As members of the Department of English who engage in the study of literature, creative writing, rhetoric, composition, linguistics, film and journalism, we stand in support of those engaged in the Black Lives Matter and antiracist movements that have raised a new level of awareness about racial injustice in the United States and around the world. In light of this moment, we are taking specific action steps to facilitate change in our institution and our community through education and engagement, and we invite you to join us.
Historically, English literature has a checkered relationship with racial justice; although some works of literature promoted abolition, civil rights, a concern with racial equality and helped to create a vision of social justice, many other works of literature promoted racist ideas and narratives, and the English language as a whole operated as a tool of colonialism. Moreover, English Departments themselves marginalized and ignored writing by African Americans and other people of color for much of the twentieth century, and the project of reforming English curricula remains ongoing. As a result of this history, we understand that silence is a form of complicity with the status quo. Several of us teach writers and scholars who have already contributed to the conversation on race in our field and we are committed at this moment in time to doing more. In addition, some of us are scholars of African American literature and culture who have published on these issues. As scholars who teach about language and how the narratives about human experience shape what we know and how we read, write and speak about human experience, we know and understand that silence is not an option. The deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks, among others, including Tamir Rice in our own community here in Cleveland, present us with a new opportunity to reflect and raise our voices, not only on our own practices both inside and outside of the classroom, but also on how we can answer the call to action in our department, in our college, and at Case Western Reserve University.
In order to fulfill our commitment to the change we want to see in our nation, we know we must begin with difficult conversations among ourselves in our own department. We are taking three specific action steps and we invite you to join and recommend other steps that we might take at this time:
- First, we have compiled a list of current classes (link here) and readings (link here) that advance our commitment to diversifying the curriculum. We will make additions to this list and other university resources available here on our department website. We will not claim we can resolve all the issues that will emerge from our conversations, but we know how critical it is to read what we may not have read before, to engage in dialogues we may have avoided in the past, and to learn more about how to engage our students in these important conversations.
- Second, beginning in the fall of 2020, members of our faculty, staff, and students will be reading and discussing Ibram Kendi’s How to Be an Anti-Racist and Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility. In conjunction with this commitment, we will organize our colloquium series around these authors and publish a schedule of facilitated dialogue sessions that will be open to the entire CWRU community.
- Third, we have made a commitment to explore resources on antiracist pedagogy for our own professional development and for making changes to our curriculum, SAGES course offerings, department programs and engagement with the Cleveland community. Many of our faculty are affiliated with the Modern Language Association, the American Literature Association, the Conference on College Composition and Communication, and other organizations represented by our subject areas, so we have begun publishing such a list of resources (link here).
We hope you will join us on this journey as we move from where we have been to where we need to be to become a more inclusive and just society.