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News & Events for the Smith College Community
Events February 4, 2016

Cornel West Will Speak at Smith

Cornel West portrait

Cornel West—a prominent civil rights activist and scholar perhaps best known for writing Race Matters and Democracy Matters—will speak in John M. Greene Hall at 7 p.m. Thursday, February 11.

The event is open to the public at no charge, and no tickets are required. Doors will open at 6 p.m. (In case of a full house, the talk will be live-streamed to Weinstein Auditorium in Wright Hall.)

West’s talk will touch broadly on topics related to racism, African-American history, spirituality, democracy and intersectional feminism, according to the event’s Facebook page. “More specifically,” the page notes, “he will address the events of Ferguson, Baltimore, New York and police brutality in the public eye, as well as institutional racism, the prison-industrial complex and his experience as an activist on the front lines.”

Smith Association of Class Activists (SACA) board members Jocelyn Proietti ’16 and Tiara Austin ’18 said West’s wide-ranging interests and broad appeal were part of the reason the group was eager to have him speak at Smith. 

“SACA is a student organization for low-income, first-generation, working class students,” noted Proietti, “and Dr. West is a great fit to speak to those conditions. He’s effective as an organizer and an academic. He’s able to reach across the various ways we think about class and talk to a broad audience.”

Austin noted that West has an almost singular capacity to break down disciplinary boundaries. A prolific author, he’s also appeared in a number of films (including “The Matrix”) and has collaborated with musicians including Prince, Jill Scott and Andre 3000. “Dr. West’s talent reaches across academic departments,” Austin said. “We think he’ll be very appealing to the broad community on and off campus.”

Beyond sparking thoughtful discussion and strengthening community, Austin and Proietti expressed a hope that West would inspire individual members of the audience, and “take away a little bit of the tired. I hope that he’s able to restore some energy,” Proietti said, “and give strength to people who feel marginalized.”

Austin agreed. “I hope everyone who attends will take something from Dr. West’s talk,” she said, “and that it will touch people on an individual basis—maybe even change the way we move through the world.”

About Cornel West

West has been a longtime champion of civil rights and social justice, both as a scholar and as a public intellectual. Currently a professor of philosophy and Christian practice at Union Theological Seminary and professor emeritus at Princeton University, he has also taught at Yale, Harvard and the University of Paris. The author of more than 20 books and editor of 13, he is best known for Race Matters and Democracy Matters, and for his memoir, Brother West: Living and Loving Out Loud. His most recent books are Black Prophetic Fire (2014) and Radical King (2015).

West has been a frequent guest on CNN, C-Span, “Real Time with Bill Maher” and “The Colbert Report.” He made his film debut in “The Matrix” and has also appeared in a number of documentaries.

West has made three spoken word albums, including “Never Forget,” collaborating with Prince, Jill Scott, Andre 3000, Talib Kweli, KRS-One and the late Gerald Levert. His spoken word interludes were featured on Terence Blanchard’s “Choices” (which won the Grand Prix in France for the best Jazz Album of the year of 2009), “The Cornel West Theory’s Second Rome,” Raheem DeVaughn’s Grammy-nominated “Love & War: Masterpeace,” and most recently on Bootsy Collins’ “The Funk Capital of the World.”

Cornel West graduated magna cum laude from Harvard in three years and earned M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in philosophy at Princeton.

West’s visit to Smith is sponsored by the Smith Association of Class Activists and is part of the college’s celebration of Black History Month. For disability accommodations or sign language interpreters please contact Smith Association of Class Activists at no later than February 4. Additional information about Cornel West is available at his Website,