Office of Inclusive Excellence

We Want to Do More Than Survive: Critical Reflections on Thriving in Higher Education

February 22, 2022

By Ibrahim Shelton, Vanessa Lopez-Littleton, Dennis Kombe


“We who are dark want to matter and live, not just to survive but to thrive…to create new systems and structures for educational, political, economic and community freedom.”  -Bettina Love, 2019

In this edition, we invited members of the CSUMB campus community to respond to the following question: “How has your educational experience been shaped by US society?” Our journey of exploration begins with an examination of an American educational system that causes harm, produces inequities and actively oppresses “we who are dark.” A poignant consideration posited by W. E. B. DuBois and reconsidered recently by Bettina Love in her thought-provoking book, We Want to Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom. As African Americans, our struggle in higher education is not only to survive, but “to create new systems and structures for educational, political, economic, and community freedom” (pg. 1). 

The double consciousness DuBois wrote about in 1903 remains an internal conflict between the way we see ourselves and the way we believe our Black identity is perceived by our society. We feel it, have lived it, understand it with such depth, and it still hits differently when you read about it from other cultural frameworks. What is the common thread, the connection that allows us to engage, to deny (for some) who we are, what we are, how we know, what we learn, in order to fit in? We ask, to fit in…to what? To assimilate to be what others tell us is right, correct, ideal, proper? How to dress, talk, walk, think, and even…to write? The cadence, the style, the dress, the actions, all of it, all of us, are told to shut up and be silent. Even Dr. King (1963) noted in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail that he and we have been told to wait. But yeah, naw, we’re straight! Take your wait, and make it weigh, all da way down to da bottom of da Pacific. (Every ‘da’ here is on purpose)!

The stories in this edition make evident the struggle for survival of our respective peoples. Our past experiences have molded us, sharpened us, and prepared us to be here. We are scholars and educators in a society that constantly undermines our existence. They, the other, pretend to be blind to the social, economic and political realities that align with the way ‘we’ show up in the world. We know what it's like to be dark, because we are dark. We see the world in a way that non-dark people cannot. We see it, we know it, and we will do all that we can to push back against the forces that work against us. Afterall, freedom is a constant struggle. We don’t have the luxury of resting on our laurels. We have to push to advance society to a place society is not, yet, prepared to go. Nevertheless, we persist. 

This deep reflection is our effort to advance critical thought through the use of language and counternarratives that challenges dominant ways of thinking, being and (yes, even) writing. For this edition, our friends, colleagues and students share their unique perspectives and journeys to stir the conscience with the hope of creating a world that honors and values ALL. We are humbled by the depth and honesty each author brings to this work and hope you will enjoy this edition of Diverse Perspectives.