Statement of Solidarity from UI English Leadership
Statement in support of UI student leaders and community activists who are protesting police brutality and white supremacy
We in the UI Department of English are saddened and enraged at the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Sean Monterrosa and many others at the hands of police. Writing as departmental leaders in consultation with the English faculty, we commend the UI student leaders who have challenged police brutality and white supremacy by gathering and marching in our community under the banners of Black Lives Matter and other social justice movements. We stand by the Undergraduate Student Government’s demands to the administration, with the Graduate and Professional Student Government in condemning the use of tear gas on protesters in Iowa City, and with the demands of the Iowa Freedom Riders. As members of this community, we affirm our collective right to engage in peaceful protest.
We also acknowledge that systemic racism is not particular to the police, but endemic to all institutions in US society, including our department and profession. As affirmed in our departmental Strategic Plan and Undergraduate Outcomes, we are committed to structural change through our actions as scholars and educators, by teaching skills that facilitate critical thinking about violent and exclusionary language; diversifying curricular offerings; and pursuing faculty hires that seek to make our departmental and institutional culture more just and inclusive by broadening the fields of knowledge production in the academy.
As English faculty, we advocate reading and writing as paths to awareness and commit to making curricular changes across our program that inform students about past injustices and prepare them to strive for a more just future. As Toni Morrison has said, “Books are a form of political action. Books are knowledge. Books are reflection. Books change your mind.” We must commit to ensuring that our curriculum reflects and amplifies the voices of Black and marginalized writers. The poet Dawn Lundy Martin also reminds us of the limitations of reading: “The letter is not a breath” (17). Working in a Predominantly White Institution in a Predominantly White State, we commit to making tangible changes to provide a safe environment for students, faculty, and staff of color to teach, research, and create.
We understand the failures of the University and the English Department in retaining scholars of color within the larger context of racism in academia outlined by Jennifer Nash and others. We listen to these scholars and admit our complicity in an unjust system that harms marginalized people, including graduate instructors and non-tenure stream instructors of color who are disproportionately called on to do what Audrey Williams June calls "the invisible labor of minority professors." We commit to self-reflection and listening to make progressive changes, including tangible recognition and compensation for this labor.
The bold record of action in civil rights and gender equity that has distinguished UI as the University of “Firsts” continues in the exemplary actions of UI student leaders, community activists, and activist-scholars who pursue social justice and critical race and ethnicity studies at UI and in the Midwest, as in the examples we acknowledge below. We have a lot of work to do, but with much gratitude and respect, our inspirations are plentiful.
Claire F. Fox, Outgoing DEO
Blaine Greteman, Summer DEO
Loren Glass, Incoming DEO
Our statement is open to revision and suggestions. Please forward comments to English@uiowa.edu.
Audrey Williams June, “The Invisible Labor of Minority Professors,” CHE8 November 2015. https://www.chronicle.com/article/The-Invisible-Labor-of/234098
Dawn Lundy Martin, Life in a Box is a Pretty Life (New York: Nightboat Books, 2015).
Jennifer C. Nash, Black Feminism Reimagined: After Intersectionality (Durham: Duke University Press, 2019).
Toni Morrison, Interview, Word Magazine, 2003 http://wordmag.com/the-toni-morrison-interview/