Luther College team works to tell the stories of Black intellectuals and their impact on today’s America

August 30, 2021

Luther College Professors Novian Whitsitt and Guy Nave are conducting research alongside students to create an anthology detailing the history and significance of Black intellectuals.

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“We are really going to be pushing at the boundary of what constitutes Black intellectual thought,” said Whitsitt. “There might be grassroots activists, there might be musicians and artists, there might be political prisoners, all of those folks would be considered Black intellectuals as long as they are engaging with the social concerns of their day.”

Titled, “The Color of Change,” the collection of texts is named after a class co-taught by Whitsitt, professor of Africana studies and English, and Nave, professor of religion. The Color of Change class is centered on Black intellectual thought and social change in America.

“It would be a reader that we could actually use in our class, but it would also be an appealing resource for secondary level education in general,” said Whitsitt. “Beyond that, folks outside of academics who are curious about the history of Black intellectual thought will enjoy reading this.”

Luther College student Sam Schillinger ’22 was inspired after he took a class taught by Whitsitt and dedicated his summer to conducting research to support this project.

“I’m researching Black intellectuals and putting together biographical sketches for each of them. These biographies will serve as background information for the primary works that will be the bulk of the anthology,” said Schillinger. “I knew this research would be really important because along with it being an educational resource, it is also a form of activism today.”

Schillinger’s passion for activism is something that is shared by Whitsett and Nave.

“It’s been Black American intellectuals that have constantly pushed, prodded and challenged America to live up to its promises. In that spirit, Black Lives Matter, because without those intellectuals, we would not be the society that we are today,” said Whitsitt. “We can all acknowledge that there is so much room for improvement, but we have made progress in large part because of the contributions of Black Americans who have pushed us to become a better country.”

The anthology is still in progress, but it would not be as far as it is today without the help of Luther students like Schillinger and others who have served in academic administrative assistantships including Amelia Morrow, Anthony Westhusing, Kari Jacobson and Marissa Kruse.

“Speaking on behalf of Guy and myself, we are truly indebted to the work students do to progress this project,” said Whitsitt. “Sam has been a force in doing this work. He is reading biographies and various academic websites, trying to distill all of that information, and then coming up with 1000-1500 word biographies.”

Whitsitt hopes that Schillinger will continue to help with the project moving forward, giving him more opportunities to act on his passion for activism.

“These are real issues and racism is prevalent, even if we don’t see it firsthand. Institutionalized racism is very much alive today and so this text, this work as a form of activism, has a lot of meaning for me and really encourages me to put my whole heart into it,” said Schillinger.

This project is part of Luther’s Summer Student/Faculty Collaborative Research program which provides opportunities for students to engage in collaborative research projects with Luther faculty members. It is a chance for students to develop their research skills; actively learn in Luther’s natural areas, precision labs or independently; and it provides an opportunity to dig deep and gain expertise in a specific facet of a larger field of study.

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