Dr. Angela Davis to be Keynote Speaker at 2021 Virtual CODE Event


Photo courtesy of ASUU

By Kayleigh Silverstein and Carlene Coombs



On Feb. 25, Dr. Angela Davis, civil rights activist, educator and author will be speaking to the University of Utah campus in a virtual Conference On Diverse Excellence called “Transformative Voices.”

Since 2005, the ASUU diversity board has hosted CODE, an annual event focused on creating a dialogue on community effort in supporting marginalized communities. 

Ermiya Fanaeian, the ASUU diversity board director, said Davis was chosen to be the lead speaker because of her work as a civil rights activist.

“She was a part of the Black Power movement and she was put in prison because of her political affiliation,” she said. “Because of that, she created these foundations as to what abolishing systems look like for our society.”

According to Fanaeian, the conference will allow students to learn about social issues through a historical lens from Davis. 

“So it is really, really exciting because they get to hear from someone who was there and… get to hear her timeline as to what it looks like now and how she can continue to move forward now from her living through so many different historical events,” Fanaeian said. 

Student Body President Ephraim Kum said he was excited and supportive when Fanaeian told him she was hoping to have Davis for the speaker this year. 

I was a little astounded that Dr. Davis was even a possibility, I guess part of me thought that maybe she was even out of our league in a sense, given her impact and legacy,” he said in an email comment to The Daily Utah Chronicle. “I was happy to be proven wrong in that regard.”

Due to her ties to the Communist Party, Davis was fired from UCLA but then regained her position after taking the institution to court.

She later spent 18 months in jail for her involvement in the escape attempt of George Jackson, an imprisoned Black activist. Her trial drew international attention due to its political nature.

“Since the ’60s and ’70s, she’s been working on prison abolition. She is the main person who wrote the foundation on what police and prison abolition look like in our world,” Fanaeian said. “She wrote the theory for that back in the ’90s when she first started writing books when she was freed from prison.”

Kum said he expects this choice by the diversity board to be a controversial one.

“I do also recognize that in a time like this we have both an opportunity and I’d argue a responsibility to unpack what we might consider controversial,” he said. “There’s a chance for us to figure out for ourselves if we consider something to be controversial because it challenges the status quo and existing power structures, or because it genuinely is harmful.”

Kum acknowledged the past CODE speakers — Jesse Williams and Tan France — saying they talked about difficult topics but they didn’t have as much controversy associated with them. 

“Objectively speaking, she is someone who makes history, and we at the U have the ability to be a part of that,” he said. “But personally, I’m looking forward to there being discussions surrounding the intersections of race and class, and how those two can compound negatively.”

The virtual event will include breakout sessions for students to engage in workshops with experts on a variety of topics. 

“Our first workshop of the day is going to be about building grassroots organizations from the bottom up and what that looks like in regards to fundraising [and] recruiting folks to your organization,” Fanaeian said. “So it is a cool thing folks can be a part of and kind of learn the things from a person who did it.”

Fanaeian said another workshop will focus on policing on campus.

“So students get to be engaged in this conversation as to what policing on campus looks like, and what we as the diversity board are kind of advocating for in regards to that,” Fanaeian said.

Students can tune in to the conference via Zoom on Feb. 25 from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m, with Davis’ keynote speech beginning at noon.

“I think it is of immense significance having Dr. Davis at the U, even if virtually,” Kum said. “I’ve been told that this won’t be the first time she’s spoken to our students, but I do hope it’s also not her last.”


[email protected]


[email protected]