February 1st, 2021
White supremacists spewing and performing racist bile attacked, with contempt, the Penn State student group, Black Caucus, during their virtual meeting on January 27th, 2021. The students vigorously defended themselves, responding with a statement that is as eloquent as it is anguished. Their rejoinder places this most recent outrage in historical context, demonstrating how it is merely the latest in a long train of racist attacks and abuses against Black Penn Staters. Black students have never needed faculty, whether in or out of Black Studies, to speak for them. On the contrary, as a field of academic inquiry and a subfield within predominantly white-centered disciplines of the social sciences and humanities, African American Studies owes its very existence to the demands, marches, sit-ins and creative disruptions of Black students and their non-Black allies, on and beyond campus. Penn State, where Black students also take our African American Studies classes in disproportionate numbers and are similarly overrepresented at the extracurricular activities we sponsor, is no exception to this rule.
We, the African American Studies Department faculty, stand in solidarity with the students who White supremacists attacked on January 27th. We stand with them because their cause is just. In standing with them, we are also making a down-payment on a historical and moral debt: they have stood by, with and for us since the inception of our field of study. We further support the students’ call to identify the January 27th perpetrators and hold them accountable for what are unquestionably hate crimes. Ultimately, what the students seek, and what they have long been calling for, is transformation. Now is the time for Penn State to make good on its stated commitment to banish white supremacy, subtle and overt, and root out systemic racism from the university.
After the massive, worldwide Black Lives Matter protests of the past year, now is the time. After the events of January 6th, 2021, in the wake of the January 27th outrage, and amid a global and national pandemic that has been especially devastating and deadly for African-descended peoples globally and nationally, we are dangerously out of time. We join the Black students in their demand that the leadership of our university seize this moment and make discernible and indisputable transformations toward racial justice—transformations in administrative leadership, in budgetary priorities, and in retention and recruitment of Black students, faculty and staff; transformations that will impact learning and work spaces on all our campuses; transformations that will be tangible in the lives of every member of the Penn State community. Certainly, now is the time!
From the faculty of the African American Studies Department.
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