Published: May 9, 2023

Appearance of famed political activist, scholar and author reflects the department’s progress toward becoming ‘go-to place’ of interdisciplinary work at the nexus of humans and the environment, CU Boulder professor says

Angela Y. Davis, the pioneering feminist political activist, philosopher, academic and author, will speak at this year’s graduation ceremony for graduates of Environmental Studies and Masters of the Environment at the University of Colorado Boulder.

The CU Boulder Environmental Studies celebration, which will take place on Friday, is a ticketed event but is sold out. It can be viewed via Zoom at this link; the ceremony begins at 1:30 p.m. 

Davis, distinguished professor emerita at the University of California, Santa Cruz, is known internationally for her work to combat all forms of oppression in the United States and abroad. “She is a living witness to the historical struggles of the contemporary era,” her UC Santa Cruz biography states.

Max Boykoff, professor and chair of the Environmental Studies Department, said it is “wonderful” that someone of Davis’ stature and reputation will share words of wisdom with the department’s graduating students. 


At the top of the page: Angela Y. Davis. Above: Max Boykoff.

Davis usually addresses high-profile public audiences, Boykoff said, and the fact that she is willing to appear for “our private audience of environmental studies graduates and their families and friends as well as our faculty and staff is really meaningful.”

Davis’ appearance at the environmental studies celebration reflects the department’s progress toward becoming the “go-to place of interdisciplinary work at the interface between humans and the environment,” Boykoff said. 

Boykoff, whom Davis informally mentored as he pursued his PhD at UC Santa Cruz, said she focuses on all types of systemic racism, including environmental injustice and environmental inequities.

He noted that Davis’ appearance will “elevate that work that we continue to do day-to-day.” 

Boykoff added, “I am happy for the graduates to get to celebrate in this way. And it makes me optimistic about what we have on the horizon, what we're going to be able to accomplish, further investing in students and each other, for the betterment of the planet.” 

Denise Fernandes, a PhD candidate in environmental studies, concurs: "Angela Davis's life story and social justice work has been and continues to be an inspiration to many movements globally. We are at the crossroads of the environment/climate crisis, and Angela Davis's intersectional perspectives and feminist praxis to understanding these crises is absolutely essential for scientists, academicians, policy makers, practitioners and students who work within the field of environmental studies. Her work and writings have shaped some of my own thinking and understandings around climate justice in India, and I am really excited to listen to her speech at the (environmental studies) commencement."

Emily Nocito, who is earning her PhD this week, said it feels "extremely timely" to have Davis speak at commencement. "For me, she exemplifies what I hope to become as a researcher and academic—brave, innovative, unapologetic and unafraid to be who I am." 

Elana Adler, who is earning her BA this week, said in the last four years, environmental studies has become a "home" for her. "The faculty, staff, and students fabricated an environment that has been joyful and enticing to learn in. I will forever be grateful for my studies here.” 

Davis's political activism began when she was a child in Birmingham, Alabama, and continued through her high school years in New York. In 1969, she came to national attention after being removed from her teaching position in the Philosophy Department at UCLA because of her social activism. 

In 1970, she was placed on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted List on false charges and was the subject of an intense police search that drove her underground and culminated in one of the most famous trials in recent U.S. history. During her 16-month incarceration, an international “Free Angela Davis” campaign was organized, preceding her acquittal in 1972.

Davis’ long-standing commitment to prisoners’ rights dates to her involvement in the campaign to free the Soledad Brothers, which led to her own arrest and imprisonment. She remains an advocate of prison abolition and has developed a powerful critique of racism in the criminal justice system. 

She is a founding member of Critical Resistance, a national organization dedicated to the dismantling of the “prison industrial complex.” Internationally, she is affiliated with Sisters Inside, an abolitionist organization based in Queensland, Australia, that works in solidarity with women in prison.

Davis is especially concerned with the general tendency to devote more resources and attention to the prison system than to educational institutions. Having helped to popularize the notion of a “prison industrial complex,” she now urges her audiences to think seriously about the future possibility of a world without prisons and to help forge a 21st century abolitionist movement.

During the last 25 years, Davis has lectured in all of the 50 United States, as well as internationally. Her articles and essays have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, and she is the author of nine books, including Angela Davis: An AutobiographyWomen, Race, and ClassBlues Legacies and Black FeminismGertrude "Ma" Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billie HolidayThe Angela Y. Davis ReaderAre Prisons Obsolete?; a new edition of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass; and The Meaning of Freedom.

Former California Gov. (and later President) Ronald Reagan once vowed that Angela Davis would never again teach in the University of California system. Today, she is Distinguished Professor Emerita in the History of Consciousness and Feminist Studies Departments at the UC Santa Cruz. In 1994, she received the honor of an appointment to the University of California Presidential Chair in African American and Feminist Studies.