Loretta Ross: Activist and Professor
At 68 years old, Loretta Ross, an acclaimed activist and professor is just beginning to scratch the surface of her prime. In the midst of what Ross describes as her “third career”, she takes pride in her southern roots, the joy of being a grandmother, and most importantly living proudly as a Black woman uprooting white supremacy from the fabric of our country.
And while Ross is a natural leader, her philosophies, critical insights, teaching pedagogy took a lifetime to achieve. “In the 1960s, when I was in the 7th-Grade, I was on the school’s debate team. Having to read a wide range of sources became a lifelong habit. It saddens me that too many students graduate from school without finding their voice.
“I watch these kids finger peck in the digital age and realize that there were so many things that I was fortunate to experience that are now lost in our era.” These experiences greatly influenced Ross’ will, especially when she made the decision to go back to college at 48 years old. “I never gave up on the dream of finishing college. I only graduated college at 55.” Now she leads discourse on White Supremacy, Human Rights and Calling In the Calling Out Culture at Smith College as an Associate Professor of the Study of Women & Gender. “There was no way I’d see myself as a permanent professor,” exclaims Ross after sharing that Smith College made her a permanent tenured college professor.
“I am what my friends call a ‘synthesizer’. I look at a variety of disconnected facts to create trends that will then help me produce an analysis based on those trends. I am a risktaker when it comes to ideas, and I do my best to see things in a different way.” Ross is a self-professed “intellectual” risktaker, meaning, you won’t find Ross jumping out of a plane or wrestling an alligator for she enjoys keeping her feet “firmly on the ground”.
Instead, she is championing reproductive justice for Black women and human rights. “You have to center people most harmed by a law. I’m a Black woman from Texas and had to deal with an unwanted pregnancy from incest. I was not able to have an abortion and I was forced to have that child. It’s what people are dealing with more than 50 years later. It’s not right. I have the lived experience that others only theorize about.”
“I’ve never wanted to confine myself.”
To no surprise at all, Ross doesn’t shy away from information, no matter how polarizing those views might be. “I have this habit of ingesting a lot of info—massive amounts of information from every wing of the political spectrum—and making up my mind which opinions I’ll have. I’ll read conservative, radical left, radical right views. So many people only confine their news to preconceived notions. I’ve never wanted to confine myself.”
But Ross’ work is not without influence and she shared the names of two prominent figures who greatly impacted her fight for human rights over the past 30 years: The first, Reverend C.T Vivian (Cordy Tindell Vivian) a civil rights leader and a past boss of Ross for 5 years. Then there’s Shulamith Koenig, the mother of human rights education, whom of which Ross met and befriended in1994; Koenig would later become Ross’ mentor.
“Don’t foreclose all the possibilities that may happen in your life.”
When Ross isn’t leading the next generation she is aging with attitude. “My favorite self-name is “Slutty Old Crone without a filter” because I feel like I’m in total control of my identity, sexuality, finances, and my friends. I don’t have to do a lot of things I don’t want to do anymore. I don’t have to censor things coming out of my mouth anymore. I like being a crone. I like being slutty. I like being old. There are no parts of that that I am going to run from. Don’t foreclose all the possibilities that may happen in your life. If you’re true to your integrity and dreams, you’ll be in awe. You have to believe in yourself, believe that you’re worthy of having dreams,” Ross declares.