The members of nextGEN, a community of graduate students in the fields of writing, rhetoric, composition, and communication, express our concern for our colleagues who are suffering from and fighting against racial violence at Syracuse University. We see you; we hear you; we support you.
We endorse the actions and demands of #NotAgainSU and the Black student leaders who have used both their words and their bodies to advocate for institutional change. We stand with them in solidarity as they work to make their campus safer and more inclusive, just as we stand with all those who fight against racism, xenophobia, and inequity in higher education and beyond.
As writing instructors oriented toward social justice, we are mindful of the social environments in which students are expected to learn and perform. Because of the ongoing violence and threats of violence toward students and faculty, we support calls for the SU administration to cancel classes and campus events until racist threats have been appropriately managed. This includes reshaping policies and implementing just consequences for those who are enacting racial violence. Leaving class cancellation to the discretion of instructors places marginalized students, teachers, teaching assistants, and administrators in a precarious position of choosing between attendance and their own emotional and physical safety. For the same reasons, we believe that expecting our SU graduate student and faculty colleagues of color to convene class in the current atmosphere of overt, hostile racism and antisemitism is an inequitable labor practice.
The SU Department of Public Safety asserts that there is “no appearance of a direct threat.” In contrast to this assertion, we have heard from instructors that they are being profiled and sent hateful emails and messages, including slurs and death threats. As discourse and writing scholars, we call for the SU administration to consider the emotional, mental, and physical traumas that racist symbols and slurs bring to an environment and the individuals within it. Threatening language makes a place of work and education unsafe, especially when such language follows many other incidents of racism that have yet to be properly rectified, as is the current situation at SU. Again, considering the campus climate and expressions of concern from students and faculty of color, we encourage the SU administration to cancel events that require students to be on campus.
In addition to the immediate needs of SU students and faculty, we echo the #NotAgainSU student leaders in calling for long-term institutional change in the form of antiracist policies and training. As historian and antiracist activist Ibram X. Kendi explains, “[The word racist] is descriptive, and the only way to undo racism is to consistently identify and describe it–and then dismantle it.” Reshaping policy to be antiracist means first explicitly identifying racist and antiracist behaviors. SU’s students and faculty of color have identified racist behaviors, and now we hope SU takes up the call to create, implement, and enforce antiracist policies. We are encouraged by statements from the SU administration acknowledging existing problems and student demands, as well as by the designation of specific SU officials to be accountable for addressing these problems. We hope the steps already taken indicate a true commitment to campus change, rather than what antiracist and feminist scholar Sara Ahmed calls “damage limitation”: taking action only to protect a public image rather than out of genuine concern for victims. We look forward to a swift turn toward antiracist practices at SU, as we work for similar change within our own universities.
Finally, we want to acknowledge that SU is not the only campus experiencing racial violence. We call for universities and colleges across the nation to recognize the racial violence and everyday practices enacted on their campuses. Our own institutions are not innocent. We hope that the administration at SU will develop a model for how to implement antiracist policies—a model that other campuses across the nation may take up to protect students, faculty, and staff of color.
In keeping with a tradition of social justice and antiracist support of students, faculty, and workers in our field, we encourage the following direct actions:
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