Departmental Commitment to Anti-Racist Action
Tuesday, June 2, 2020
On May 25, 2020, George Floyd, a 46-year old African-American, was murdered by a white police officer in Minneapolis, MN, sparking a wave of justified protests across the country and eliciting responses of solidarity and outrage from abroad. This murder was another in an all-too-long history of racist murders perpetrated by white people against African Americans (as well as other minoritized people) in the United States, a history that also includes the murders of, most recently, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and, in our own state, James Scurlock.
The U.S. criminal justice system has once again responded to the murder of black men and women in entirely inadequate fashion. Its failure to respond adequately is not an isolated incident, however; instead, it is symptomatic of the simple fact that racism in the U.S. is systemic and structural in nature: it is the direct expression of a white supremacist ideology that is not merely espoused by a few "bad apples" but rather deeply embedded in the country's allegedly democratic institutions, whether political, cultural, social, or educational.
The mission of the Department of English at UNL commits its members to a shared belief that our collective work as scholars, writers, teachers, and citizens of various communities should be guided by an unwavering affirmation of diversity; a staunch desire to foster for all people, without exception, a sense that they belong; and the knowledge that social justice never exists if it does not exist for all people, not least people who have historically been and continue to be marginalized, frequently by violent means.
Today, as yesterday, we would be lying if we claimed that we are anywhere near to living in a context in which justice for all is even remotely the case; today, as yesterday, we'd be lying if we claimed that we lived in a context where all are equally made to feel they belong. For this reason, it is not enough to mourn the loss of the lives needlessly lost and to collectively express our sadness, our horror, and indeed our anger and outrage at these most recent attacks on black people across the U.S.—though we do this, too. Nor is it enough to proclaim that we collectively stand by our Black colleagues (faculty, staff, and students) in our department, across campus, and across the country—though we do this, too.
There is no doubt that our Black (as well as all other minoritized) colleagues—faculty, student, and staff—are angry and demand action. Their anger and their demand for action deserve unqualified, unequivocal recognition and support by all of their colleagues.
Action is what is needed, for well-meaning words have been uttered too often without resulting in the necessary systemic change that is required to stop this history of murder of people of color. Indeed, well-meaning words have (unintentionally) served as ideological cover for the continuation of systemically racist action, which these words have had no power to stop.
Action is what is needed, starting at “at home,” where we are.
As a department, therefore, we commit ourselves to use our own resources to further reflect on systemic inequities that exist in our own processes, and we actively invite critique of racism and white supremacy embedded consciously or unconsciously in our curricular, co-curricular, and professional practices. To this end:
- We will structure a series of listening sessions, beginning immediately, in which our Black colleagues (students, staff, and faculty) will be invited to speak while the rest of us listen and take notes; then, together as a department, we will design a process for the implementation of positive change.
- We will commit ourselves to continue re-designing our curricular and outreach activities to deepen our collective efforts to advocate for social justice. We will ask every member of the Department to participate in a "common read" and discussion of Ibram X. Kendi's book How to Be an Antiracist and Robin DiAngelo's White Fragility, and we will repeat this with every entering cohort, updating the common read selections, until racism in this country ends.
- We (especially department leaders) will continue to strongly advocate for the safety and security of our Black faculty, staff, and students to all levels of the university.
Moreover, as a Department, we call on the University to implement a sequence of mandatory educational activities, which should be spread across all four years of the trajectory of every college student: rather than a one-off effort at the start of a student's college career, the University needs to create structures that increase, develop, and positively reinforce what is taught, and learned.
In order to make this logistically viable, we furthermore call on the University to invest in a cluster hire, across all disciplines, in scholarly and creative activities focusing on minoritized cultures, including not least African American people and culture and scholars who can lead our institution in an interrogation of the scientific, social scientific, and humanistic practices infused with white supremacy that have been culpable, and continue to be culpable to this day, in perpetuating structural racism.
Department Statement on GSU Incident
UNL English Professor Jennine Capó Crucet spoke last week at Georgia Southern University, following the selection of her book Make Your Home Among Strangers for GSU’s First Year Experience classes. After her talk, some GSU students tore up and burned the book, posting video and images of the destruction on social media. As educational institutions, universities encourage the expression and debate of a wide range of ideas. Yet precisely because universities are educational institutions, when such an incident occurs, we must not simply note with a shrug that “it’s within students’ first amendment rights.” As Professor Jennine Capó Crucet’s colleagues, we affirm the statement of PEN America and agree that “While Georgia Southern has stated that this act does not align with the institution’s values, it should go further in condemning this act for the intolerance it represents. It behooves the university to educate its students about why book burning is so inimical to open discourse and free expression.” As a department committed to reading, writing, and thinking about texts, and to affirming diversity, we believe in the importance of the books Professor Capó Crucet has published. We are proud of her boldness and honesty as a chronicler of American culture, and we celebrate her commitment to truth and beauty in her art. We stand firm in solidarity with our colleague as well as the GSU students and faculty who spoke up on her behalf supporting freedom of speech and the ability to provide civil discourse on diverse topics with respect and empathy.
Response to White Supremacy on Campus
The Department of English’s core values—which strongly affirm diversity and the pursuit of social justice—are incommensurable with the tenets of white supremacy, including the frequency with which its proponents threaten—and, indeed, often perpetrate—violent actions. We condemn such threats and actions to the strongest possible degree, for they are diametrically opposed to what we hold dearest: the well-reasoned and creative exchange of ideas and arguments based on honing and exercising our capacities for critical thinking and imaginative reasoning. For us as a community of teachers, writers, and scholars, such exchange of points of view is necessarily predicated on an unwavering affirmation of our shared right to freedom of speech and expression enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, as well as on the proud history of academic freedom that has long governed, by tradition, higher education in the U.S. However, while the constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of speech and expression grants everyone the right to state their views, no matter how abhorrent those may be, those same rights, in our view, also hold us accountable to speak out in opposition to the very speech acts—and actions—that are precisely designed to intimidate, spread fear among, and terrorize our larger community and, in so doing, de facto deprive many of its members, including people of color and people from abroad, of the chance to exercise those constitutionally guaranteed rights. In this spirit, we therefore encourage everyone to consult the Southern Poverty Law Center’s guide for how to respond to hate.
We Stand with DACA Recipients
The Department of English proudly stands with all DACA Students at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln as well as anywhere else in the United States. We believe that DACA students deserve humane treatment and should be able to live without fear in the communities they call home. Our department mission is governed by an unwavering commitment to the pursuit of social justice and an unequivocal affirmation of diversity. We therefore wholeheartedly agree with the Executive Council of the Latina/o Studies Association that “DREAMers’ success is everyone’s success. DREAMers’ losses are our loss. We all have something to lose should DACA protections disappear.”
In Support of the LGBTQA Community
The English Department’s mission is deeply informed by a sense of social justice and unequivocal affirmation of diversity and inclusion; for this reason we want to reiterate our commitment to the LGBTQA community. Our department was among the first in the country to offer courses on gay and lesbian literature -- the Crompton-Noll Award, a national prize given by the Gay and Lesbian Caucus of the Modern Language Association, is named in honor of Louis Crompton, the UNL English professor and pioneer in LGBTQA scholarship. Today, our LGBTQA graduates are shaping the literary culture: emily danforth’s award-winning novel, The Miseducation of Cameron Post, has been adapted into a forthcoming film starring Chloë Grace Moretz; Nick White’s new novel, How to Survive a Summer, will be published by Penguin Random House in June; SJ Sindu’s novel, Marriage of a Thousand Lies, will also be out in June, from Soho Press. Crucially, the department has worked closely with the LGBTQA+ Resource Center. And we’re in the process of introducing an extended curriculum of LGBTQA study, as part of an undergraduate concentration. Because of this history of inclusion and our support of the rights and safety of our students, we installed gender inclusive bathrooms during the latest renovation of Andrews Hall. Our faculty is proud of our decades-long commitment to the intellectual development and professional guidance of our LGBTQA students, and our provision of safe spaces for learning in Andrews Hall.
Monday, January 30, 2017
The Department of English unequivocally condemns the President’s executive order suspending immigrant and non-immigrant travel—including that of students and faculty—from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen. We reject prejudice based on religion, race, ethnicity, nationality, cultural characteristics, and social categories. As a department that values the ability to think “hypothetically about the world in all its diversity—the past, present, and future, the local and the global,” we join our colleagues in the Institute for Ethnic Studies at UNL (see their statement, which inspired ours) in opposing this action and do so not only because it creates undue hardships for people from those countries but also because it decreases the array of voices from across the globe in our community. This executive order directly contradicts the very goal any institution of higher education should claim for itself: namely, the pursuit of knowledge based on a free, open, and borderless exchange of ideas with people from all cultures and all places around the world. The mission of the Department of English is to foster an education in imaginative reasoning. We aim to uphold a number of core values, including the affirmation of diversity, the pursuit of social justice, empathetic understanding, the desire to create a sense of belonging for all, and a commitment to civic engagement. In this context, we are alarmed to see that the recent actions taken by the Trump administration seem to be lacking in both sound reasoning and the ability to imagine the lives of others—especially but not exclusively those living under precarious circumstances—without a modicum of empathy.
Grounded in our core values of affirming diversity, engaging with a broad array of communities based on empathetic understanding, pursuing social justice, fostering a sense of belonging, and instilling the desire for civic engagement, the Department of English unequivocally condemns all racist, Islamophobic, xenophobic, homophobic, sexist, and other hate speech and acts. Our department was among the first in the nation to offer gay and lesbian literature courses, and we are proud to have a long tradition of collaborating with and supporting the work done by UNL’s Women’s and Gender Studies Program and the LGBTQA Research Center; likewise, we proudly embrace our long tradition of closely working with the Institute for Ethnic Studies. We therefore reject any action that, intentionally or not, contributes to the creation of a climate of fear, hostility, and suspicion of our neighbors; and we condemn harassment of all kinds. Striving to offer an education in imaginative reasoning, the Department of English affirms the imagination as the capacity that is best equipped to help us think about the world in all its diversity. An agile imagination is crucial for our ability to envision the world we want to live in and then take action, based on a well-developed sense of ethics and social justice, to make that vision a reality. A core aspect of what we do is therefore also to imagine, and help others imagine, how people feel when they are attacked—verbally or physically—for who they are. This is why we unambiguously offer our support and solidarity to all students, staff, and faculty of color and other minorities on the University of Nebraska campus.
In Support of Student Athletes
In accordance with our core values—including, importantly, affirming diversity, pursuing social justice, fostering a sense of belonging, and instilling a desire for civic engagement—the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln expresses its complete and unequivocal support for Husker athletes DaiShon Neal, Michael Rose-Ivey, and Mohamed Barry, who took a knee during the playing of the national anthem at the Northwestern game, and for all other athletes who choose to do so in the future.
*No longer available online; contact the respective university office for copies.