Black Lives Matter: Statement From the English Department
June 4, 2020
Dear Friends and Colleagues,
I know that all of us are experiencing a variety of emotions, including shock, anger, helplessness, and grief, following the murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020. His death—and the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and too many others—are painful reminders of the systemic and structural racism in our society. The righteous and justified mass protests in response to these murders, both in the US and abroad, have given many of us hope for the future; at the same time, the response from government and law enforcement to these mostly peaceful protests has been chilling in its frequent brutality and violation of First Amendment rights.
I write today to affirm the English Department’s resolve to stand with and support our African American and other minority colleagues, students, and staff members, and in doing so, to oppose all forms of discrimination and injustice. We recognize that institutional and systemic racism and oppression take on macro- and microforms, from physical violence and genocide to everyday aggressions, including the policing of bodies, languages, voices, rhetoric, and canons. While our disciplinary practices and study of expression, critical thinking, and inquiry can offer guidance for these days, we also recognize that our traditional modes of inquiry are not always inclusive of the viewpoints and contributions of underrepresented scholars and students. We must reaffirm our commitment to identify and dismantle those harmful ways of thinking and teaching. To this end, our professional and disciplinary associations offer support and guidance for anti-racist and anti-oppression activism within our disciplines:
I recognize that a statement such as this, on its own, is grossly inadequate in the face of the massive and long-term racial inequities and injustices that pervade all aspects of our society and our professional lives. Local action is also needed. I am therefore proposing to implement the following in our department and college:
In the fall semester, I will create a new departmental committee devoted to the topics of racial inequality and social justice, and the concrete actions we can take together as a scholarly and teaching community to advance equality and inclusion for our students and each other.
At the college level, the English department will join with other units within CLA to increase education about racial injustice. We will push for serious commitment to the goals of the Strategic Vision Plan, which calls for real infrastructure supporting diversity within every department, and supported by the college administration.
We will also advocate for several cluster-hires across all units of the university. At the present time, only 3% of our faculty are African American; Purdue needs to demonstrate its commitment to diversity and inclusion by working to actively hire and retain minority faculty and staff, and to increase its recruitment and admission of students from underrepresented groups.
Thank you for the work you all do as teachers, students, and supporters of the endeavor of education. We need you now more than ever.
Department Head and Professor of English
English Department, Purdue University
500 Oval Drive
West Lafayette, IN 47907