Jan Cohn Lecture in American Studies: A Discussion With Professors Davarian Baldwin and Ananya Roy

4 min read

Olivia Papp ’23

Features Editor

The Jan Cohn Lecture was held last Monday, Apr. 12, 2021 and featured a discussion between Professor of American Studies Davarian Baldwin and Ananya Roy. This lecture is an annual event that honors the memory of Jan Cohn, G. Keith Funston Professor of American Literature and American Studies, who was the first woman to serve as dean of the faculty at Trinity College. This lecture covers important topics regarding American Studies. Davarian Baldwin is a leading urbanist, historian, and cultural critic who is now a Distinguished Professor of American Studies at Trinity College. In the lecture, Baldwin was described as an Urbanist who studies racial foundations.

Ananya Roy is a Professor of Urban Planning, Social Welfare, and Geography at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Roy additionally serves as the Meyer and Renee Luskin Chair in Inequality and Democracy at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, which is an organization with the intent of prompting research and scholarship in topics concerning displacement, dispossession, and social change. Both Roy and Baldwin centered their intellectual discussion on Baldwin’s new book called, In The Shadow of the Ivory Tower: How Universities are Plundering Our Cities. The event was held as a Webinar on Zoom, organized by professors in the American Studies Department at Trinity College. Roy is a strong social advocate and aims to pave the way for future scholarship. She believes attaining a higher education is critical in defending human rights. As scholars and leading professors, both Roy and Baldwin have dedicated their work towards building an American society with greater social justice.

2020 was a year that brought to light inequality and severe social justice issues. Racial discrimination in the most extreme amounts was happening all across the United States during this year. This is why many protestors were out on the streets during the summer of 2020, fighting against police brutality. Black Lives Matter, an organization which protests against police brutality and all racially motivated violence against black people, played an integral role in improving racial equality during this time.

Baldwin described 2020 as a “moment of crisis and possibility.” From the horror of discrimination 2020 has brought about, it is very possible to work towards a more socially just society. Roy also described 2020 as a “moment of uprising and crisis.” The year could certainly be classified as a year to learn and grow from, if nothing else. Roy centered her discussion on racist acts of 2020 on universities, stating that the uprisings have most definitely come to universities. However, Roy claimed that the work being done at universities to fight against social justice is not enough and needs to be taken further. “Social reforms in universities will not do,” Roy said.

In his book In the Shadow of the Ivory Tower Baldwin speaks on the disconnect between higher education and urban life. Urban universities are responsible for gentrifying neighborhoods in order to enrich campuses and attract more students and profit. Private police forces are then also in charge of targeting black and Latinx communities in a close proximity to the urban universities. Baldwin also argues that urban universities become the employers, and thus can dictate wages in negative ways. The book is about portraying a vision for urban life that provides a more equitable relationship between urban universities and cities.

While universities, the supposed moral compass of society stand by, university police prove to be ripping apart urban communities, they argued. The police at some urban academic institutions follow the front lines in land regimes, protecting white students first and foremost, and regulating behaviors and lifestyles of urban communities.

Both Ananya Roy and Davarian Baldwin were highly knowledgeable and eloquent with their words. Grappling with such delicate and difficult matters, both speakers did a fantastic job bringing to light racial absurdities and inconstancies in modern day urban settings. Confronting issues head on, Baldwin and Roy were asking and answering the hard questions that will make American citizens more cognizant of racial inequality in urban settings. Conversations like these are inevitably going to improve American society in positive, more inclusive, and socially just ways.

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