Executive director of Color of Change speaks at UMass in effort to build new program.

By Lia Gips

Center For American Progress/ Flickr
Center For American Progress/ Flickr

Rashad Robinson, executive director of national civil rights organization Color of Change, spoke at the University of Massachusetts on Thursday as a part of an initiative by the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences to build a new resistance studies program.

The resistance studies program that brought Robinson to UMass has a broad mission of teaching students to undermine “repression, injustices and domination of all kinds,” according to promotional materials. Currently, plans for related class offerings extend into 2021. The brochure made it clear that the program supports unarmed resistance.

Current course offerings in the initiative include “Civil Resistance and Social Change,” an undergraduate sociology and psychology class focusing on the “causes, effects, and dynamics of resistance in political and non-institutional mobilizations,” and a graduate course titled “Civil Resistance and the Everyday,” according to its website.

The resistance studies initiative was underwritten by a donation from a Quaker activist family.

The Color of Change event was a part of a larger initiative to increase racial diversity at UMass, headed by the Diversity Strategic Plan Steering Committee, which was established last year.

On Thursday, Robinson also spoke about the organization’s campaigns and the politics that motivate it to fight racism and how non-black allies can incorporate those ideas into their daily lives.

“One of the things that keeps me inspired is being in contact with people as we are moving the ball forward and making change,” Robinson said.

Color of Change often seeks to increase black people’s social power through public visibility, as well as to use issues like the February 2012 shooting of Trayvon Martin as “on-ramps to notable change” and promote “decentralized movement-building” that encourages other organizations and individuals to tackle issues Color of Change does not feel prepared for. A large part of Color of Change’s work also involves the scrutiny of media organizations and how they portray blackness.

The organization is the only major self-described black civil rights group in the United States that does not take money from corporations, but is instead funded by individual members and foundations, according to its website. Members’ ideas and preferences are a key part of the organization’s priority-choosing process, which Robinson called “an art more than a science.”

When members don’t show support for causes that Color of Change leadership wishes to tackle, the organization will often downplay the issues or move them to the back burner. Historically, some unpopular causes include the topics of sagging pants as a part of racial profiling, LGBT issues and the influence of immigration reform on police presence in black neighborhoods.

Robinson said that he takes this kind of pushback with a grain of salt and as a part of the constantly developing conversation between leadership and membership. Throughout his talk, he made it clear that one of his priorities is relating anti-black racism to sexism, homophobia and other forms of discrimination.

Lia Gips can be reached at [email protected]