After a hiatus of several years and a recent revival online, The Ankh is making its way back to print.
Founded in 1985, The Ankh was originally a print publication, the goal of which was essentially the same as it is now: to serve as a vehicle of expression for those at Wesleyan who identified as people of color. The Ankh went out of print in 2007, but about a year and a half ago, a few students brought it back to life in the form of a blog on Tumblr.
The blog is currently run by a core group of six students: Jalen Alexander ’14, Ashley Arkhurst ’15, Sira Fati ’15, Nishaila Porter ’15, Savannah Turner ’16, and Armani White ’15, along with various other contributors. These students are currently working on The Ankh’s first print edition in years, scheduled for publishing in February.
“It was started as a multicultural endeavor,” White, one of the students who initiated the revival of The Ankh last year, said. “The kinds of things we’re asking people to submit are essays, book reviews, poems, interviews—really anything. And it’s for all of Wesleyan, so it’s not just for students of color. But we do ask that the content of it be about students of color.”
White emphasized that the term “students of color” (SOC) encompasses anyone who identifies as such: it refers not just to black students of color, but also students who are Asian, Native American, Latino/a, Indian, mixed race, et cetera.
Currently, one of the main objectives of The Ankh is to become a hub for all SOC events on campus, from panels to film screenings to social gatherings. The website, currently wesankh.tumblr.com, serves as a bulletin for these events, as well as a space in which to document and recap events that have already occurred.
“A lot of times on campus, different groups, whether they be SOC or not, have events that are happening at the same time that they couldn’t come together on,” White said. “And so we hope to really foster communication and an understanding [of] different student-of-color struggles.”
Arkhurst, who worked alongside White to revive The Ankh last year, outlined how they are going about engaging other members of the campus community.
“We’re trying to reach out to other student groups on campus, so we’re getting in touch with people who have things that correlate with our mission,” she said. “So that includes things from Ujamaa to Shakti, Open House, Women of Color House. That’s what we’re trying to do right now…. We’re making sure that they know that they can use The Ankh to broadcast these types of events.”
Although The Ankh focuses on events and issues directly pertaining to Wesleyan students, the publication’s general focus extends well beyond campus. The website and its accompanying Facebook page are also platforms for sharing articles, videos, inspirational quotations, and other current content that is relevant to communities of color in general. Recently, for example, The Ankh’s Facebook page linked to an article in Clutch Magazine discussing the problems with Saturday Night Live’s approach to diversity.
Arkhurst added that they are in the midst of redesigning The Ankh’s website, as well as transitioning it off of Tumblr to its own domain.
On top of this, The Ankh is working to bring the publication back to print.
“The idea of bringing it back to print was that it felt like there are a lot of students of color on campus, and a lot of stuff going on, a lot of different campaigns that people are fighting for that could come together, a lot of people with talent and creativity on campus,” White said. “A friend of mine was trying to get it published again and that didn’t work, so he kind of passed it off to us, and since then, we’ve been running with it. We just feel like the student of color community deserves it.”
The first revived print edition, slated to come out in February, will revolve around the postrace United States and the idea that race no longer matters in American society now that the country has a black president. For this edition, The Ankh invites submissions from anyone who wants to share their thoughts on hir concept and its implications.
“We’re expecting a lot of articles that deal with Trayvon Martin in particular,” Turner, who joined the staff of The Ankh last year, said.
Although this particular edition of The Ankh will focus on postrace issues, the group welcomes other contributions, too. The possibility of a wide range of content is one reason they believe that the print publication and the website will complement one another.
“The idea is that the blog is for everything, and the [print] publication will be specifically about the topic of postrace, although inevitably there will be things that cross over,” White said.
He added that the website can enhance submissions, whether they appear in print or not, by giving them a multimedia component.
“You can’t put video in print, or a song, or anything like that,” he said. “It’s harder to put color in print, as well, so if people have artwork, it will be easier to show it online.”
Despite this move toward more online content, The Ankh’s print edition retains a legacy at Wesleyan: looking through old volumes offers a way to trace student-of-color issues on campus over the past few decades.
“Student-of-color issues might vary over the years, but I assume a lot of them are similar,” White said. “So having and writing down the history of the student-of-color experience on this campus is valuable to future students of color—looking at how the University and students of color and all the rest of the community have worked together and interacted. And that’s a valuable part of the history of Wesleyan that’s not necessarily documented.”
A few articles in the December 1992 edition of The Ankh, for example, reflect on a controversy that erupted on campus after an SOC committee, hoping to spark a conversation about perceived racial divides within the campus community, put a sign over a table at McConaughy Hall (MoCon), where many black students tended to sit and converse amongst themselves. The sign read, “Why are you sitting here?” Various articles in this issue of The Ankh reflected on the intentions and effects of the sign. The articles ranged from personal reactions to broader reflections about the student of color experience at Wesleyan.
An article in the April 1993 issue featured an interview with Marshall Hyatt, who at the time was the Director of Wesleyan’s Center for Afro-American Studies, a few months after he announced his resignation from this position. Hyatt spoke about the University’s lack of commitment to his area of work. The article ended with some commentary by the writer, who was also one of the editors of The Ankh that year.
“The overall impression at present is of a school unwilling to follow through with actions that support its rhetorical commitment to diversity,” it reads.
Members of The Ankh’s staff pointed out that old editions reflect a broader historical timeline, and that elements of this timeline tend to resurface. A prime example of this is the story of Rodney King. Issues of The Ankh in 1992 and 1993 offered reflections on the acquittal of the police officers who chased and repeatedly beat King, an African-American man living in Los Angeles. The decision to acquit these officers sparked public outrage and triggered the 1992 Los Angeles riots. An April 1993 Ankh article, titled “The Rodney King Incident, Murder and Death: Healing the Images,” discussed this story in the context of a long history of police brutality against black individuals.
White noted how the issues at the heart of the Rodney King case are as relevant and ever today—and thus they will probably resurface in the next issue of The Ankh.
“Trayvon Martin is the Rodney King of our day, to some extent,” he said. “And if you look back now, the officers who beat Rodney King are actually sergeants in that same department. And so looking at how things happen over history is very important.”
Older issues of The Ankh are hard to come by, but some are available to read in the University Organizing Center (UOC), as well as at Olin’s Special Collections & Archives. The Ankh’s staff is hoping to create a complete archive, but that task is still a work in progress.
“There’s apparently a lot of these Ankh papers lying around, but since they went out of publication, there’s been no attempt, really, by the University or the students, to preserve them in the way that other things have been preserved,” White said.
In addition to featuring articles directly addressing issues of race, earlier issues of The Ankh regularly included calendars of SOC events, book and album reviews, and poetry. This reflects the central objective of The Ankh, which still holds true today: to celebrate SOC life at Wesleyan.
This celebration is inherent in the symbol of The Ankh itself, which comes from ancient Egypt.
“The Ankh is a symbol for life,” Arkhurst explained. “The rounded, more circular part is representative of a womb, the more feminine aspect, and then the staff part of it is more phallic. So it’s supposed to be a physical symbol of life. We thought it was really great at encompassing life on campus, a celebration of it.”
Turner added that although The Ankh is a platform for students of color, it’s ultimately an important resource for everyone at Wesleyan.
“It’s super valuable for the Wesleyan community, because we talk about issues that are going on, current events and things, that are affecting people of color—that affect all of us,” she said.
At an information session on Sept. 27, many students came to express interest in taking part in The Ankh’s revival.
“There are a lot of people who want to submit, who want to focus on different things,” Arkhurst said. “One kid wanted to do something with the registrar, dealing with how they document people of color or multiracial people, and whether or not they should identify them as such—he wanted to work on the issues regarding that. There’s another kid who was adamant about Asian people being considered people of color. So there are just different things that people want to work on, and we want to allow that and have space for that.”
Arkhurst added that even people who weren’t interested in actually writing for The Ankh had valuable ideas to share.
“The really good thing about the info session, I think, was that we got to see and hear what a lot of people wanted to see,” she said. “Like, even if people were just interested in being readers, we got more of an idea of what people are going to be looking for, or of things that haven’t been done before. So that was really cool.”
Members of The Ankh’s staff described the process of putting together the publication as very collaborative and inclusive.
“Mainly there’s six of us working on stuff and coming to the meetings regularly,” Arkhurst said. “We work during our workshop meetings on Fridays at 5, [in the UOC].”
Everyone, though, is welcome to contribute.
“Everybody should submit, even if people don’t feel confident in their writing abilities,” White said. “And if somebody is a web designer and they want to help us fix up the blog, they can totally hit us up for that. Anything at all.”