Yesterday, I gasped—loudly—when Derek Chauvin received the first of three guilty verdicts for the killing of George Floyd. Then, like so many people, I felt a wave of relief. Finally, someone has been held accountable for the kind of grave racial injustice we have all witnessed too many times. These verdicts do not undo the injustice, of course, but they seem to mark a moment in US history when confronting racial injustice successfully seems possible.
At least I hope they do. The shooting of a sixteen year old black girl named Ma’Khia Bryant by police in Ohio just minutes before the verdicts were read cuts through that tenuous hope. The recent police shootings of Duante Wright, Adam Toledo, Michael Leon Hughes, Iremamber Sykap, and Anthony Thompson, and the continued attacks on other citizens of color highlight of the scale of the problem. The Chauvin verdicts remind us how much has been lost, how much is at stake, and how much effort it will take to continue the work toward justice and equity.
This year, the English department has been examining its role in perpetuating racial injustice and working to make our curriculum do less of that. We are continuing that project as we move toward the 2021-22 academic year. We stand with and behind our students of color today, tomorrow, and every day.
Dr. Beth Wightman
Professor and Chair
College of Humanities Statement of Solidarity with AAPI Community
The College of Humanities grieves with the families and friends of the eight victims of the mass murder that took place in Atlanta on March 16.
Xiaojie Tan. Daoyou Feng. Soon Chung Park. Hyun Jung Grant. Suncha Kim. Yong Ae Yue. Delaina Ashley Yaun. Paul Andre Michels
Of the eight lives lost in the horrific attacks, six of them were Asian American women. Women who were mothers, sisters, aunts, friends, colleagues, neighbors. Women who were the target of anti-Asian, misogynistic violence.
We cannot ignore the fact that there have been nearly 3800 documented violent crimes against Americans of Asian descent—primarily women—in just the last year. We cannot ignore the rhetoric of hatred, racism and violence that has fueled these crimes. We cannot ignore the ways in which this rhetoric is rooted in a toxic intersection of racism, sexism, hypersexualization, misogyny, imperialism, militarism, and violence.
And we cannot continue to elide the fact that Anti-Asian hate is entwined with the history of our country, from the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882); to the anti-Chinese riots of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II; the mass shooting in Stockton that targeted Asian American children (1989); the murders of Vincent Chin (1982), Navroze Mody (1987) and Joseph Ileto (1999); and many other examples.
But violence against the AAPI community has far too often been rendered invisible: ignored, treated as something from the distant past, or attributed to causes other than racism—as we have seen even today in the “debate” over the motivation for the Atlanta attacks.
The College of Humanities unequivocally condemns anti-Asian racism and stands in solidarity with all in the Asian American/Pacific Islander communities. Our Asian American Studies department, founded in 1990, has been dedicated since its earliest days to fighting for social justice and empowering our graduates to go out and transform the world. As a college, we redouble our commitment to supporting the faculty and students in this department in reaching for this vital goal in such troubled times.
An important part of our mission as a college is to “Act as responsible global citizens committed to principles of freedom, equality, justice and participatory democracy.”
We must work together as a college and as a university to live up to this goal through such actions as:
- Supporting programming and curriculum that educates all of us on this history of AAPI communities in the US
- Offering visible and vocal support for all of our AAPI colleagues and students
- Calling out xenophobia, racism and harassment wherever it is exhibited
- Amplifying and valuing the diverse and unique stories that are woven into the American tapestry.
- Working to enact systemic changes that lead toward racial justice and empowerment for all.
Department of English Actions on Systemic Racism
Students have reached out to ask what the department is doing to address systemic racism at CSUN, so I’d like to follow up on last week’s statement in support of Black Lives Matter (below) by describing some specific actions here in English.
Conversations among faculty about course content—what materials we teach, and why—happen both formally and informally. Conversations about content, including decolonizing syllabi, began a long time ago in our discipline, and syllabi have changed significantly in the last 20 years. Most of our faculty were trained when the debates about “the canon” began or in their wake, so the question of who gets represented in texts and on syllabi is part of our intellectual DNA. Current circumstances mean revisiting those discussions—especially the formal ones in our department meetings—will be a priority this academic year. That said, faculty reconsider their syllabi and add and delete material all the time; it’s the nature of what we do. I know that many faculty have already begun re-assessing what should be on their syllabi this academic year in light of the urgent calls for change around the country.
This fall, we are excited to welcome two new faculty members to the department: Prof. Brandy Underwood and Prof. Ruben Mendoza. Prof. Underwood will teach mostly American and African American literature courses; Prof. Mendoza will teach mostly American and LatinX literatures. Prof. Underwood comes to us from UCLA, and Prof. Mendoza from UC Riverside, by way of CSUN, where he was a TA in our department and received an MA in Chicano Studies. Both have taught a wide range of student populations at a wide range of institutions, so their contributions promise to re-energize efforts to eliminate systemic racism in English and at the university as a whole.
Last semester, The Sundial (the campus newspaper) published an article criticizing our department about, among other things, some of the issues at stake in the national debate about race. I invited the author of that piece to meet with me about her concerns. A group of students with similar concerns joined us in that useful and productive meeting. We began the process of forming a Student Advisory Council to develop concrete strategies for addressing issues the students raised. Unfortunately, between COVID-19 and the graduation of most of that original group, the Advisory Council didn’t get off the ground this spring. I invite any current students who wish to be part of that Advisory Council this year to contact me. Together, we can do more of the work that needs to be done.
Lastly (for the moment), as we prepare for the fall semester, faculty are taking a variety of courses and workshops on effective online teaching. A crucial component of these courses addresses equity issues in online instruction. Faculty are learning about ways to reach out to all students remotely and to design classes that enable all students, regardless of their circumstances, to participate and learn successfully while we are online. We will continue to keep equity at the forefront of our online pedagogy.
Prof. Beth Wightman
Chair, Department of English
Statement of Solidarity with Black Lives Matter
The Department of English stands in solidarity with Black Lives Matter and the organizations currently calling us all to account for our roles in the systemic racism that continues to plague our country. We support the protestors calling on us to say the names of victims of a compromised system of criminal justice, including: George Floyd; Breonna Taylor; Ahmaud Arbery; Sean Read; Tony McDade; Eric Garner; Trayvon Martin; Michael Brown; Philando Castile; Tamir Rice; Sandra Bland. We mourn the unnamed and unnumbered victims. We further stand in solidarity with all CSUN students, faculty, and staff who face injustice every day. You are welcome, you are valued, and you are seen.
Dr. Beth Wightman
Professor and Chair