Du Bois Department's Response to the Anti-Black Incidents on Campus
Wednesday, May 11, 2022
Wednesday, May 11, 2022
Message to UMass Amherst from the W. E. B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies in Response to the Anti-Black Incidents on Campus
The W. E. B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst was established as part of persistent anti-racist and equality activism in the United States. The department indeed has a storied tradition of standing at the forefront of equal justice issues that have arisen on this campus and in society. UMass Amherst also has a deep tradition and legacy of being responsive to inequities and injustice on our campus. This valuable history is what now brings to the forefront our renewed emphasis on action and change in response to the most recent anti-Black incidents on our campus, which have targeted members of the campus community associated with Black Studies and associated with other Black groups on campus. Targeting recognizable Black spaces on campus is part of a larger pattern over the last few years. Our undergraduate and graduate students were singled out in the most recent and in earlier anti-Black emails, as well as in a violently threatening, racist zoom bombing attack. We think these incidents are significant.
We join others here at UMass Amherst in expressing our outrage at the most recent incident of racist, anti-Black terrorism on campus, which we see as part of a larger pattern locally and nationally. While racist incidents have long occurred at UMass Amherst, the last several years have seen a heightening of the vile and threatening nature of such acts, which concerns us greatly. As a vocal segment of the country continues to express bigoted and racist ideas and endeavors to return the United States to an era when racial and gender exclusions from power were tradition, we believe that our anti-hate and anti-racist strategies and commitments should reflect that fact. As scholars and teachers of Black history, culture, and politics, we wish to point out that when such acts occur with this frequency and severity in the United States, they do not simply represent the outlier thoughts of disturbed individuals but are often part of a larger effort to deny Black social power as well as Black citizenship, including access to higher education.
When students, who are among the most vulnerable members on the campus, are made to live, study, and work in a toxic anti-Black environment where they are targeted for merely existing as themselves, at best by someone participating in a cruel hoax and at worst by the vilest white supremacist, we recognize that they very likely are an unfortunate proxy for more generalized anti-Black sentiment. Under the guise of free speech and the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, the writer of the anti-Black messages has contributed to making the campus climate feel unsafe and unwelcoming for a significant percentage of Black students and the larger population of Black people on campus, as demonstrated by the last two campus climate surveys. The writer has engaged in discriminatory activity that Black students, staff, faculty, and administrators must not be asked to accept.
Black students at UMass Amherst have expressed their outrage and trauma regarding these incidents and have told us what will make substantive changes in their situation. We in the W. E. B. Du Bois Department believe it is important to not simply hear what students are saying, but to take seriously what our students indicate they need to navigate these frightening times, and to act accordingly. Foremost, they deserve to know that every possible effort will be made to create a campus environment where their physical, psychological, and emotional safety will be protected while they navigate these acts of intimidation and harm. They also deserve material support that will allow them to focus on their studies.
The W. E. B. Du Bois Department stands ready to participate in making the changes that this campus needs to create a welcoming environment where Black students can live, study, learn, and work. We are the one unit on the entire campus that is dedicated to the academic study of Black history, culture, and politics. We are a major contributor to diversity, general education, and to the promotion of an inclusive intellectual climate on campus. Our field was founded to shed light on the origins and development of U.S. society–its political, economic, and cultural makeup–that shapes patterns of enduring inequality. Black Studies scholars have chronicled the Black Freedom Struggle and how that movement has pushed the nation to live up to its ideals.
We support the demands that the Racial Justice Coalition put forth in July 2020 as they reflect careful thought and democratic deliberation among affected students and allies. We also commend the University for establishing a Black Advisory Council and look forward to working closely with them, the Office of Equity and Inclusion, and others to make the anti-racist strategy at UMass Amherst necessarily more ambitious in fighting the resurgence in the twenty-first century of virulent anti-Blackness, bigotry, and hate. We need a major commitment that is proportionate to the challenge. A bold strategy resisting these incidents serves core interests that cohere with the mandates of a flagship, state, public higher education, research and teaching institution. Such a strategy advances community outreach. It is also a signal that this university has a full commitment to diversity and inclusion. We invite the entire UMass Amherst campus to join us in establishing a bold initiative to meet the needs of students on this campus who have asked us to make a change now.