistance. He emphasized that Black Resistance is nothing without a proper, deep education and that we should take advantage of every resource put before us. He asked that we always hold love and compassion for everyone from all walks of life, recalling his upbringing and the impact of the woman who raised him, “I am who I am because someone loved me.” 

It was a great honor and privilege to be in the same room as Dr. West. His words affected me in ways I could not have imagined and I’m disappointed in my university for not doing their part to guarantee that more students were exposed to this invaluable opportunity. There should have been more people than seats that night. It’s what Dr. West deserved.


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