The English Department's Statement in Support of Black Lives Matter
Dear SMC Campus Community,
In response to the horrifying police murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and far too many others—and in solidarity with SMC’s Black Student Union, the Black Lives Matter sub-committee of the CCIE, the Ethnic Studies Program, and other programs and groups on campus that have spoken out in support of Black Lives Matter—the English Department of Saint Mary’s College of California wishes to publicly and unequivocally condemn anti-Black violence.
Condemnation is not enough, however, and action must be taken. To that end, we as a department are actively reexamining our own role in dismantling structures in our discipline, in our classrooms, and in the College more broadly that support white supremacy or promote Black silence. We want to acknowledge and thank leaders in the Black Lives Matter movement nationally and on our own campus that have been the first to make a call to action, as they have inspired us to develop these action items.
Action Items Related to the English Major and Minor
- Acknowledge the history of racism in the English discipline and develop strategies to actively combat racism in our class discussions, assessment practices, reading lists, and broader curricula, particularly in our foundational and capstone courses.
- Engage in active reflection upon curricula, individual courses, reading lists, and disciplinary methods as practiced in the classroom setting to enhance Black voices and root out elements of white supremacy and the centrality of whiteness in the field of English.
- Fully embrace the “difficult dialogue model” in our classes through training and professional development opportunities for English faculty (responding to the Black Lives Matter Committee’s demand #4).
- Form a departmental working group to study anti-racism and anti-racist pedagogies in order to develop concrete suggestions for changes to our teaching, grading, mentoring, and professional development.
- Develop opportunities for professionalization for students in the English major, with attention to issues of equity and social justice and providing avenues for students to participate in the broader civic world and use their education in English to enact real change in their communities.
- Recognize student work that specifically addresses issues of anti-Blackness through an English Department award.
- Commit to organizing a colloquium to address an issue of interest to Black, Indigenous, or People of Color once a year that draws on the work of our English Department faculty and English majors and minors.
- Encourage and promote platforms for student voices that center BIPOC experiences and perspectives.
- Commit to recruiting undergraduate Black students to our major by prioritizing their applications for our endowed departmental scholarship, and seek out additional opportunities for supporting these students.
- Continue our commitment to the unanimously-approved Senate resolution to increase tenure-track African-American and Black faculty at Saint Mary’s. (See the January 18, 2017 minutes, which can be found at https://www.stmarys-ca.edu/faculty-governance/academic-senate/minutes/2….)
- In order to make this document a living document, we will conduct an annual review of our progress toward the fulfillment of these objectives, report on concrete actions during the year, and revisit the action steps in this document.
We call upon our colleagues and students to draw attention to actions or attitudes that are at odds with this vision in order to hold the English Department accountable.
In conclusion, we turn to James Baldwin, who in his 1963 address to teachers described the reality faced by Black children in America, the lessons of inequality that their nation had already taught them, and the potential of education to transform the conditions of their lives. Baldwin wrote:
The paradox of education is precisely this—that as one begins to become conscious one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated. The purpose of education, finally, is to create in a person the ability to look at the world for himself, to make his own decisions, to say to himself this is black or this is white, to decide for himself whether there is a God in heaven or not. To ask questions of the universe, and then learn to live with those questions, is the way he achieves his own identity. But no society is really anxious to have that kind of person around. What societies really, ideally, want is a citizenry which will simply obey the rules of society. If a society succeeds in this, that society is about to perish. The obligation of anyone who thinks of himself as responsible is to examine society and try to change it and to fight it—at no matter what risk. This is the only hope society has. This is the only way societies change.
The English Department embraces Baldwin’s challenge and echoes his sentiments, and we wholeheartedly declare that Black Lives Matter.
July 7, 2020
 Delivered October 16, 1963, as “The Negro Child—His Self-Image”; originally published as “A Talk to Teachers” in The Saturday Review, December 21, 1963; reprinted in The Price of the Ticket, Collected Non-Fiction 1948-1985, Saint Martin’s, 1985.