In a time when the deaths of Black people at the hands of the police are beamed directly into our cell phones again and again, when Latinx children have been deliberately separated from their parents at the border, when Indigenous sovereignty is being violated, when Black and Latinx people are disproportionately being killed by a pandemic, and when anti-Asian racism is on the rise as the result of that same pandemic, we arrive at a long-delayed moment of reckoning.
In a public statement titled “Working Toward a More Inclusive UCF,” dated August 27, 2020, University President Alexander Cartwright addressed this moment of reckoning in unequivocal terms: “There has never been a more important time for us to tackle these issues together, with long-standing inequities and discrimination made more visible by the pandemic and the recent horrific violence further illuminating the systemic racism plaguing our society and impacting so many.” The Department of English joins with President Cartwright in condemning “the systemic racism plaguing our society,” and to the extent that we recognize such racism in our classrooms, we need to work together to eliminate it. Unconscious bias and white fragility are pervasive throughout society, and we recognize that they also exist among faculty. We have many students of color in our department, but we recognize that we have not systematically made sure they feel welcome. We have work to do.
Such work begins by acknowledging that our discipline of English has been disfigured by an appalling history of complicity in perpetuating colonialist and racist practices and power structures. Our field has for too long upheld a canon of literature that is exclusive, elitist, and blindingly white. Although our academic field has in recent years taken some strides in challenging this history of institutional and structural racism by recognizing the values of diversity, inclusion, and multiculturalism, we also need to acknowledge that such changes have been too slow in coming. And while the three major areas of study in the English Department–Creative Writing, Literature, and Technical Communication–have made piecemeal efforts to diversify both the curriculum and our faculty, we accept the fact that collectively much more can be done to dismantle entrenched racism and social injustice within our field.
We recognize that it is not enough to teach our students canonical texts and methodologies that have been elevated in a context of white supremacy. They must learn not only about authors and scholars of color that have been too long marginalized but also about critical approaches that examine writings within the systems of oppression that they arise in. We all come from different walks of life and our paths have led us here in hopes of learning from one another, supporting constructive ideas, and building confidence in our students while tearing down systemic barriers. We must also be open to feedback from our students to create a mutually beneficial learning environment. This is the time to meet them where they are and to help them perceive the ways in which the work that we do and the texts we read in English have functioned both in the service of white supremacy and in the active resistance to such oppression.
Black Lives must Matter. In our department, it’s not just a moment but rather a movement that will help support all marginalized groups. We are tasked with developing the next generation of writers, thinkers, and citizens who will carry out this message until there is no longer a need to remind others that Black. Lives. Matter.
We commit to the following actions:
- Reviewing curricula to ensure that writers and scholars of color are represented, and that literature and literary history are appropriately understood and contextualized in matters of race and white supremacy;
- Providing resources for faculty to facilitate the development of anti-racist curricula and course discussions;
- Reviewing search committee practices with OIE, Talent Acquisition, and Faculty Excellence to recruit and retain a faculty that more closely resembles the diversity and inclusivity of our student population
- Creating departmental awards and scholarships for low-income and first-generation college students, who are disproportionally students of color;
- Holding ourselves accountable by implementing an assessment outcome to measure our success in achieving an anti-racist curriculum;
- Attracting and supporting students of color through public outreach and community engagement;
- Organizing speakers and workshops about equity, justice, and inclusion;
- Implementing a department syllabus policy, comparable to the required accessibility policy, regarding equity, diversity, inclusion, and anti-racism.
With these commitments, we will move toward making our antiracist values as a department a reality in our practices.