Civil Rights icon Angela Davis to speak at Emens

Angela Davis speaks in John R. Emens Auditorium on Sept. 22 to mark the relaunch the African American Studies program at Ball State. The event was free and open to the public. Kai Cohen, DN
Angela Davis speaks in John R. Emens Auditorium on Sept. 22 to mark the relaunch the African American Studies program at Ball State. The event was free and open to the public. Kai Cohen, DN

Even the Rolling Stones know about 2017 Diversity Symposium keynote speaker Angela Davis — they wrote “Sweet Black Angel” about her.

Davis’s speech, “Institutional Racism in the Penal and Criminal Justice Systems” at Emens Auditorium will mark the relaunch of Ball State’s African-American studies minor. Director of African American studies Stephen Balto said he’s tried to get the program started since he arrived on campus.

“So now it’s started, and with the start of the program I just wanted to bring somebody in who’s a major figure," Balto said. "I mean, she’s a huge figure in African-American history and she’s also a major figure in just kind of larger issues of social justice activism for five decades now.”

In recent years, Davis’ work has revolved around the prison industrial complex, arguing that governments should put more money toward education than prisons, especially private prisons.

But back in the 1960s and '70s Davis was heavily involved with the Black Power movement. As a member of the Black Panthers, she landed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list in October 1970. She was even arrested — and then acquitted of all charges.

Balto said she’s the perfect speaker to mark the relaunch of African-American studies because the subject grew out of that era.

“All of our various kind of university institutions and field of study have given priority to white folks,” Balto said. “If you look at trends and, historically speaking, that’s just true. So basically what African-American studies says is there are merits to studying the experiences of other people, and studying them in a way that’s not just some tangent to what some might say is more important history.”

Balto said African-American studies — really any studies program — is about expanding students' understanding of history by providing different viewpoints. With the Census Bureau predicting minorities to become the majority by 2044, Balto said it’s important to understand how different groups are shaped by the past.

“This isn’t an effort to erase some other history, it’s an effort to broaden our perspectives, which is kind of the entire point of college,” Balto said.

Doors to Davis' speech open at 6 p.m. and the event begins at 7 p.m. Davis will do a book signing after her speech.

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