American University Faculty Pens Letter in Support of Black Women Students

BY: BLACKPRINT HQ

Following the racially motivated incident that occurred on American University's campus earlier this month, students have united against the singular enemy of hate. Bounded by fear, disappointment and exasperation, student of color, supported by allies, became a united front against hate crimes that have longed plagued their community.  

Faculty members of AU's Races, Empires, Diasporas(R.E.D.) faculty working group—one of the several faculty work groups on campus dedicated to the decolonization of the academic world and broader race-class ordered society —recently got together to pen a letter of support for Black women students on AU campus. Often working behind closed door, Black women, women of color, and the allies in those work groups, have collectively struggled for change on a number of fronts. It is time that students know that these faculty members exist and are working for a more progressive AU.

Dear Sisters,

Who knows the insult and injury you faced this past year, attending school at a place that sometimes felt like home and sometimes felt hostile, unsupportive--even dangerous at times? Who knows what frustration must’ve welled up inside you as you sought to be heard on equal terms as your more privileged peers? Who knows the pressure you must been under as you balanced the fun of college life and the stressors of academic study with living amid White supremacy and fighting for social change?

We, as women of color and our allies, understand the nature of stress and Struggle. But we cannot pretend to know what it was to have been in your shoes this past school year. We do know that you’re courageous, and we--a coalition of women faculty from the Races, Empires, Diasporas working group; the Critical Race and Cultural Studies Collaborative; and the Ethnographies of Empire Cluster--applaud you.

We trust that you understand that the negative energy rising against you originates in the terrible past. That problem, that American problem, should have been worked out generations ago. But far too many people still feel as though their own value increases when some imagined Other decreases, and so some of your peers sought to diminish you the same way their ancestors devalued yours. Of course, you are not what they say you are and, in the tradition of Nzinga, Sojourner, Zora, Ida, Angela, Bree, Patricia, and Michelle, you stood tall. You spoke your truth. You put the system to the test, and you made it better. It was not your duty to do so, but you took up this unfinished American business for the good of all. We thank you.

We see that you have allies and friends across races, but we have also heard about your detractors: Sometimes they stifle your personal space and deface your property in the dorms. Sometimes they interrupt your peace with racist epithets. Sometimes they override your voices in the classroom or act out when you speak your truth. With the crudest of gestures, some of them even set out to invoke that time in history when your ancestors were lied about and explained away as lower primates by statesmen, pseudoscientists, and traffickers in human flesh. And then someone invoked the most violent of images—surely the shame of their past, not yours—at a crucial time when you should be focused on your studies. In this day and age, all people have the opportunity to study our history and society, to learn how to transcend it, to unify despite it. But those who are not ready to face the sins of their ancestors (aka the source of their privilege) are acting out on you, and it isn’t fair. It is a lot for anyone to bear, especially with the added pressures of your studies.

We, the undersigned, want you to know that you are not alone. We want you to know who we are, as individuals and as a group. We work behind the scenes--program by program, course by course, assignment by assignment--to decolonize curricula, bring minority voices in from the margins, centralize intersectional studies of racial formation in our programs, and support one another as faculty and staff “doing the work.” We pay close attention to your experiences, link with leaders in your organizations, and share what we learn with our peers.

As women of color and our conscious allies on the AU faculty, we write now to offer you open doors and support. Even if you have not had one of us as a teacher, seek us if you find yourself in need. We want to help you negotiate this system and, where it fails you, work toward solutions. Find us in our offices if you need us. If not, just know that we are there. We are working toward changes in our own ways, pushing for a better, safer, more progressive AU. We are in conversation with one another about events we can host on campus that would raise awareness and facilitate dialogue about the important matters that your activism and our scholarship and pedagogy address. We would, of course, also like to engage you in face-to-face dialogue and will be reaching out to you again through your student-organization leaders in the Fall.

Thank you for being leaders on campus, and helping others see the problems in our community. We see you standing tall amidst the firestorm.

Signed,

Amanda Choutka, Writing Studies Program, College of Arts and Sciences

Erin Collins, School of International Service

Garrett Graddy-Lovelace, School of International Service

Neisha-Anne Green, Writing Center Lindsey Green-Simms, Literature, College of Arts and Science Naima Hachad, World Languages and Cultures, College of Arts and Science

Leena Jayaswal, School of Communications

Leah Johnson, Writing Studies Program, College of Arts and Sciences

Sarah Marsh, Writing Studies Program, College of Arts and Sciences

Jordanna Matlon, School of International Service

Heather McDonald, Writing Studies Program, College of Arts and Sciences

Jane Palmer, Justice, Law & Criminology, School of Public Affairs & Director, Community-Based Research Scholars program

Malini Ranganathan, School of International Service

Theresa Runstedtler, History, Critical Race, Gender, & Culture Studies Collaborative, College of Arts and Sciences

Kendra Salois, Department of Performing Arts, College of Arts and Sciences Cathy

Lisa Schneider, School of International Service

Sarah Trembath, Writing Studies Program, College of Arts and Sciences

Marnie Twigg, Writing Studies Program, College of Arts and Sciences

Katharina Vester, History, College of Arts and Sciences

Lily Wong, Literature, College of Arts and Sciences Gay Young, Sociology, College of Arts and Sciences

Cover: (R.E.D)