First and foremost, Black Lives Matter. We stand in solidarity.
President Savoie called on all of the UL Lafayette community 'to erase racial, social, and educational inequities that exist on our campus.' To begin our part in that process, the Department of English acknowledges the foundational, structural racism of our nation, our University, and our discipline, and we know that we must make an accounting of the past injustices with which we have long been complicit. We as a department have not fought hard enough to challenge the racist legacies of our disciplines, which include both centering white, colonial voices and devaluing the long intellectual history of Black and anti-racist writing and thought. In a department of almost 50, we had no Black faculty at any rank during the last academic year. We are lagging behind other English departments and other universities in fighting for racial justice on our campus and in our classrooms, failing to live up to the legacy of our late colleague, Dr. Ernest J. Gaines. The work of an English department should be to challenge the anti-Blackness and racial oppression embedded in the literature we teach, the language we champion, and the pedagogy we practice.
To that end, we call on ourselves as a department to enact change in the following areas:
- Listening: We pledge to listen and respond to the needs of our BIPOC students, faculty, and staff.
- Hiring: We will increase Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) faculty to 15% of overall faculty, at all ranks, within five years. Additionally, we will prioritize hiring faculty specializing in Black literature & culture and ethnic literatures & cultures at both the assistant and the associate rank. Finally, we will ensure that a member of the department’s diversity committee is a member of all hiring committees. See this article in Educational Foundations and this essay in The Atlantic on the absolute necessity of hiring Black faculty. Over and over we heard from our BIPOC students that they would like, just once, to walk into a university classroom and see a professor who looks like them. Our department must therefore better reflect the population of the university, city, and state.
- Curriculum: We commit to begin decolonizing our curriculum by requiring all English majors to take a course designated as Race & Ethnic Studies, by making introductory and advanced courses in Race & Ethnic Studies part of our core course offerings, and by continuing to expand these offerings as we move forward.
- Financial & Mentoring Support: We will seek out financial support for BIPOC faculty, staff, and students, and for research that engages anti-racist/decolonizing practices. Our plans include grants for student researchers, grants for faculty developing new courses, and awards that recognize undergraduates who, through scholarship or service, work toward justice. We will establish an anti-racist reading group for interested students, staff, and faculty; invite student participation on key departmental committees, including the Diversity committee and the English Majors committee; and create a mechanism through which students can safely and confidentially offer feedback about instances of racism and exclusion in the classroom and about our efforts to address inequities.
- Learning: We will fully commit to working with the departmental Diversity Committee and the UL Office for Campus Diversity to educate ourselves on anti-racist and decolonizing pedagogies and practices, to better understand how our pedagogies relate to the goals of justice movements, and to institute faculty workshops that encourage the implementation of pedagogical theory as classroom practice.
- Accountability: We will honestly and thoroughly re-evaluate our initiatives and progress, including soliciting feedback, yearly for at least 5 years. We will report that progress publicly on our website.
President Savoie has pledged to “build a more inclusive University,” and we appreciate this goal. The University must hold itself rigorously accountable and work aggressively to redress its complicity in maintaining structural inequality. To that end, we call upon the University to:
- Fully and promptly enact the goals outlined in President Savoie’s message dated June 12, 2020.
- Hire new faculty to develop an interdisciplinary Race and Ethnic studies program. The first step should be a cluster hire that includes positions at the levels of assistant, associate, and full professor within two years. See Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed articles on the positive impact of cluster hiring.
- Implement pay raises, prioritizing equity adjustments for marginalized employees, including part-time and contract staff.
- Provide support for our majority BIPOC custodial and administrative staff (including part-time and contract workers) in the form of adequate healthcare, PPE, and sick leave.
- Implement a general education requirement for all students fulfilled by anti-racist courses within five years.
- With the College of Liberal Arts, offer financial and institutional support for the English department initiatives outlined above.
UL Lafayette markets itself on its warm and welcoming community. This community must be for all and be for justice. In 1954, UL (then Southwestern Louisiana Institute) was the first university in the south to desegregate. This is justifiably a point of pride for the University, but we have rested too long on this laurel: close to seventy years later, we still have a great deal of work to do in fighting the legacy of racism on our campus. We in the English Department commit to the path of decolonization, anti-racism, and reparation. We call upon the University to recognize the urgency of this commitment and to act swiftly in the interest of justice.