School of Liberal Arts

Black Lives Matter in the Liberal Arts

Black Lives and the Liberal Arts: SOLA Statement on Black Lives Matter

Faculty and staff, and we in the Dean’s Office, in the School of Liberal Arts are filled with grief, anger, and frustration at the ongoing murder and brutalization of black people in this country. We recognize the needful right to protest and bear witness to the assaults and suffering to which black people, as individuals and as a community, are subjected. And we call for justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many other victims of racist violence. 

We condemn the assault of peaceful protestors by the police, the militarization of local police forces, and the use of brute force to subdue public demonstrations and demands for justice. These protesting voices, and these bodies on the line, are as powerful a clarion as this country has ever heard. We must listen and heed their cry and critique.

We also recognize that white privilege and racial bias have deeply informed the shape of our society and of our College. Those of us with white privilege continue to benefit from racial inequities that we have the responsibility to acknowledge and dismantle. We have so much work yet to do to live up to our Lasallian values of inclusive community and respect for the inherent dignity of our colleagues and students of color.

We are not without resources for this work, however. We have abundant tools with which to engage in this work—and not only or primarily “the Master’s Tools,” to quote Audre Lorde, but tools forged in the struggle against white supremacy. As part of our Liberal Arts, Lasallian, and Catholic inheritances, we have centuries-old traditions of anti-racist and liberationist conceptual and practical work from which to draw. We have access to the written and recorded work of social justice thinkers and activists from Anna Julia Cooper to Michele Alexander, from Malcolm X to Ibram X. Kendi, from Marcus Garvey to Audre Lorde, from Pernessa Seele to M. Shawn Copeland, and from Angela Davis to Traci Smith, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Tarana Burke, Bree Newsome, and so many more.

We have role models and leaders among our faculty, staff, students, and community partners who bring deep experience, insight, and expertise. Some of our programs in SOLA have strong legacies of anti-racist pedagogy, curriculum, programming, and activism. There are giants here, among us. We continue to be challenged by and to learn from them, even as we recognize the need, among those of us who are white, to teach ourselves. 

We also have access to broad, global, and vibrant contemporary critical discourses on racism, white supremacy, police brutality and militarization, mass incarceration, misogynoir, and more. We are hopeful because, as scholars and teachers, we believe in the power of education to transform lives and communities. Even our own. 

Faculty in the School of Liberal Arts worked together, beginning in 2016, to set some specific goals for changing our curriculum, climate, and faculty representation in significant ways, under the auspices of Planning for Inclusive Excellence (PIE). These include new courses, new course content, new strategies, new hires, new supports, and new programming designed to support students, faculty, and staff of color at Saint Mary’s and to educate for transformative engagement with the world beyond. Those plans are another set of tools for the work ahead, though they may well need sharpening in light of our current moment and our growing understanding. 

As we pause, this summer, in the shadow of COVID-19, to re-think the next school year and to innovate as never before, I encourage us all to respond as much to the incessant threat to black lives as to the current threat of the coronavirus. I invite faculty and staff in SOLA to take advantage of the resources* at hand and to add to them. I urge you to revisit your department and program PIE plans and to strengthen and advance goals and strategies particularly related to combating racism and discriminatory violence. And I encourage you to consult with our office about ways we can support this work, whether primarily through PIE funding, by amplifying your message, by partnering on programming, by facilitating collaborations, or by other means. 

In Saint Mary’s School of Liberal Arts, we affirm the inherent dignity, value, and beauty of black lives. Doing so means we must work harder and do better to change the systems and practices that threaten the lives, community, equity, and flourishing of black people, who must always, in the words of the great poet Gwendolyn Brooks, be “conduct[ing their] blooming in the noise and whip of the whirlwind” (“Second Sermon on the Warpland”). Let’s stand together to do that work and make those changes in the days, months, and years ahead.

*all SOLA faculty & staff are members of the PIE: Shared Resources Google Drive. If you have questions about how to access this drive, please let us know. 



Living on the Liberal Arts

The liberal arts provide an excellent foundation for a life well-lived: they promote critical thinking, creativity, a love of, and the skills necessary for, life-long learning. They instill empathy, imagination, and articulate self-expression. As one recent study has shown, liberally educated graduates are more likely to “be leaders, show interest in arts and culture, be viewed as ethical, and report fulfillment and happiness.” This is because the liberal arts engage, inspire, and challenge our minds, hearts, and souls. They teach us how to embrace and value the arts, understand social, historical, and rhetorical contexts and processes, recognize that all human activity and experience is deeply interconnected, and appreciate that democracy is a practice, not a given.  The liberal arts make us more human, and, as liberating arts, they make us more free.

Those with little understanding or experience of the liberal arts sometimes represent this kind of education as a luxury reserved for those who can afford underemployment. Far from it!  The liberal arts lead to excellent post-graduation opportunities and outcomes. Research demonstrates, for example, that the “soft skills” that our programs foster are those that business and the tech industry seek; many leaders in the public and private sectors have liberal arts degrees; and while humanities and social science graduates earn a little less than professional and pre-professional majors right out of college, they actually outpace them over time, earning more in their peak income years. In addition, liberal arts majors are more likely to earn advanced degrees, which significantly increase lifetime earnings.

In the School of Liberal Arts, graduates of our humanities, social sciences, and creative and performing arts programs are succeeding professionally, changing the world, and experiencing deep personal fulfillment in doing so. They are, in short, living well on the liberal arts! Click here for more information and evidence about getting a job, making a difference, and making a life as a liberal arts graduate.