Dr. Cornel West visits CSUEB campus

Andréa Duprée,
Copy Editor

People leaned forward in their seats in an attempt to soak in every word that poured from Cornel West’s lips.

The audience was attentive, but in no way silent for much of the outspoken philosopher, academic, social justice activist and author, who spoke to more than 450 California State University, East Bay students, staff and faculty, and members of the community last Thursday during a Talk Series event presented by Associated Students, Inc. at the University Theater.

It felt like church, as a myriad of ‘uh huhs,’ ‘yeahs,’ ‘that’s rights’ and head nods emanated from the crowd; an older African American woman shook a tambourine in agreement with West.


“[You] can’t talk about being an educated person in any serious way without mustering the courage to aspire to integrity,” West told the crowd. He said education is a pursuit of a deep love of the truth and not about being the smartest person in the room. He said to “…leave smart for the smartphones.”

West briefly touched on recent, high-profile racial conflicts in Ferguson and the Black Lives Matter campaign, but encouraged the crowd to think broadly about social justice. “Don’t confine your claim to just precious Black lives,” said West.

A racially diverse crowd filled the theater to capacity and standing room was nonexistent. West wore his 61 years of life as a banner connecting him to the people his age that were present.

In addition, there was not one empty seat in the house, leaving ASI staff and press to sit along the stairs closest to either side of the stage. Oscar Grant’s family was in attendance, having been personally invited by West, according to ASI Special Events Supervisor Elisa Brice.

West said, “We used to have honesty in our music, but we’re losing our voice.” He stressed the importance of using music as a tool for honesty and integrity and a means of voicing social and political struggles. He expressed disappointment in some of today’s musical artists and named Beyonce specifically as someone with no political stance.

West’s website describes him as “…a prominent and provocative democratic intellectual.” Currently a professor at Princeton University, where he also earned his Ph.D. in Philosophy, West has also taught at Harvard, Yale, Union Theological Seminary and the University of Paris. Encyclopedia Britannica calls him an “American philosopher, scholar of African American studies, and political activist.”

Pullquote Photo

How many other innocent people have your drones killed since 2008?

— Dr. Cornel West

West’s book “Race Matters” is still West’s most well known book, according to the New York Times. While he has published quite a few books since its 1994 release, “Black Prophetic Fire” published in 2014, is his most recent book, where he discusses Ferguson, drones and a number of other economic and political issues.

Fellow American academic and author Michael Eric Dyson has made his disapproval of West’s open ridicule of President Obama well known with recently published articles in the New Republic, a liberal American magazine of commentary on politics.

West shed a little light on his speculated disdain for the president when he asked, “How many other innocent people have your drones killed since 2008?” West attributes his love and respect for all human lives, to his deeply rooted Christian faith. He mentioned President Obama’s apology for the loss of innocent lives was not enough.

Prior to the start of the event, hundreds of people were in line outside of the theater that extended to the Arts & Education building. Once the doors opened, event goers were allowed to meet and greet with West, able to have their picture taken before heading to their seat inside. However, due to the amount of people gathered outside, the meet and greet portion of the event had to be cut short to allow time for people to find a seat and allow West time to prepare before going on stage.

Brice had her hands full in the lobby during the first 15 minutes of West’s talk with a group of stragglers trying to get inside. Supported by a University Police Department officer, Brice had the tough job of turning people away because of potential fire hazard dangers that could be cumbersome in the event of an emergency.

Brice admitted that being over capacity would not be risked and unfortunately could not allow people to stand out in the lobby blocking doorways and exits. There were no overflow provisions for those that were unable to attend the event.

Before opening the forum for questions, West received a standing ovation from all in attendance. Even the people working the sound and lighting in the back of the room put down their gear to participate in the round of applause.

There was no meet and greet scheduled for after the talk, however West stayed behind to greet Oscar Grant’s family and take selfies with a few people that were not swayed by ASI staff trying to usher them out.