Cedric de Leon to Deliver the 2022 Commonwealth Honors College Plenary Lecture

Cedric de Leon, professor of sociology and labor studies, has been named the keynote speaker for the 2022 Commonwealth Honors College Plenary Lecture. 

Featuring national award-winning poets and cutting-edge researchers as speakers, the annual Commonwealth Honors College Plenary Lecture is one of the most significant events of the semester in the college.

NEWS Cedric de Leon
Cedric de Leon

De Leon began his career as an elected leader in the U.S. labor movement, and is  a five-time published author. His work focuses on race, labor and political parties, and his lecture will be centered in the same area. Titled “Black Souls or Black Labor? A Du Boisian Vision for the U.S. Labor Movement,” De Leon will assert in the lecture that W.E.B. Du Bois, a scholar and historical figure associated with UMass Amherst, was not only a scholar of race, but a lesser-known scholar of labor, capitalism and class inequality as well.

“I started my career in the labor movement. I decided to be an organizer for a few years after I got my Ph.D., and I had been an organizer off and on for many years before that,” he said.

De Leon has been connected to the U.S. labor movement since 1994, when he began work as a strategic researcher for the Connecticut School Bus Drivers Alliance Local 76 SEIU.

Despite the slight disconnect between academia and the labor movement, he explains that as a professor of labor studies, he can engage with both the labor movement and academia simultaneously.

“This position was a nice change of pace from that because I didn't have to look outside of my academic work to do my movement work. They're really one and the same thing. It’s really a mix of the academic and the movement work, because what we do here is essentially educate, train, and place the next generation of progressive labor activists,” de Leon said.

As for the upcoming event, de Leon hopes that his lecture will speak specifically to Honors College students who are interacting with W.E.B. Du Bois as they begin their academic journey.

“The text that people are reading in common as they're coming into the Honors College is W.E.B Du Bois The Souls of Black Folk. I consider myself a scholar of Du Bois, and I wanted to speak to undergraduates about what this text means, what it leaves out, what is implied, and what is often interpreted as the take-home message of that book,” he explained.

He also hopes that the attendees will come out with a more advanced understanding of Du Bois and his critical understanding of modernity, as it offers an alternative to the three classical sociological schools of thought from Karl Marx, Émile Durkheim and Max Weber.

“Du Bois is a contemporary of these figures, although he hasn't been recognized until recently as their contemporary and as their equal. What he argues is that modernity is distinguished above all by a global color line, and that is a distinctive answer to the question of modernity — what is modernity? What are modern times? What does it mean to call ourselves modern or modern societies?” de Leon said.

The 2022 Commonwealth Honors College Plenary Lecture will be held on Thursday, Oct. 6, 2022 at 5 p.m. in the Student Union Ballroom. The event is open to all students, faculty and staff, and the general public.