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Brown Department of Sociology to host W.E.B. Du Bois Conference this May

Event to promote discussions of activism, social justice

The event will feature keynote speakers who are well-known for their studies of Du Bois, according to Barnes.
The event will feature keynote speakers who are well-known for their studies of Du Bois, according to Barnes.

Next month, students and scholars will gather on campus to discuss social justice, inequality and activism at a conference celebrating W.E.B Du Bois, a prominent African-American scholar and founder of the NAACP.

“The Legacy of W.E.B. Du Bois: Crossing Boundaries for Social Justice Conference” will be sponsored by the University’s Department of Sociology in partnership with the Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity. According to a recent Today@Brown announcement, the conference will focus on Du Bois’ continued “international influence and application in contemporary research and community action.” 

Sandra Barnes, professor and chair of sociology and one of the event’s organizers alongside Julian Culver, a postdoctoral research associate in the sociology department, emphasized the relevance of Du Bois’ work. 

“A strong argument can be made that Du Bois was the quintessential scholar and community activist on the topic of race, broadly defined,” Barnes wrote in an email to The Herald. 

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According to Barnes, the conference will include keynote speakers from across the country who are well-regarded for their studies of Du Bois’ work. She added that the event aims to foster greater dialogue among undergraduate and graduate students.

“We can all learn ways to apply and extend his work to combat social problems and foster social justice,” Barnes wrote. “This will be an opportunity to consider some of the many ways educational spaces like Brown can influence and transform the broader society.”

Brown ACLU Co-President Helena Stacy ’24 and Secretary Rachel Lee ’27 stressed that Du Bois’ work was crucial to protecting civil rights and liberties. “W.E.B. Du Bois’ legacy demonstrates how scholarly work can be translated into advocacy and policy action,” they wrote in an email to The Herald. “Du Bois’ lived experiences led him to write about and advocate for human rights, specifically on the fronts of race, class, citizenship and gender.”

Stacy and Lee also highlighted the connection between Du Bois’ teachings and the efforts of organizations like the Rhode Island ACLU in pushing for criminal justice reform. “By calling upon the scholars and advocates that have come before us, including Du Bois, we can be more prepared to resist and overcome future challenges to our rights,” they wrote. 

According to Barnes, the idea for the conference began with conversations within the department surrounding the continued relevance of Du Bois in teaching and research. “The discipline of Sociology is increasingly acknowledging the often-overlooked contributions of Du Bois,” she wrote.

Culver wrote in an email to The Herald that the upcoming event will be a “renewed effort” from the department’s W.E.B. Du Bois event from 2019 and will focus on student research. 

“My hope is for faculty, staff and students to engage in impactful research on inequality and activism, leaving inspired to address social problems,” Culver added.

According to Sylvia Carey-Butler, vice president for institutional equity and diversity, the conference will serve as an opportunity for students to engage in research and the “contributions of scholars from diverse backgrounds.”

“I hope students will come to learn about this important, deeply intellectual scholar,” Carey-Butler said. “He is one of those voices that really needs to be read and understood.”

Stacy and Lee hope that students will recognize Du Bois’ impact on modern conversations surrounding civil liberties and social justice. 

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“It would be remarkable if those in attendance could walk away from the conference with renewed energy and hope for the future,” they wrote.

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Sophia Wotman

Sophia Wotman is a Senior Staff Writer covering the Affinity & Activism beat under University News. She is a sophomore from Long Island, New York studying Political Science and Music with an interest in women’s rights. She is a jazz trumpet player, and you’ll often find her performing on campus and around Providence.



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