For historian and author Robyn C. Spencer-Antoine, Detroit has served any number of purposes over the past several years, from acting as a hub of research and professional networking to being a repository of political thought and a fount of inspiration.
And in coming months, Detroit will be, simply, home.
This fall, Spencer-Antoine becomes one of the newest additions to the Wayne State University faculty when she steps into her role as a professor jointly assigned to the university’s History Department and its Department of African American Studies. Spencer-Antoine, who currently teaches at Lehman College in the City University of New York system, is among a host of new hires who arrive as the university continues to boost faculty diversity and readies for the opening of the recently announced Detroit Center for Black Studies.
“I’m happy to become part of the Wayne State community,” Spencer-Antoine said during a recent conversation. “I've been to Detroit several times. I've done time as a researcher at the Reuther Library, so I know it's excellent. I've come in for labor history conferences. I have come and interviewed activists like General Baker and learned about the League of Revolutionary Black Workers. Detroit has always been on my radar screen as a place that was rooted in this Black history, that was really deeply political, very much a place where the questions of working people were at the front and center of community life.”
Stephanie Hartwell, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts, said she looks forward to Spencer-Antoine’s arrival and her potential influence on students.
"We couldn't be more thrilled to welcome Professor Spencer-Antoine to Wayne State and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences,” Hartwell said. “Her wealth of knowledge in civil rights, Black power, and Black women's history is unparalleled. We're excited for our students to have the opportunity to learn from her. Her presence will undoubtedly enrich the academic experience of the entire WSU community."
A native of Brooklyn, NY, Spencer-Antoine said she is eager to become part of the larger Detroit community that WSU serves. “I really want to see and feel and experience Detroit's neighborhoods,” she said.
Given Spencer-Antoine’s longtime academic interest in grassroots political movements — particularly as reflected in the impact and contributions of working-class African-Americans and women — her impending addition to the WSU faculty has her excited about the raft of lessons she can share with students.
“I am both in history and African American Studies, in a joint appointment,” explained Spencer-Antoine, who also is the author of The Revolution Has Come: Black Power, Gender and the Black Panther Party in Oakland, which studies the evolution of the famed revolutionary organization throughout its existence. “That means that I'll be able to contribute and be a member of both departments. I'll be able to build community with the students in both departments, and my courses will most likely be cross-listed between them. I hope to teach courses on 20th-Century African-American social protests, Black internationalism and Black women's history. I'm still figuring out where I will make my contribution.”
Despite any lingering questions about her role, however, Spencer said that she’s confident that her move to Wayne State was the right one.
“One of the things that really attracted me to Wayne State is, I felt like the university is on a mission — and with money behind the mission, with resources behind the mission, with vision behind the mission,” she said. “That's not lip service, unlike others who came out after the summer of 2020 (following national protests against racism and police violence). Some of them said they were going to change things or that they were doing to diversify — and then nothing happened. But at Wayne State, they’re making the actual investments. Wayne State is a place where things are budding — and it is exciting to think about becoming part of that movement.”