English Dept. Students Host Inaugural Colloquium in Response to Black Lives Matter

In July of 2020, the English Department released a statement in support of Black Lives Matter that included a list of action items to acknowledge the history of racism in the discipline and center on Black voices in the classroom. English major Bianca Guzman ’21 felt called to action and knew she wanted to help make a difference. 

“It started when I approached Professor Kathryn Koo, the English Department chair, and I asked her how I can get involved in the department’s action items that they released over the summer,” said Guzman. “I wanted to become involved in facilitating this positive change in our own discipline.”

The department joined the Black Student Union, Ethnic Studies Program, and other campus groups that openly condemned anti-Black violence. “Condemnation is not enough, however, and action must be taken,” said the statement. “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.”

On April 28, 2021, Guzman and a group of dedicated English students hosted the first English Department colloquium, “Re-imagining the Narrative: Centering BIPOC Voices in Literature.”

The colloquium featured student work that addressed issues of interest to Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. 

Guzman gathered fellow English students Dominique Coleen Brown ’22, Maya Dromlewicz ’21, Tyler Dunne ’22, Mayson Lord ’21, Annaliese Martinez ’21, Sara Mameesh ’22, and Kelsey Slater ’22 to help her devise the colloquium’s mission.“We were thinking of ways that we can actively evaluate the [literary] canon...and make diverse literature more integrated not only in the English Department, but also in SMC’s Core Curriculum in general,” said Guzman.

“Because this was a student-run event, I think this colloquium could not have been possible without the hard work of the planning committee and the submissions from English majors and minors.” 

English majors Sam Newman ’21, Sophia Nguyen ’22, and Melanie Moyer ’22 each presented work they had written for Saint Mary’s English courses. “I felt it was important to share my research findings with the English Department and SMC community to highlight the importance of taking classes that include Black literature, art, and other modes of creative expression,” Moyer said. “In all, I think turning our attention to BIPOC creators is an essential part of attempting to advocate for change and being a better ally to the Black Lives Matter movement.” 

Guzman was grateful to see so many English students, faculty, and members of the wider Saint Mary’s community attend the virtual event. “It’s really a testament to the SMC community, how important it is to stay as tight knit as we are, and it makes me so grateful that being here allows me that opportunity.”

English Professor Sunayani Bhattacharya, who moderated the colloquium, reflected on the event’s success: “The inaugural colloquium was resoundingly successful at demonstrating the English Department’s investment in questions of race and representation. Through the remarkable presentations, and the efforts of the organizers, the event provided a material articulation of the department’s response to Black Lives Matter. Thanks to our students, we were able to bring to fruition some of the action steps mentioned in the departmental statement on BLM, and I’m hopeful that we as a community can continue to strive toward a just and truly inclusive campus.”

As Guzman prepares to graduate this fall with a dual emphasis in creative writing and literary theory and history, she hopes that English students will continue the work she started. “I think that it’s so pertinent and important to utilize what we’ve learned at Saint Mary’s to enact this positive change in our wider community”

To learn more about the English Department at Saint Mary’s, click here.