Identity Studies - Schillinger and Whitsitt

Student Sam Schillinger and Professor Novian Whitsitt collaborate on their summer research project.

Research Project: The Color of Change, a Historical Anthology of Black Intellectuals

Sam Schillinger ‘22 - Majors: Philosophy, Identity Studies
Novian Whitsitt - Professor of Africana Studies and English

About the Project

“This research project is entitled The Color of Change, and grows out of a class that professor Guy Nave in the Religion Department and I have taught together a number of times for the capstone course Paideia 450,” said Novian Whitsitt. “That course grew out of an awareness of our own ignorance of the history of Black intellectuals. We are creating a text that we could use in our class, but it would also be an appealing tool for secondary level education. Beyond that, it would serve as a resource for those outside  academics who are curious about the history of Black intellectual thought.”

An Opportunity for Student Involvement

“This research felt important to me because in addition to it being an educational endeavor, it is also a form of activism,” said Sam Schillinger. “The Black Lives Matter movement, and the perpetuation of racism and discrimination in America, motivated me to want to get involved and do something about it. This project allows me to help readers understand the significance of Black intellectual thought in America.”

The Research Process

“I’m researching Black intellectuals and composing biographical sketches which will contextualize the primary works that constitute the bulk of the anthology,” said Schillinger. “I begin by compiling basic biographical information, which gives me an idea of who the intellectual is. I then engage in more thorough research, consulting primary and secondary sources. Ultimately, I aim to synthesize ideas and seminal life events to illustrate the trajectory of the intellectual journey of the individual. The research also aims to illuminate the influence of these intellectuals on the intellectual tradition of Black social change in America.”

Meaning and Value Behind the Research

“I think it’s fair to say, for anybody who teaches, or anybody that researches, the more you know the less you know. As you do your own work and share your ideas, you become conscious of this vast field of history, of people, of intellectual work that you simply just do not know about,” said Whitsitt. “Perhaps if we become aware of this history, we can begin to see that we are spinning our wheels and not paying enough attention to the social analysis already conducted. This consciousness will hopefully give us the kind of traction to move forward in more productive, practical ways with regards to issues like equity and justice.”

“There is also another component at work here. 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. 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,” said Whitsitt.

Student researcher Schillinger says that this project has made him realize how, as a white person living on a college campus, you can feel insulated from the world. “Systemic oppression is operating across a vast network of institutions and systems of power, even if we don't see it firsthand,” said Schillinger. “This project is a form of activism which encourages me to invest my heart and soul into it.”

Why Did You Include Students in Your Research?

“Without student work, our project would not be nearly as far as it is right now. So speaking on behalf of Professor Guy Nave and myself, we are truly indebted to the work that they do,” 

Novian Whitsitt

What Does this Project Mean to You?

“The contributions of Black individuals to America as a whole, but specifically to social change in America, is not given the time and attention in many classrooms that it deserves. In pursuit of social justice, I think it's crucial to put together accessible sources that convey history that is commonly overlooked, and that is what this project aims to do.”

Sam Schillinger