By Dean Christopher P. Long on June 4, 2020
Dear College of Arts & Letters community,
“Anger,” Audre Lorde¹ insists, “is an appropriate reaction to racist attitudes, as is fury when the actions arising from those attitudes do not change.” The racist killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery in the wake of more than 400 years of anti-Black violence are infuriating. We must demonstrate solidarity through actions that support our African American colleagues who are directly impacted by the realities of racism. Our actions must be oriented toward systemic change.
In the College of Arts & Letters at Michigan State University, we are engaged in this work within the context of a predominately white institution. After years of effort by the students and faculty affiliated with the African American and African Studies program, in 2019, we announced the creation of the Department of African American and African Studies to situate the practical and intellectual life of Black Studies at the heart of our academic mission. We have created a framework that will support a wider diversity of critically engaged scholarship and practice in the processes by which we grant tenure and promotion. We have established Critical Race Residencies in the Arts; made strategic hires to investigate, understand, and redress the complexities of diversity in a digital age; and we are expanding the diversity of our graduate student body to be the next generation of faculty.
Yet, this is not enough. We each bear responsibility for confronting the atrocities of racism, and the ways in which we have been complicit in the maintenance of systems and structures that were not designed for the diversity that exists within our College today. How will we hold ourselves accountable in the difficult work that is ahead of us?
On a personal level, I acknowledge the privileges I enjoy as a white male leader in a racist society and institution. I am attempting to act with intention and integrity to create spaces and systems designed for our Black students, staff, and faculty based on the needs they identify. As a College, we will continue to invest resources in the creation, growth, and development of the Department of African American and African Studies. We will work with the College Advisory Committee, Chairs, and Directors to further advance the infrastructure we need to support of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the College; and we will continue to draw on and build faculty expertise to enact inclusive pedagogical practices and to put DEI at the center of our curriculum. Our responsibility is to ensure that the changes we enact endure.
Let us be judged not only by what we say, but also by what we do; not only by the values for which we advocate, but also by the systems we transform to bring about tangible change.
Dean Christopher P. Long