Fugitive Pedagogies in Student Union Building (SUB 1)

The Prophet

Broadside - April 1965 article comparing the racial integration of Black students to that of bigots. 







The fully racialized social and epistemological architecture upon which the modern university is built cannot be radically transformed by “simply” adding darker faces, safer spaces, better training, and a curriculum that acknowledges historical and contemporary oppressions. This is a bit like asking for more black police officers as a strategy to curb state violence. We need more faculty of color, but integration alone is not enough. Likewise, what is the point of providing resources to recruit more students of color without changing admissions criteria and procedures? Why do we stay wedded to standard “achievement” measures instead of, say, open admissions?[1]


One might assume the quote above was written in 1954, after the Brown v. Board of Education ruling, or maybe 1965, in response to integration following The Civil Rights Act of 1964 – but neither assumption would be correct. The quote is from the 2016 article, “Black Study, Black Struggle,” by historian and academic, Robin D.G. Kelly, written in response to the groundswell of student protests at colleges across the nation. Throughout 2015, students protested racism, unethical fiscal practices by universities, racial profiling, and the brutalization and murder of Black citizens by police. “Protests erupted on nearly ninety campuses…led largely by black students, as well as coalitions made up of students of color, queer folks, undocumented immigrants, and allied whites.”[2] In the article Kelly connects student activism in 2015 to Student Movements of the 1960s, suggesting what’s past is prologue.[3]

Never legally segregated, George Mason College’s black student population in 1970 was small by design, 16 students to be exact, and the culture was explicitly hostile. [see image above]. Once black students hurdled the institution’s barriers to admission, they encountered the deficit ideologies of faculty, positioned as minority achievement gaps. Their instruction derived from dominant curricula, which minimized or outright erased black contributions, and mandates against organizing by administration served to silo and isolate them.[4] In 2023, researching George Mason University online renders over three million results declaring, “Mason’s student body is highly diverse.”[5] However, Mason’s history is analogous to the ninety campuses from 2015, wrought with Black student struggle.

Struggle for admission.

Struggle for visibility.

Struggle for equality.

Struggle for safety.

Struggle for resources.

Struggle for a liberatory education – one that encouraged resistance to oppression, reflected their value back to them, and aided in their self-actualization through pedagogical practices of freedom.[6]

So how did the small population of black students navigate Mason’s predominantly white campus? Were they welcomed?

Was there a sense of belonging? If so, where did they find it?

What can we glean from Mason’s history that illuminates the “Black student experience” prior to the influx of racial diversity?


In Fugitive Pedagogy - Carter G. Woodson and the Art of Black Teaching, author Jarvis Givens interrogates black people’s educational history in America and how it was shaped by chattel slavery. Fugitive pedagogy, as he defines it, is “the metanarrative” of that history and a “social and rhetorical frame by which we might interpret Black Americans’ pursuit to enact humanizing and affirming practices of teaching and learning.”[7] To Givens, author of The Mis-Education of the Negro, Carter G. Woodson’s scholarship and teaching methodology are integral to this framework, though not responsible for creating it. Woodson’s teaching methods, like black learners and teachers before him, supported the educational advancement of black people and was rooted in the belief that learning should be transformational and liberatory. Early education scholars, who were mostly white, didn’t consider Woodson’s methodology when codifying teaching methods, as it served to disrupt power structures. Givens, however, coined his scholarship fugitive pedagogy, employing “fugitive” in the context of American slavery and black peoples embodied response – fleeing and becoming fugitives – and relating it to the criminalization of black learning – as “theft of one’s mind was directly relational to, perhaps even a precondition for, the theft of one’s body.[8] Fugitive pedagogies, therefore, are emblematic of freedom and reject the status quo – education that centers whiteness and oppresses marginalized communities through erasure or narrative lies. Mason’s black student body, like generations before, responded to institutional oppression with a type of fugitive pedagogy – learning “in the secret places.”[9] Leveraging spaces outside the classroom, namely Student Union Building 1 (SUB 1), to craft a liberatory education in contrast to the one provided by the institution, they developed culturally relevant and affirming organizations and programming to meet their academic, political, and socioemotional needs – needs neglected, denied, or highly contested within the predominantly white university. The small cohort established a Black Student Union – Ujamaa, Black Student Alliance, and Black Greek organizations as vehicles for change and belonging on campus. They were guided by coconspirators in Mason’s faculty like Andy Evans, Lillian Anthony-Welch, and Dr. Darius Swann, who helped establish the Office of Minority Affairs, who all became equally engaged in fugitivity.


                                             Dr. Darius Swann ~ Oral History


       Initial Efforts Toward a Black Student Union (BSU) 


[1] Robin D.G. Kelly, “Black Study, Black Struggle,” Ufahamu: A Journal of African Studies 40, no. 2 (2018): 153–167, https://doi.org/10.5070/F7402040947.

[2] Robin D.G. Kelly, “Black Study, Black Struggle,” 153.

[3] “What’s Past Is Prologue,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/What%27s_past_is_prologue.

[4] “Oral History Interview with Dr. Darius ‘Lee’ Swann,” University Libraries SCRC, February 28, 2022, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UwO0vsuCpts.

[5] “Diversity,” George Mason University - Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, https://diversity.gmu.edu/diversity.

[6] bell hooks, “Engaged Pedagogy,” essay, in Teaching to Transgress (Routledge, 1994), 17.

[7] Jarvis R. Givens, “Introduction: Blackness and the Art of Teaching,” 11.

[8] Jarvis R. Givens, “Introduction: Blackness and the Art of Teaching,” 12.

[9] Jarvis R. Givens, “Introduction: Blackness and the Art of Teaching,” 3.

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