Open letter: It’s time for concrete action

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Open letter: It’s time for concrete action

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This open letter, adapted for a public audience, is a version of a letter delivered to Kathleen Cramer, interim vice president of student life, and G. Christine Taylor, associate provost for diversity, equity and inclusion, by graduate students in the University of Alabama Department of Gender and Race Studies on Friday, Sept. 27.

To the Students, Faculty, and Staff of the University of Alabama,

We, the graduate students of the Department of Gender and Race Studies (GRS) at the University of Alabama, are troubled with the resignation of Dr. Riley and its aftermath. We are displeased, yet not surprised, by the lack of action and response from the University. Students, faculty, and staff are hurting and have made their grievances known, yet the administration has failed to respond in a satisfactory way. From protests in which Dr. Bell refused to listen to locked doors that should have never been closed, it is evident that the University does not care for its students of color.

As graduate students in GRS, we feel the need to move from academia to action. The nature of our work is not only scholarship but strategy to be employed in times of turmoil. The time is now and we will not rest until we see significant change. As individuals who have dedicated our lives to deconstructing oppressive systems, it is assumed that we will know exactly what the University needs to do to right its wrongs. Frankly, we do have a vision and we know what should happen next. However, therein lies the problem.

When moments of blatant anti-Blackness occur on campus, it is to the GRS faculty and staff that the University turns. While we have the desire to help, we are purposefully understaffed and underpaid. Sitting in numerous meetings with figures such as Dr. Bell, Dr. Cramer, Dr. Taylor, and Dr. Hood have not proven fruitful. It is not in our job description to come up with a plan for how administration must move forward. It is, however, in theirs. The administration has the ability to say they are doing their jobs by simply meeting with us, instead of making the concrete changes that are being demanded. We will no longer play the game by attending meetings to present ideas and demands to an administration that has no intention of acting.

The time for meetings is over. Our demands are clear and a timeline has been set. It is up to our administration to create the campus we signed up for when we committed to attend. It is time for diversity, equity, and inclusion to become things we do and have instead of words we say. It is time for students of color to come to this campus without fear of anti-Blackness marring their experience. It is time for faculty and staff to have the safety of sharing the matters of their scholarship and position without fear of persecution by groups who are and are not affiliated with the University.

Although we refuse to do uncompensated work for administration, we are in full support of students, faculty, and staff who are dissatisfied with the current campus climate. We will not be silent, instead we will lend our voices where they matter most. We will not waste our time in meetings in conference rooms, but will connect and collaborate with the community.

As our last act with administration, we have given a list of our demands (found below) directly to Dr. Cramer and Dr. Taylor on Friday, September 27th at two o’clock in the afternoon. We have given a two week deadline for a definitive plan of action from the University. In the meantime and thereafter, we will work and we will fight with those who wish to see the end of anti-Blackness at our University. 

Against All Forms of Oppression, 

Gender and Race Studies Graduate Students 

The Demands: 

  1. We require that the demands of the Black Faculty and Staff Association are met. 
  2. We require that the demands of the We Are Done movement, which were originally released in 2015, are addressed in full. 
  3. We demand that the Dean of Students position be filled with a candidate whose previous experience is similar to the work experience of Dr. Riley, with a specific commitment to anti-racist work. 
  4. We demand that the Vice President for Student Life position be filled with a candidate whose previous experience demonstrates a specific commitment to anti-racist work. 
  5. We demand that the University institute and enforce a zero-tolerance policy for acts of racism on campus. 
  6. We demand that the University cease exploiting students of color by using their images in marketing materials in an attempt to present the campus as more diverse than it is. 
  7. We demand that the University provide public and material support to the Department of Gender and Race Studies in the form of:
    1. A concrete timeline to reach ten professorships on the tenure track in the Department in order to build a PhD program
    2. Increased funding for graduate students in the Department so that more graduate students can enroll, graduate assistants are paid a living wage, and students can attend more than one partially funded conference a year
    3. Public support and celebration of the work done in the Department

Editor’s Note: CW news editor Rebecca Griesbach is a graduate student in the Department of Gender and Race Studies. She did not have a part in the writing or delivering of this letter.