I teach at two schools in Washington, DC. One has taken recent action to stop celebrating the legacies of former slave traders, held a series of events and dialogues intended to open spaces to debate ongoing racial prejudice on campus, and elevated of African American Studies from Program to Department status. These moves are welcome, but ongoing efforts to inspire lasting cultural change are still required . The other institution has recently been the site of racist abuse on campus. Students are rightly outraged, and leading calls for meaningful action. The administration is responding, treading a similar path as other U.S. universities, by announcing plans for improved trainings for faculty, staff, admissions teams and students; improved support for relevant student services; and required courses on African American history for incoming undergraduates.
As teachers, we must support these efforts and continue to make space in our classrooms for honest, open dialogues on pressing social issues, including but not limited to racism. We must respond visibly and vocally when members of our student body face discrimination, and fell let down by their institutions.
At a recent on campus rally calling on the administration to act definitively, a student held aloft a placard that read, “Silence is Violence.” This Open Letter to Students of Color At American University is intended to let our students know that we, the faculty, will not be silent. I, along with the other signatories, intend to carry this message into our classrooms and faculty meetings, taking tangible steps to making our campus welcoming to all.