Visiting professor examines race and gender issues

Michael Anschutz

Thursday evening, March 3, members of the Washburn community filled the Kansas room of the Memorial Union to hear a lecture by visiting Fink professor Dr. Mia Bay of Rutgers University.

The lecture explored the life and work of the Ida B. Wells; a journalist and civil rights activist who, according to Bay, was the most famous African American woman in her time. Through Well’s life story issues of race, class, gender, and intellectual thought were examined in a historical context.

Amongst the topics covered foremost was Well’s work writing about and working to end the high rates of lynching of African Americans in the American South after the Civil War. Bay explained that Well’s uncovered that the justifications for lynching, typically rape accusations, were overwhelmingly false.

Dr. Bay was brought to Washburn for two days as a part of the Ruth Garvey Cochener Fink Visiting Professorships in Leadership program.

“Visiting Professors serve as guest lecturers in courses at Washburn as well as presenting in Topeka community and civic settings…the professorships are intended to consistently address concepts of leadership” (

Dr. Kelly Erby, assistant professor in Washburn’s History department, nominated Dr. Bay for the professorship and introduced her at the lecture. Erby ecountered her work by reading Bay’s book “The White Image in the Black Mind” which looks at African American responses to racial constructs in the nineteenth century.  

“She’s written about black intellectual thought…the history of intellectual history focuses on the ideas of elite white men so that makes her distinctive…I was really excited by that kind of history which tries to give a voice to people who don’t have a voice and looks at their ideas” Erby said.

Erby’s own interests and work in American history examine such issues of disadvantaged groups such as racial minorities and women.

Bay’s nomination was influenced by ideas of promoting inclusivity as well.

“Washburn has been thinking about diversity issues… it was important to me we bring someone who could talk about creating a campus climate that is inclusive. So in addition to talking about women’s activism I was hopeful she could talk to faculty about inclusive practices in their classrooms and things like that” Erby said.

The lecture’s focus on Ida B. Well’s personal life served to examine the interplay of racial and gender discriminations in American society.

“I think Bay did a good job of, at the beginning of her talk, using Well’s background to show how black women were doubly prejudiced against” Erby said.

The leadership aspect of this Fink professorship was emphasized in Bay’s position as director of Rutgers Center of Race and Ethnicity. Also, the subject of Well’s work is an examination in unexpected leadership.

“She did what she could to change the situation and I hope students are inspired by that. I think there is a lot of malaise. The attitude that there is no point in voting that this is just the way things are. But Ida B. Wells was not a person to accept the status quo” Erby said.

“I think the Fink visiting professorship is a great opportunity to bring people to our community that we want to learn from” Erby said.