Message from the Interim Dean
Dear Beloved Community,
At the teach-in on September 14, 2022, in my opening remarks, I read a passage from the first annual report written by the first Dean of the Office of African-American Affairs (OAAA), William Harris, Ph.D. He described a series of incidents that concluded with a description of students throwing snowballs at his bedroom window. In that report, he states the Judiciary Committee "found" the incident to be play (snowball fighting) among drunken students..."
In sharing this passage, I had hoped to highlight a pattern that Dean Solomon and Prof. Gaines later described as the "cycle of resistance that follows progress." Dean Harris felt targeted in the wake of great accomplishment and progress, the establishment of OAAA in 1976. I connected feeling targeted then to the feelings of being targeted now: I linked the functions of the snowballs, rocks, and nooses.
Though I experienced them as linked emotionally, these two acts of aggression are categorically different. The noose was designated a hate crime, and the vandalism wasn't motivated by prejudice based on race, religion, sexual orientation, or other grounds. In that respect, they are not the same. Yet, despite the motives behind the acts, they both created feelings of anxiety, uncertainty, unsafety, and worry in the community. Rightfully so.
With this in mind, the Carter G. Woodson Institute-Department of African American and African Studies and the Office of African-American Affairs came together to hold space for students to share their experiences in partnership with us. We hoped to create an opportunity for the whole community to join; well over 250 people attended that teach-in and left with the charge first to love themselves and the community.
That night, we collectively named many issues that have been focal points of students for generations: safety and security, food insecurity, a living wage for wage staff, mental and emotional well-being, improved classroom experiences, clear best practice guidelines in culturally informed pedagogy, belonging in the broadest sense, increased representation (faculty and students), and the belief that the University has resources that it can leverage to address these issues. As students of history, we believe most movements begin in these aspirational spaces where our expressed needs, wants, and frustrations connect with our beliefs that we could have better, do better, and be better. And that we could hold the institutions around us accountable to these same standards: give, do, and be better.
Based on our listening, we heard another theme emerge: Black people and communities of people of color have thrived in spite of measures to thwart their success. For instance, the institutions of slavery, Jim Crow laws, and hate through many recognizable devices (nooses, slurs, and explicit/overt and implicit aggressions based on ethnicity) have stood to prevent progress through direct and fear-based tactics. Yet, we have thrived in spite of it all. Thriving, in spite of, however, is ... EXHAUSTING.
As we plan our next steps, we want to invite all of us to begin to co-create a movement that liberates us from "in spite of" and allows us to equally embrace a "because of" framework that could have immediate implications.
We are here because of the blood, sweat, and tears of laborers who built many of this country's institutions without expectations for unfettered access to them.
- We are learning, legally, because of those who risked life and limb to learn to read and write.
- And, because of our efforts, the people who follow us will also have greater access, more seats at tables, and an increased capacity to thrive.
In the coming months, we would like to garner some early wins:
Commit to meeting together at least twice more this semester (October and November).
- Commit to developing a digital resource(s) that can educate us about the many existing resources available to Black students. Where necessary, we may also need to identify gaps in resources.
- Commit to engaging with Black administrators and administrators of color throughout the University, especially at the cabinet level (i.e., Vice Presidents, Directors, and Deans).
Please complete this brief survey if you are interested in joining this work. The survey will allow us to fully engage one another across the experience and do the initial work together.
We hope this reflection was helpful and that you continue to be inspired to do the work of capacity building that leads to all forms of community action. Because of our choices now, we can do greater things in the future.