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