University of Chicago English dept. accepting only applicants interested in working in Black Studies

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The University of Chicago’s English Department announced its support of Black Lives Matter and the plan to limit graduate admission to applicants who want to be “working  in and with Black Studies.”

Posted on the university’s website, a faculty statement explained the plans for the 2020-2021 graduate admissions cycle while expressing regret over the institution being “a site of exclusion and violence” for some in the community over the years. Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz noted that the change must mean that literary giants such as Shakespeare, Dickens and Austen “are presumably not acceptable.”

“The English department at the University of Chicago believes that Black Lives Matter, and that the lives of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and Rayshard Brooks matter, as do thousands of others named and unnamed who have been subject to police violence,” the statement from the English Department, which was posted in July, read.

“As literary scholars, we attend to the histories, atmospheres, and scenes of anti-Black racism and racial violence in the United States and across the world. We are committed to the struggle of Black and Indigenous people, and all racialized and dispossessed people, against inequality and brutality,” the statement continued.

The message went on to note that, for the upcoming admission cycle, the department would be “accepting only applicants interested in working in and with Black Studies.”

“We understand Black Studies to be a capacious intellectual project that spans a variety of methodological approaches, fields, geographical areas, languages, and time periods,” the department said, adding that English has a “long history of providing aesthetic rationalizations for colonization, exploitation, extraction and anti-Blackness.”

The faculty acknowledged that “inroads have been made” but contended that “there is still much to do as a discipline and as a department to build a more inclusive and equitable field.”

“In light of this historical reality, we believe that undoing persistent, recalcitrant anti-Blackness in our discipline and in our institutions must be the collective responsibility of all faculty, here and elsewhere,” the statement said, adding that they have implemented “initiatives that have enriched our department with a number of Black scholars and scholars of color who are innovating in the study of the global contours of anti-Blackness and in the equally global project of Black freedom.”

The faculty added that “all scholars,” regardless of what they choose to specialize in, should know “the literatures of African American, African diasporic, and colonized peoples…as a core competence of the profession.”

“We acknowledge the university’s and our field’s complicated history with the South Side,” the statement said. “Part of our commitment to the struggle for Black lives entails vigorous participation in university-wide conversations and activism about the university’s past and present role in the historically Black neighborhood that houses it.”

And the end of last month, University of Chicago students held an “occupation” of the block where the school’s provost lives demanding the university disband the campus police department. They also wanted the funds to be redistributed to other initiatives, such as a Critical Race and Ethnic Studies Department.

A spokesman for the university, speaking to Fox News about the new English Department requirements, explained that the coronavirus pandemic has forced the university to limit employment opportunities as well as the number of graduate students.

“The English department faculty saw a need for additional scholarship in Black studies, and decided to focus doctoral admissions this year on prospective PhD students with an interest in working in and with Black Studies,” Gerald McSwiggan said. “As with other departments in the University, the department’s faculty will decide which areas of scholarship they wish to focus on for PhD admissions in future years.”

The University of Chicago is not alone in its efforts to address social justice issues in the wake of several controversial shootings in recent months that have sparked continuing protests.  Cornell University faculty, staff, students and alumni joined together in a letter last week attacking “colorblind” practices at the school and demand that the university set racial quotas and recruit “clusters” of non-White individuals.

“Cornell remains a site of entrenched racial disparities, mirroring, in many ways, the larger failings of the nation as an interracial democracy. While the university faithfully performs the liberal rituals of ‘diversity,’ such practices have proved to be largely symbolic and therefore empty; they long ago became alibis for the maintenance of an unjust social order,” the letter read.

The letter also demanded that the Ithaca, N.Y.-based university make “systematic changes” in curriculum as well as “increase representation of Black faculty to 7 percent in 2025 and to 10 percent in 2030.”

Meanwhile, the University of Chicago’s English Department announcement was slammed on social media.


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