The dual crises of anti-Black violence in the U.S. and the global pandemic caused by Covid-19 have forced Americans to acknowledge structural inequalities that disproportionately harm Black Americans. This moment – fraught with grief, anger, and possibility – presents our department with an opportunity to do the collective work that has long been left undone. It is an opportunity both to attune ourselves to the voices that have long challenged us to address those structural inequalities through an anti-racist politics of liberation, and to amplify and answer that challenge.
Even before the murder of George Floyd, our students have told us of their desire for Hunter College to work on prolonged and sustainable anti-racism—to offer not just platitudes or amelioration but plans for action. They have expressed a desire for all Hunter students to graduate with a worldview that enables them to not only identify but also address and counter racism as they find it—a worldview shaped by knowledge of the history of race relations in the US and elsewhere that has led to systematic racial injustice. They have expressed a desire for CUNY to invest fully in access and equity—all the more pressing in the time of Covid-19—in terms of affordable housing for students, extended library hours, lower textbook costs and access to resources, and more acknowledgement that students work and study full time. They have expressed a desire for greater Black, Indigenous, and People of Color representation among our faculty, as many of our students still graduate having been taught by an overwhelmingly white professoriate. And they have expressed a desire for the college to distance itself from the NYPD, and in particular to revise or discontinue the NYPD Scholarship program.
We stand in solidarity with student groups currently working to sever CUNY’s ties with the NYPD (including CUNY Rising, Free CUNY, and the YDSA). In the English department specifically, we plan to continue advocating for more investment in access and equity and greater representation of people of color on our faculty. We are renewing a commitment to anti racism in all classes. We also plan to offer a course on anti-racism specifically in relation to the Black Lives Matter movement, the murder of George Floyd, and the global protests it has inspired. The course will focus on policing, incarceration, racial profiling, and white supremacy, and their historical roots in slavery and colonialism, as well as on protest and resistance movements. It will be offered as one of the sections of English 320 (Multiethnic American Literature), which is a department requirement.
As a continuation of our commitment to focusing on anti-racism in our pedagogy, and as a way of opening up a conversation about how we can make Hunter and CUNY a more racially just environment, we are launching DELIBERATE: Hunter English for Racial Justice, a blog named in reference to Hunter alumna and teacher Audre Lorde’s “New Year’s Day.” We imagine it as a space in which students and faculty members can share resources, both academic and non-academic (books, articles, videos, readings lists, etc.), as well as ideas and actions about how best to redress racism in the academy and beyond. The blog will list and highlight all courses that specifically and substantially address race. We encourage students to consult this list when choosing courses and to participate in the conversation of this blog. If you are interested in contributing, please contact us at email@example.com.
Banner photograph taken at the Black Trans Life Matters March, Brooklyn Museum, June 2020