English Department Anti-Racist Statement and Action Items

The English Department would like to share a collaborative and living document that articulates our rejection of anti-Blackness and our strategies to self-assess and revise our departmental culture and practices, curricula, and pedagogies. We commit to the creation of safe and equitable learning and work spaces for undergraduate and graduate students, contingent faculty, administrators, full time faculty, and staff.
We invite you to share your comments and suggestions in the document.

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1fVCfB47th-HzVU5gsPGPQxGh7V-Cwq-B9P4Tb7pOhOI/edit?usp=sharing

Here is the current draft of the statement —

As faculty in the English department at St. John’s:

  1. We affirm that Black lives matter and that silence is not an option.
  2. We recognize that many of us teach and write about English and U.S. cultures that have systematically devalued Black lives. 
  3. We recognize that the English and U. S. cultures embedded in our curricula have privileged whiteness as a starting point for understanding the world.
  4. We believe that our teaching must analyze and expose anti-Blackness and other forms of racial oppression. We believe that our curricula need to reflect the realities of our students, our communities, and our world. 
  5. We commit to analyzing and combating racist practices as a department – culturally, socially, linguistically, academically, and professionally – in all hiring, teaching, writing, research, and work spaces for students, staff, and faculty in all programs on all campuses (as specified below in point #12). 
  6. We know that we need to better recruit, retain, and support Black and other historically underrepresented faculty members, graduate students, and undergraduates. We commit to reviewing our departmental hiring, retention, and tenure and promotion practices for both historical and contemporary anti-Blackness, so that, in line with the antiracist training we receive, we may implement hiring, retention, and tenure and promotion practices (a) to increase the number of Black faculty, in particular, in addition to faculty from other marginalized communities, and other faculty of color; and (b) to support these faculty in concrete ways (e.g. research support, shared mentorship) to facilitate their flourishing as they move through tenure and promotion processes.
  7. We will continue to address our approaches to pedagogy in order to resist/dismantle anti-Black and other racist actions, contexts, and literacies. Recognizing that Black Studies is a field of study that takes training, and that white and non-Black faculty should not simply “add” Black content, non-Black faculty commit to significant training in the long tradition of anti-racism and critical whiteness studies.
  8. Assistant Chair will work closely with adjunct and graduate instructors of English 1100c (Literature in a Global Context) to identify and dismantle anti-Black teaching practices; develop and enhance racial literacies; and develop curriculum around anti-Blackness and Black empowerment.
  9. Fulltime faculty will review and rethink our undergraduate major and minor requirements on a yearly basis (at our annual faculty retreat) to ensure our curriculum enacts anti-racist and social justice objectives. Individual faculty will continually rethink and recommit to innovating their courses to pursue anti-racist and social justice goals – through conference attendance, self-education, small reading groups, collaboration, and discussion. When available, we will attend workshops sponsored by the SJU Office of Equity and Inclusion.
  10. Together we will continue to review our departmental culture and community practices in order to reinforce safe and equitable learning and work spaces for undergraduates, graduate students, contingent faculty, staff, and administrators. We can strengthen our departmental commitments through active advising and check-ins for students, ongoing feedback (see point #12, below), and public events that foreground anti-racism, for example.
  11. We are committed to supporting students, staff, administrators, and fellow faculty against racism, homophobia, transphobia, and other forms of oppression and injustice. For example, we will attend meetings of Black student-led  organizations whenever requested; regularly check in with student organization leadership to see what support they envision; and participate in available student-led trainings in order to learn from student activists.
  12. We commit to action including, but not limited to: 
  • reading/re-reading Carmen Kynard’s article “Teaching While Black,” which details the racist structures in the SJU writing programs, English Department, and across the university; and evaluating whether our department and other sectors of the university have implemented structural change, noting that eradicating these structures requires institutional reform and participation from the entire community. 
  • requesting anti-racist training from the Provost’s office and other relevant offices (for example, Whiteness at Work) in order to begin to come to terms with the ways we perpetuate, internalize, and externalize anti-Blackness. 
  • implementing an anonymous survey system by which Black, Indigenous, and People of Color students and alums can yearly evaluate their experience in the department; publishing these results; developing actionable items from them.

Resources via stjenglish.com:

Immediate action list: Resources for Accountability and Actions for Black Lives

Scaffolded Anti-Racist Resources

Anti-Racism Resources for White People

Helms’ White Identity Development

Curriculum resources for sources on anti-Blackness and Black empowerment in English 1100c 

(Literature in a Global Context) and other courses:

  1. Global Black Lives Matter reading list
  2. Citizen reading list

other resources:

HCommons Anti-Racist Resources for 2020-2021 

LA Review of Books Racial Equity Reading List 

Resources on Anti-Blackness in the Asian American Community 

  1. Gabrielle Foreman, et al. Community-sourced document, “Writing about Slavery/Teaching about Slavery”

Whiteness at Work workshops (video will be posted soon)

About Steve Mentz 661 Articles
I teach Shakespeare and early modern literature at St. John's in New York City.

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