Faculty pen letter urging solidarity among professors against racist incidents

Wednesday, October 4, 2017 - 7:53pm

After a recent string of racist attacks targeting minority groups on campus, members of the University of Michigan faculty published a statement in solidarity with affected students. In a memo titled “Letter to all University of Michigan Faculty,”  the signatories call educators to stand with minority students and establish a coalition of faculty that issues information about events and create concrete solutions for the future. Associate philosophy professor Meena Krishnamurthy, English and comparative literature associate professor Antoine Traisnel, and associate history professor Amanda Armstrong-Price authored the statement, which has gathered more than 200 signatures as of Wednesday night.

Krishnamurthy said she has been disturbed by events on campus, but has also been consistently impressed with the power of student activists countering these events.

“Obviously it’s saddening and led to a lot of tension, but I think the thing I’m taking more from it is the spirit of the students, and how they’re organizing,” she said. “I’ve taken a lot of inspiration from the fact that students — broadly the students of color — can organize and actually trying to do something to try and take a stand.”

Krishnamurthy also explained the co-authors hoped to create a way for faculty to support the efforts of students of color in a lasting way.

“I think by signing the statement and getting people together to write it, this is one avenue that we can start thinking more concretely about taking action, not just saying nice things but actually trying to get on the ground and actually do something,” she said.

The letter’s first call to action is picketing outside of the C.C. Little Science Building — whose name has caused controversy due to the fact that Little practiced eugenics — Thursday at 3 p.m.

“The informational picket will also serve as an occasion for faculty to show our solidarity more generally with the fight against racism, white supremacy, and state-sanctioned violence against black people and people of color,” the letter reads. “We act together because we, as faculty, have the power and responsibility to implement change and to make campus a more inclusive and safe space for our students.”

Stephen Ward, an associate professor of Afroamerican and African Studies, said he aims to create more ties between students and faculty of color, as well as encourage educators on campus to discuss these issues more in class.

“One way we should understand what is happening is that it’s not just an attack on students of color — it’s an attack on all of us,” Ward said. “Faculty and staff of color for instance — the ‘Free Dylann Roof’ posters and those other racist posters — they’re not just about students, they’re intended for all of us. Faculty should be supporting students and standing with them as they are affected by this as well. Another role for faculty is to engage the border politics in our classes and other activities.”

Many students on campus have been unhappy with the administration’s lack of response to the racially charged incidents that have been taking place. LSA sophomore Diamond Berry was one of the students who called for more action on the part of University leaders.

“I would like to see something change with administration, to address it better and the movement for change to see what we can do to prevent these racist acts from happening on campus,” she said.

The letter shares these sentiments and calls on University leaders to not take actions against faculty who speak out against white supremacy, but instead show support.

“We call on university leaders to demand the assurance that faculty and staff who speak in support of students and against racism will not be subject to retaliation from within the university, and that the university will support faculty who are being harassed by white supremacist groups,” it reads.

Krishnamurthy hopes in the future the coalition will produce resources, like an email list, to combat racism on campus in a timely and well-informed manner.

“I think sometimes there’s a slowness on our part because we’re academics, and we want to think everything through and make sure we totally agree with what is being stated,” she said. “Sometimes I think that’s why we’re slow to act — it’s kind of innate to academia — but I’m hoping that this will create a basis for us to take action more quickly.”