At Convocation, an appeal to a common humanity

Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, September 2, 2010

In his keynote address to the members of the Class of 2014, Professor of Africana Studies Barrymore Bogues urged students to consider all people foremost as fellow human beings.

Braving the unusually hot September weather, incoming first-years joined graduate and medical students to process through the Van Wickle Gates after a long day of shopping classes. Upperclassmen also sat on the Main Green’s shady patches to listen to Bogues and President Ruth Simmons welcome the new class.

A leading intellectual in Africana history and political theory, Bogues focused on the notion of  “the human” and warned students against classifying people as the “other.” This flawed perspective, he said, could lead students to forget that “we are all humans after all.”

He recounted his recent visit to Cape Town, South Africa, during which he had watched a news clip on labor strikes occurring in the city. In the clip, Bogues said, he saw a black female demonstrator yell to a policeman, “Tell the minister we are human too.”

Bogues also described a photography exhibition he had viewed that showed pictures of inhabitants of a “dump of technology” in Ghana, where trash heaps are filled with discarded electronics. Both the exhibit and the demonstrator’s cry, he said, reflected human response to being treated as disposable objects.

Bogues, an expert in Caribbean political theory, read a quote from a recent article that questioned Haiti’s claim to exist as a country. This article — which, according to Bogues, represents Haitians as the “other” — wrongfully assumes that “they don’t have the capacity to live as human beings.”     

He concluded his address by posing challenging questions that incoming students should consider during their studies at Brown and urging them to “think about people not as ‘others,’ but as ‘another’ ­­— therefore, as humans.”

In her welcoming speech, Simmons urged students to embrace “the wonderful blurring of boundaries unusually present at Brown.” This blurring, she said, will help sharpen students’ insights during their academic careers.

Simmons also promised the first-years that Brown is continuing to improve resources for them “even in these troubling times.”

Garret Johnson ’14 said afterward that he appreciated being addressed by a figure as prominent as Bogues.

“Coming from a public high school,” Johnson said, “it is nice to have someone very distinguished welcome you.”

James Blun ’14 valued Bogues’ message, he said.

“He reminded us to focus on the people and the interactions we have when it’s easy to get caught up in studies,” Blun said.

To stay up-to-date, subscribe to our daily newsletter.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *