Statement and Commitment to Anti-Racist Action

June 10, 2020

Dear Members of the department,

On May 25, 2020, George Floyd, a 46-year old African-American, was murdered by a police officer in Minneapolis, MN, sparking a wave of justified protests across the country and eliciting responses of solidarity and outrage from abroad. This murder was another in an all-too-long history of racist murders perpetrated by white people against African Americans (as well as other minoritized people) in the United States, a history that also includes the murders of, most recently, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and, in our own state, James Scurlock.

The failure of the US criminal justice system to react with sensitivity or equity to this death reflects a systemic set of structural failures at many levels of our society: the failure to value and listen to diversity, the failure to speak up for the underrepresented, the failure to show moral leadership in moments of crisis and, and the failure to recognize the damage that is done every day by literal and metaphorical white knees on Black necks. Racism is dangerous precisely because of its stigma: it is the difficulty of admitting one’s own ignorance that silently perpetuates and enables the kinds of explicitly racist acts promoted by white supremacists. We understand the anger and anguish of our Black colleagues, friends, family members, co-workers. 

The Department of Modern Languages and Literatures believes in the power of diversity to create a deeper sense of cultural understanding. We believe in the power of words and language, both globally and locally, to enact change in the world for better or worse. As teachers of language, we provide our students to see the world from another perspective. As teachers and scholars of literature and culture, we believe that languages, words, and actions are interrelated. Finally, we hold a deep conviction that every person, without exception, should feel safe, accepted, and valuable.

At this time, we need more than just mourning and words. We need action, and we need to challenge ourselves to be better. We need to support our Black students, colleagues, and staff members across campus. Leadership and change need to start at home, on our campus, in our state. Our department commits to activities such as, but not limited to:

  • Hosting a listening session, during which students and faculty of color in our department are invited to share their concerns, their frustrations, and to speak openly about their experiences. We pledge to listen, to learn, to show compassion, and to humble ourselves to our own privileges.
  • Supporting the peaceful protests of all those who represent and stand for diversity, inclusion, and equity.
  • Launching a year of intellectual dialogue and community-building surrounding issues of race. These collaborations will include listening sessions, a series of inter-related classes on race and migration, a round table discussion, and a shared departmental commitment to honest dialogue about issues of racism. 
  • Continuing to advocate (particularly within departmental leadership) for the safety and security of our Black faculty, staff, and students at all levels of the university.
  • Advocating for the development of university-wide, anti-racist educational activities that consistently and repeatedly create, increase, develop, and postitively reinforce what is learned. In order to do so we support the hiring—across all disciplines—of faculty whose scholarly and creative activities focus on minoritized cultures, including not least African-American people and culture.

We would also invite you to seek out other voices on our campus who provide leadership in responding to these events, as so many have responded to this moment with eloquence, passion, and determination to bring about change. Marco Barker, Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion, is one excellent example. OASIS and BSU have also made vital contributions.

Finally, as educators, mentors, and colleagues, we want to reiterate that we are here to support you and to stand with you as we all search for justice and equality.

Sincerely,

Dr. Nora Peterson
Associate Professor of French and Chair, Modern Languages and Literatures

Dr. Olga Tytarenko
Assistant Professor of Practice (Russian) and Vice Chair

Dr. Ikuho Amano
Associate Professor of Japanese and Section Head, Less Commonly-Taught Languages

Dr. Christina Brantner
Associate Professor and Section Head, German

Dr. Iker González-Allende
Professor and Section Head, Spanish

Dr. Jordan Stump
Professor and Section Head, French

Dr. Erica Schauer
Lecturer Representative

Bri Peterson
Office Manager and Administrative Technician

Alex Claussen
Graduate Representative