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The Road to 4:44

November 17, 2017
By Monty Farish'18
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It started as a joke in the Critical Identities Studies class, Black Lives (Don’t) Matter. “I said, ‘I’m going to propose this, but it’s a real long shot, but keep this date open,’” says Critical Identities Studies Assistant Professor M. Shadee Malaklou. In September, that joke became a reality when M. Shadee was notified that she’d been awarded funding to take her 20-student class to the Tuesday, Dec. 5, Jay Z concert in Chicago, a part of his record-selling 4:44 tour.

While the opportunity for a class to attend a concert is an exciting prospect, the role it plays within the class is significant. “The way in which [the 4:44] video has all this commentary on what it means to be human really resonated with the course topics and themes,” says M. Shadee. Two contemporary black feminist thinkers who play a major role in the class material, Hortense Spillers and Saidiya Hartman, are also featured in the music video. The course has a significant focus on the ways and reasonings behind the construction of black lives outside of “humanist ways of being and knowing.”

The class investigates the concept that the structure of humanity doesn’t account for blackness. “The fact that black lives don’t matter is essentially a structural question, a question for how a certain structure or certain container, the container of the human, doesn’t leave room for blackness.” Because of these questions, she finds the concert to be an important experience for her students to have. “I want them to think about Jay-Z’s performance, how his body actually moves, and how that is a commentary on the course themes and topics.”

The importance of the concert also stretches beyond the confines of a single class, with M. Shadee having two additional goals beyond her role as an instructor: creating space for marginalized groups and a brand for the college itself. Citing Beloit’s history of activism, anti-racist mission statement, and the Office of Academic Diversity and Inclusiveness, she believes the concert can help marginalized students see themselves within their curriculum and give the college a unique identity within small, midwestern liberal arts colleges.

The funding for the concert was an award from the Professional and Program Development Committee, which among other duties considers proposals from faculty for Labs Across the Curriculum Funding. These funds can be used for a myriad of nontraditional or experiential components to classes, such as field trips or speakers. “Beloit has really great opportunities for faculty to apply for funding to conduct a class that is outside of the normal or typical classroom experience,” says M. Shadee.