We Are ALL in This: A Report Re: Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion
Prepared September 2019, by The EDI Committee: Douglas Kearney, Mariela Lemus, Kathryn Nuernberger, Aleisha Smith, Holly Vanderhaar, and Qadri Ismail, chair, with Chris Pexa.
- Form Follows Function: Introductory Sampling of EDI Intitiatives Around the University of Minnesota
- Emergent Energy Around EDI in the Department of English
- Summaries of available data on representation and climate in the Department of English Language and Literature, with recommendations
- Recommendations for Increasing EDI Fluency and Sensitivity Among Students, Faculty, and Staff
- An Immodest Proposal For Creating a Climate of Retention
- To The Manor Born: Pressing Matters
- Gain Games & Land (Re) Claims
- “I Made Some Notes...”: Creative Writing Program Recommendations
Appendix (pdf). Accessible Appendix is forthcoming.
A true story.
The night before I wrote this introduction,
I dreamt I bat about a big, blue hornet.
Its great wings felt distinctly like paper.
An Acknowledgement of Where We Are
We would be remiss to speak of Equity/Diversity/Inclusion (EDI) here, at a land grant University, on land granted by whom to whom on whose authority and at whose cost, by whose claim and whose concept of “giving”; we would be remiss, to think of writing, here, language here, without thinking of what it means to “acknowledge,” what we, teachers, students, administrators, and speakers of the discipline of English, mean when we say land and we say acknowledge and what we want acknowledged when we say it, and who we want to acknowledge our saying it, and what we would have them grant us when we do and then get right on back to doing, for now, what we’ve been doing. So, I write that the committee will be remiss, because here we are, in English, in the university of MiNn(I)eSOTA: Here we are being who we are, working, perhaps, for difference.
And Who We Are
We are, we hope, the first of many EDI Committees composed of students, staff, and faculty from the Department of English.
The departmental chair, Andy Elfenbein, organized us, and we have worked independently since to craft this report.
In our charge meeting, we took on the definitions of equity, diversity, and inclusion as articulated by UC Berkeley. (1) While these definitions come up again in the report itself—frequently as working definitions familiar in the praxis of EDI, and once, as a site of spectacular trouble, part of our sense of purpose in that meeting was centered on how our collective efforts might create a more contextually framed sense of what EDI means at the U.
strictly to Berkeley, however,
Independent Sector, at , cites them
as “based on language from the D5
Coalition, Racial Equity Tools
Glossary, and UC Berkeley.”
2 Diversity as an instrument of
excellence, innovation, competitive
advantage—these float some boats,
but give some folx on the committee
sinking feelings. Individual reports
and recommendations will present
where voices differ, for now, I’ll defer.
3 The data was from 2017 and
focused on “Campus Climate.”
Respondents included only PhD’s
and Undergrads from a population
of CLA and English. For analysis
of this data, see “Summaries of
available data on representation
and climate in the Department of
English Language and Literature,
You’ll find we have furnished some generative tension about that in the report already.
One thing about who we, the committee, are: we have not always agreed about everything.
But we do agree that the work of EDI is a praxis, not a quick fix. That our department, like many of the other departments here, needs practice at it. And we, along with the departmental chair, have agreed about the urgency of our purpose for the fundamental well-being of our campus community. (2)
This Report + 3-Year Plan = _______
From a practical standpoint, you can understand this document as a means of creating recommendations to help guide and compose aspects of our department’s 3-year plan. It is our understanding that the chair is making EDI a significant component of the plan. In that way, this report and its recommendations are aspirational.
But we can do better than that.
The EDI Committee would like to charge aspiration with something closer to ambition or perhaps even imperative.
A 3-year plan looks ahead, but as a timeline, three years is rather urgent. It represents the full matriculation of an MFA, almost the entirety of a standard undergraduate, and two-thirds of an expected PhD’s term. Which is to say that a student who sees the adoption of the 3-year plan in their first year stands to see and account for our continued engagement. Not only is their experience of their respective program influenced by the 3-year plan, their memory of the institution—as alums—is impacted by that span as well.
Institutional memory, for those members of our community who hold faculty and staff positions, is also attuned differently to a 3-year plan than a more glacial pace of change. Many of our recommendations suggest active means of keeping track of the Department’s EDI initiatives, including the contact people entrusted with them. Here’s the point: the recommendations we made sought to balance what could be visible and sustainable, what would make present our commitment to EDI with other departments’ and institutions’ “first steps” as proofs of concept, not goals.
To that end, we hope that as our department develops its 3-year plan, it looks for ways to take bolder steps in support of EDI, leveraging our discipline’s skills for analysis and reflection, for it is also worth noting that a 3-year plan runs the bulk of a U.S. presidential term, which in our contemporary political climate, seems particularly significant as regards EDI matters across a broad spectrum.
What Else They Carried
In addition to the definitions, we left our charge meeting equipped with several pages of recent SERU data (3) and the “3 Rings of EDI at the U” as provided by Virajita Singh, Assistant Vice Provost, Office for Equity and Diversity.
The rings are: representation (“who is actually involved in the program”); climate (“at all levels, how is a commitment to EDI reflected in the everyday life of the program”); and strategic partnerships (“how can the program use existing university resources to bolster its efforts at EDI”). Though we will not make explicit mention of the 3-ring strategy, we trust you will recognize its presence as a throughline, especially as that line connects us to other entities in the U.
We are not working at this alone.
Throughout this report, we have offered several recommendations. Where appropriate, we have done our best to offer suggestions as to how such recommendations and initiatives might be funded, but we offer this more out of recognition that change sometimes takes more than a little change. We recognize the limits of our purview, buttressed nicely with the advocacy of our departmental leadership.
At the Table of [Dis]Contents
Our committee chair wanted this report to reflect some difference in voice—particularly tone, argument, and style. There is some of that, though perhaps not as much as desired. Measures of self-reflection have been a constant part of this process and, in fact, animates one of our key recommendations, that the EDI Committee in which we have participated, continue with a rotating membership.
You will find, however, that the report’s formal content is multiplicitous.
Inside, you’ll find analyses of websites from other departments and schools at the U, institutional bodies with existing structures and/or commitments to EDI work. It is our charge to our department that we see these members of our community and their public facing engagements with EDI as representing the ground level of what can be done. Put another way, modeling to merely meet their example squanders our opportunity to learn from each other and improve collectively.
Speaking of noting improvements, the Department of English is taking some encouraging steps in EDI that we’ve identified in a section of this report. This is a complement to similar recognitions written in other sections.
Next, a sentence I did not expect to ever write without irony.
Additional climate change would be good.
That’s a spoiler for the narrative summary of available data on representation and climate in the Department of English Language and Literature. The summary seeks to transform CLARA and SERU numbers back into the folx whom ostensibly provided the digits. At the same time, the summary makes recommendations about what we do with the data while pointing out several systemic gaps and assumptions—many of which support dominant structures and business-as-usual—the data facilitates.
One of the more complex questions around EDI and institutions of higher education is the availability of training and how it might be linked to professional development (Make it mandatory? Keep it voluntary?); for whom (Faculty? Students? Staff?); and when (Upon hiring? Promotion? Appended as penance?). As the facilitators—one from HR, the other from OED—noted during a recent session of the U’s Implicit Bias in Search and Selection Processes: “Training isn’t a destination; but education is.” We have included information about training, written by a committee member who has completed the U’s offerings, and recommendations regarding training appear throughout the document.
The community’s education regarding its members of difference impacts climate. And climate is, of course, one of the factors we can influence that has some effect on retention. Recruiting students, faculty, and staff (especially administrators) who meet our EDI ambitions is empty (and can—via the expenses associated with searches—be costly) if we cannot retain them. While focusing on preventing community members from repeatedly creating negative environments is reasonable, it fails to actually invest attention and resources on the people we wish to retain. Our report includes a section on this and makes some recommendations for means to promote and support a culture that could positively impact retention.
We agreed that it was prudent to spend some time addressing literature and creative writing as distinct entities in this report, guided by the assertion that some EDI issues manifest differently in classrooms organized around reading in contrast with the workshop. Appropriately, perhaps, these sections jingle with the coin of their respective realms: categorical destabilizations of categories and deep-cut literary allusions (the former); cautiously worded suggestions for revision paired with book recommendations as spoonfuls-of-sugar (the latter). Yet we intend these coins not for wishing wells, nor for juke boxes, and certainly they are not our 2¢. They are, if anything, an ante for a collective risk that we make as a department of faculty, students, and staff.
Between the Literature and Creative Writing recommendation sections, Chris Pexa steps in [redaction related to confidential human resources information] surveying what collides when we make to progress too speedily through intersections. Suffice it to say, when composing this report, we often wondered how often we could use the word “anecdotal” to describe data before you, our reader, demanded anecdotes. So: Pexa’s section is “anecdotal”—but with a critical kind of trouble to share. And we must, mustn’t we?
What you have in your hands is something we hope seems more
dream than nightmare, even though this report
and what we can accomplish with it is only a part of it.
We assure you, however, that it is real.
Feel the paper? See the digital swarm?
We don’t think it should sting much at all, but if it does, here:
we’re holding it together.
That should help.
There isn’t much time at all, though.
So let’s begin.
Mariela Lemus & Aleisha Smith
The English Department currently lacks a visible or deliberate commitment to Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI). As the department begins the foundational work of self-examination and research, we must also consider how we will communicate new programs or values to the larger public. One of the most easily accessible avenues is via the department website.
Though the university’s English department does not currently have structures in place to approach matters of equity, diversity, and inclusion, other departments and programs outside of English have built or are building EDI into the academic community. The following UMN programs offer different models for how the English department might incorporate EDI into the existing institutional structure.
While their levels of success—in implementation or communication—vary, the English department might want to incorporate and revise some of their practices in our own process. These examples should be viewed as points of entry for English, not as endpoints.
Overview of Existing EDI Structures and Initiatives at the University of Minnesota
Department of Chemistry (College of Science and Engineering)
The Department of Chemistry offers a strong model for how to feature diversity and inclusion prominently online. Under the large banner graphic, a “Committed to diversity” button sits in the middle horizontal axis alongside “Forefront teaching methods” and “Chemical safety leader.” When clicked, the banner graphic changes to a statement of purpose: “We are united in the belief that diversity in all of its forms is good. Collaboration among people of all cultures and backgrounds enhances our experience as scientists and contributes to excellence in teaching, learning, and research. We strive to promote a climate that celebrates our differences and strengthens our department by embracing and working to increase our diversity.”
Their dedicated page on Diversity and Inclusion includes the subheading, “Promoting diversity, inclusion and equity at all levels” as opposed to only diversity or only diversity and inclusion. The department efforts on diversity are limited to one webpage, and highlight gender and sexuality as well as outreach via science programs for youth beyond the university.
Department of Curriculum and Instruction (College of Education and Human Development)
The Department of Curriculum and Instruction (C&I) has engaged in a multi-year process of EDI training and development. According to Amy Lee, a professor in C&I and Writing Studies who helped lead the EDI work, the department moved through several stages of focus.
Year One: Self-examination of the department, including an exploration of institutional implicit culture.
Year Two: Focus on policies, pedagogy, and other concrete actions within the department.
Year Three: Curriculum revisions.
A navigation button entitled “Diversity” is easily accessible from the front page of the C&I website (see Image 1 in Appendix). Site visitors can easily find the department’s published information on diversity by scrolling over the “About” button in the main navigation bar. From there, the Diversity page is a single, static page with a values statement and brief information on a few programs and diversity-related news within CEHD (Image 2). Unfortunately, the most recent program information/news on the page is from Nov. 2018.
The Diversity page briefly mentions a few programs available in the department.
Teacher Scholars of Color—A mentorship and professional development group. The page lists a contact email.
Diversity Dialogues—Described as monthly discussions on a topic relating to diversity and social justice. According to the department’s Facebook page, the last posted event occurred in October 2017.
Department of Psychology (College of Liberal Arts)
The Psychology department website features the same formatting and layout as English (and other CLA departments). The noteworthy difference lies at the bottom of the page, where a third button entitled “Diversity & Inclusion” sits below the standard “For Undergrad Students” and “For Grad Students” image buttons (Image 3). Clicking on “Diversity & Inclusion” takes users to a single, scrolling page with the department’s values statement at the top. Below the main statement is a running post of EDI-related and University-wide news, with the most recent post at the top. The left-hand navigation menu lists a combination of department-specific programs and campus-wide resources (Image 4).
The Diversity & Inclusion page highlights one major program within the department.
Diversity in Psychology Program—A three-day, application-based event intended to provide information and support to historically underrepresented individuals who plan to pursue graduate studies in psychology. Occurs every October.
Writing Studies (College of Liberal Arts)
The Department of Writing Studies is currently initiating the first steps of EDI work, similar to the English department. Given the concurrent timing, it might be beneficial to both departments to share resources or work together on program development.
Their public steps thus far have been:
April 2019— Open Meeting to discuss launching a long term Diversity Committee. The meeting was called by the department chair, Lee-Ann Kastman Breuch, and open to anyone in the department. At the meeting, Professor Breuch explained that the department is conducting a formal/external self-study this fall (2019). One of six major areas within the self-study is “Excellence in Diversity.” The department has further specified three sub-areas within Diversity:
a) Development and learning on EDI
b) Increasing representation of people of color in faculty, staff, and students
c) Curricular revisions/innovations around diversity
The meeting minutes were shared with the entire department, with the expectation that a formal committee will be created in the fall.
Of the several examples here, CFANS models the most broad and multi-faceted approach to incorporating EDI into the college. The benefits of this approach are as follows:
- the conversation becomes more accessible by providing multiple points of entry for members of the college, and
- EDI is centered at the heart of what the college aims to work and improve on.
CFANS has an Office for Diversity and Inclusion where they stress diversity, inclusion, excellence, and multiculturalism. Though they include equity on a list of defined terms, it isn’t included in the name of the office or in their statement of purpose, titled “Commitment to Diversity.” (1)
and excellence. We are committed
to promoting the principles of equal
opportunity, affirmative action, and
multiculturalism where all individuals
are valued, respected, provided the
opportunity to flourish, and
unobstructed in their pursuit of
excellence. See CFANS diversity
initiatives at-a-glance web page
(reproduced following this section)
for more information.”
The CFANS Diversity Plan is published on their website and includes a five-tiered approach to their commitment to diversity: Innovation (knowledge construction); Curricular and Pedagogical Transformation, Engagement (outreach); Access and Accountability (workforce and student recruitment and retention); and Academic/Social Culture Issues (climate and environment). For each of these “themes” identified within the college, the college lists recommendations, some of which include: offering incentives to faculty to engage with the plan, hosting workshops for members of the college to develop a multicultural curriculum, identifying and supporting needs of students of color, offering college-wide trainings to promote the work toward diversity, and implementing systems to track accountability in terms of the goals of the college.
CFANS offers a wide range of initiatives and groups dedicated to working toward increased diversity and multiculturalism within the college. These include the undergraduate-specific education initiative “Working Across Difference”; the Committee on Diversity and Inclusion; Nibi and Manoomin: Bridging Worldviews Committee; the St. Paul LGBT Advisory Group, a partnership between CFANS and the Gender and Sexuality Center for Queer and Trans Life; and the Intercultural Development Inventory Initiative, used as a quantitative measure for cultural competency.
In an effort to make the conversation on inclusion accessible to all levels of the college, CFANS offers a series called Dialogue with the Deans, a forum for having supportive conversations about diversity to foster an inclusive St. Paul campus. The college stresses that “diversity is everyone’s everyday work, and that effort should be recognized throughout the college,” and, “with that goal in mind, our office aims to provide awareness to the great diversity work happening within the various departments in CFANS and across the University.”
Beyond this, CFANS also backs their commitment to diversity and inclusion financially through diversity and inclusion professional development grants as well as through curriculum in their Teaching Across Differences Community of Practice. Through these professional development opportunities and trainings, the college demonstrates a commitment to equipping faculty and staff with the appropriate tools to implement change in the classroom. In addition to the opportunities for faculty and staff, CFANS provides graduate student funding opportunities through the CFANS Diversity Scholars program and the Diversity of Views and Experiences Fellowships. The college also offers funding opportunities based in diversity to undergraduate students as well, through the Diversity in Food and Natural Resources Scholarship and the Scholarly Excellence in Equity and Diversity Awards. Undergraduate students of color are eligible for individual support and mentorship through the CFANS Achieve Mentoring Program, while all CFANS undergraduates excited about diversity and inclusion can apply to be CFANS Student Ambassadors as part of the CFANS outreach program beyond the university.
In order for departmental change to be successful at the institutional level, goals for increased equity, diversity, and inclusion must be supported with funding. At a minimum, CFANS offers a model of how to feature diversity prominently extensively online. Their Diversity and Inclusion page is one click from the home page under a dropdown menu from “About CFANS.”
The College of Design at the University of Minnesota also makes it easy to navigate to their page on diversity via the use of drop down menus from their homepage under “About.” Their statement of support on diversity reads as being “committed to supporting diverse people and ways of knowing. We seek to understand and meet the needs of all types of people and to create culturally and socially responsive prototypes, projects, and environments. To achieve this we foster inquiry and responsiveness within our own college by welcoming, affirming, and empowering all students, faculty, and staff.” The language used stresses diversity and does not mention equity or inclusion by name until later down the page under the “Earn your Equity and Diversity Certificate” heading. Many of the resources listed highlight external offices and groups available to students with the exception of the Diversity Committee. The report on the college’s climate is available online for public access, along with their recommendations as “action steps.” In the report it is mentioned that students applied for a grant from the Office of Equity and Diversity and received one to continue hosting conversations about diversity within the college community. This may be something that English can model as well.
Self-Examination: The University of Minnesota Department of English
The English department’s current website offers no visible EDI information to visitors (see Image 5). While several of the programs highlighted on the frontpage seem to touch on diversity or social justice topics, the site lacks an explicit diversity statement.
The public platforms of the department (specifically, the website and/or social media) should explicitly highlight EDI work within the department. Conversely, the department must have substantive and earnest work to showcase on the website. In short, we need to do the hard work of prioritizing diversity, and then we need to effectively communicate those steps to others (both internal and external to the department).
For instance, we’d like to see the department implement the following long-term actions:
The formation of a standing committee dedicated to expanding and maintaining EDI work in the department. This committee should:
- Be visible and accessible to all members of the department and the public
- Be comprised of a rotating group of faculty, staff, and students
- Multi-year EDI engagement and training for the entire department
- Student mentorship, outreach, and/or inclusivity programs to support underrepresented individuals in the department, retain current students, and attract new students
- Improved User Experience on English department website. This includes: a) A visible EDI values statement; b) A “Diversity/Diversity & Inclusion” navigation button that is easily accessible with <1 click from the front page; and c) Explicit rather than implicit emphasis on diversity on the website.
A revision to the English website modeled after the Psychology department would be a good start. It serves as a place where prospective students and the public can find—at the very least—the department’s stated commitment to diversity and inclusion. In addition, posting larger University news relating to EDI issues signals that the department is attuned to larger conversations on campus and in academia.
Though these departments and colleges at the University of Minnesota vary in scope and approach toward equity, diversity, and inclusion, they all have public-facing commitments to their goals. In addition, they offer resources and initiatives that are college/department-specific and that include faculty, staff, and students as well as measures for outreach beyond the university community. Since student recruitment and retention is in the English department’s interest, making our diversity initiatives public would be a first step in centering equity, diversity, and inclusion.
Mariela Lemus & Kathryn Nuernberger
This is the first committee on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion formed in the Department of English at UMN. However, that does not mean that this is the beginning of efforts that have been taken towards building an equitable, diverse, and inclusive community. In this section, we would like to identify those actions that have already been undertaken in the department and consider how such emergent energy can be channeled as the department undertakes more formal collective measures.
Diverse Voices and Increased Representation in the Curriculum
In recent decades members of this department have done an enormous amount of work creating courses that align with the Modern Language Association’s “Guidelines for Good Practice by the Committee on Literatures by People of Color in the United States and Canada.” (See appendix.) “The committee has urged that approaches to the literature, culture, and languages of the United States and Canada be reconceptualized to include and to regard the texts, narrative traditions, and critical practices of so-called minority literatures as essential to the canons of college-level literary studies.” In keeping with this charge, the Department of English has created courses that include American Indian Literature, Introduction to Chicano/a Literature, The African American Novel, Introduction to African American Literature and Culture, American Drama by Writers of Color, Asian American Literature and Drama, Introduction to Multicultural Literatures in United States, Mediterranean Wanderings, Gay Lesbian Bisexual and Transgender Literature, Literacy and American Cultural Diversity, Seminar: Harlem Renaissance, Writing Differences: Literature by US Women of Color, and Introduction to Black Women Writers in the United States. Although this EDI committee has not undertaken a survey of course reading lists, we do know anecdotally that many other courses in the curriculum approach the study of literature from decolonial and post-colonial perspectives.
Given the extensive groundwork that has been laid creating a range of courses that reconceptualize narrow and antiquated definitions of what constitutes the discipline of English literature, the department is well-poised to undertake a revision of the major requirements for the B. A. in English. We encourage the department to make a revision of the undergraduate B.A. requirements a goal in the three-year-plan. (See “Of the Manor Born” in this report.) We also encourage all those who teach in the department to make diverse reading lists an essential component of the syllabi in all courses and that self-studies of reading lists be conducted to ensure all students in the major are developing familiarity with a broad range of diverse writers. We encourage everyone in the department to ensure that all programmatic activities and department communications that make literary references draw upon a diverse range of voices as well.
Allocation of Department Resources
Both the Literature and Creative Writing tracks in the department have made a habit in recent years of attending to questions of representation in speaker series and other departmental events. Of the three authors on the schedule for this year’s Edelstein Keller Reading Series, Natalie Diaz and Danielle Evans identify as BIPOC writers. Natalie Diaz also writes about LGBTQIA+ themes in her poetry. The Esther Freier lectures in recent years have featured prominent BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ writers, as well. The Creative Writing program is launching a Brown Bag lunch program for graduate student professionalization in the Creative Writing program and several of the events focus on questions of equity, diversity, and inclusion in creative writing professions. Literature faculty also frequently arrange talks on subjects that address questions of diversity, equity, and inclusion as a crucial component of scholarship in the discipline.
This attention to using department resources to bring more diverse voices to campus and to ensure that all members of the department see themselves reflected in the scholarship and creative works being celebrated is very commendable. Building a strong culture of appreciation for and engagement in scholarship and creative work among faculty and students is also important work.
The department’s commitment to ensuring full funding for all graduate students in the creative writing program and all PhD students, aggressive pursuit of DOVE scholarships, and awarding of CLA scholarships are all consistent with recommendations for establishing the groundwork for diverse, inclusive, and equitable communities in higher education. (See appendix for recommendations from AWP about “Hallmarks of a Successful MFA program” and MLA’s “Recommendations to Graduate Programs.”) We commend the department for taking these important steps to help create more diverse, equitable, and inclusive graduate student cohorts and encourage the department to continue these efforts in coming years.
The most significant source of resources comes in the form of salaries, funded leaves, and research funding only available to tenure-track professors. Greater diversity among faculty and instructors must be treated as an immediate priority. Current faculty from underrepresented backgrounds experience greater service burdens as a consequence of the department’s needs in the areas of EDI and the department’s ability to retain those faculty members is further compromised if there is a not a vibrant intellectual and cultural community in the department and college to complement their research and creative interests. (See “An Immodest Proposal for Creating a Climate of Retention.”) With a new search for a tenure track position underway and with several more likely in the future, the department is in an excellent position to create greater equity, diversity, and inclusion in the faculty.
We’d also like to highlight a few sources of internal UMN funding to support EDI initiatives. We encourage our colleagues throughout the department to consider whether these opportunities might help fund (in whole or part) some of the recommendations in this report:
The President’s Postdoctoral Funding Fellowship Program is accepting applications until November 1. This program is actively seeking “applicants whose research, teaching, and service will contribute to diversity, inclusion, and equal opportunity in higher education and at the University of Minnesota. The President’s Postdoctoral Fellowship Program is interested in scholars with the potential to bring to their research and teaching the perspective that comes from their educational background or understanding of the experiences of groups historically underrepresented in higher education.”
IDEA Multicultural Research Awards (up to $10,000) support “research that addresses issues related to transforming the University by enhancing the visibility and advancing the productivity of an interdisciplinary group of faculty and community scholars whose expertise in equity, diversity, and underrepresented populations will lead to innovative scholarship and teaching that addresses urgent social issues.”
The department has a number of methods for communicating internally. Holly Vanderhaar on behalf of Creative Writing and Terri Sutton on behalf of English Literature each issue weekly emails about upcoming events and notable accomplishments by members of our community. Both of these regular emails frequently highlight events on campus and in the community related to EDI. Attending to these events ensures that everyone in our department knows about opportunities to find community support or to deepen their understandings of subject positions different from their own. When members of the department take time to research such events and amplify them, a clear message is sent to everyone in the community that these are important events and crucial parts of the work of this department.
The department chair also sends out regular emails summarizing administrative issues. On occasion these emails have also directly responded to events in the broader community that might impact our students directly, like efforts by the Trump administration to rescind Trans rights. Reminders from the chair about how our students might be directly impacted by events beyond the department are valued instances of leadership.
Such gestures of communication and solidarity may seem small, but mindful and intentional communication is enormously impactful in creating a community where people are actively learning how to better understand and create a welcoming environment for each other. We recommend that members of the department who are responsible for internal and external communications seek out advice from the EDI committee or some other diverse group of advisors to provide ongoing recommendations about items that can further enhance this culture of mindful, intentional communications. (See “Form Follows Function” for additional suggestions for outward facing communications like the department website.)
Policies and Procedures
To its credit, the department has done the good work of writing a policy regarding the use of pronouns to be included on all syllabi. Many members of the department also include their pronouns in email signature lines and on their syllabi, a practice encouraged by many Trans and Non-Binary educators. We encourage the department to do more to educate members of the community about gender identity, the positive impacts of honoring gender identities, and to discuss what the ramifications are of misgendering students, faculty, or staff in the department.
The department has also done good work ensuring faculty have the necessary policies in place and resources to share with students about accessibility in English courses. However, given the increasing number of students with documented disabilities and the assurances from experts that many more students in need of accommodations are not registered, the committee requests that the department create additional programmatic activities, provide more leadership in communications, and otherwise encourage faculty to participate in self studies about how their teaching methods may be adapted to create classrooms that include students with disabilities in their diversity, equity and inclusivity goals.
This EDI Committee
The decision to create this EDI committee is evidence of a great deal of emergent energy in the department around issues of EDI. Doing the work of this committee also generated an enormous amount of energetic enthusiasm among the members of this committee, who spent many hours of their summer break researching the theory, practices, institutional history, and relevant data from the social sciences to generate this report. We have all shared ideas, conundrums, and sources from this work with our colleagues outside of this committee as a regular part of conducting our professional relationships. We have also deepened our own professional practices in response to the new materials we are learning.
Because of the ways the work of this committee has proven to organically interweave itself into other facets of the department in positive ways, we have recommended in several places throughout this report that the department establish a standing EDI committee with rotating membership so that the process of learning about EDI through the work of EDI can be extended throughout the department.
We also recommend the creation of a standing EDI committee because, despite our enormous efforts, there is much work to be done that this report does not address. For example, we have not conducted an accessibility audit of our department. We have not considered how members of diverse faith traditions experience this department or how well the department responds when members of those faith groups are targets of hate crimes in the broader community. We are mindful that our committee in its present configuration is not representative of the diversity of the department as a whole and understand that this likely means that there are other areas of concern, as well as areas with emergent energy, that we have overlooked.
There is no box the department can check that will say EDI is “solved” – the establishment of this committee, the writing of this report, and all of the efforts that come after will be part of the ongoing work of creating the community this English Department has the potential to become and keep becoming.
Summaries of available data on representation and climate in the Department of English Language and Literature, with recommendations
To begin a conversation about equity, diversity and inclusion in the Department of English, it is helpful to conduct a survey of the available information. The various sub-disciplines in an English Department tend to encourage us to think about the stories behind every data point. It is difficult for a report of this nature to tell those stories, but please do see UMN alum, David Mura’s “From Banana to Bashō, Or How One Japanese American Learned Not to Write Like John O’Hara” in the appendix for just one example of how the statistics that inform this section of the report are tied to the essential questions in the disciplines of literary study, to the trajectory of individual careers, and to very real human feelings. There is also a story about missed opportunities and lost perspectives that underly these data points as well in an interview with Jennie Harris, an undergraduate English minor who contemplated pursuing an English major at UMN but decided against that path. She explained how EDI was a factor in her decision in an interview with Minnesota Daily. “I’m not the only one who has ever been deterred from a major because they felt the curriculum didn’t include them,” she said. “You can look at this as both what those of the majority lose, but also what people of color miss out on in terms of understanding their own histories.” (See “English Department Committee Formed to Address Diversity” in the appendix.)
It is also necessary to note constraints placed on this available data. Respondents to UMN demographic surveys are only able to self-identify as “Male,” “Female,” or “Unknown.” This is an act of erasure and alienation to all non-cisgender members of this department (and the university as a whole). It also further limits our ability in this report reflect on representation exclusively based on statistics. The available reports in CLARA also fail to include demographic information about sexual orientation, disability, or religious affiliation. The limitations on the SERU report, which are also significant, are described below.
Faculty Demographics and Recommendations
In the 2018-2019 academic year, 6 out of 31 faculty members self-identified as non-white; 16 out of 31 faculty members identified as female. In the 2017-2018 academic year 5 out of 29 faculty members identified as non-white; 15 out of 29 faculty members identified as female. In 2016-2017 academic year 5 out of 32 faculty members identified as non-white; 17 out of 31 identified as female. This CLARA report only allows respondents to select from binary gender identities and does not ask about sexual orientation, so we do not have reliable data on the LGBTQIA+ representation among faculty in our department. The limited scope of the CLARA Headcounts does not allow us to determine with certainty how long the department Has had gender parity in its representation among the faculty, nor does it allow us to determine how long 15-20% of the faculty have identified as non-white. (See appendix for CLARA data tables.)
When it comes to salary equity, on average, the eight male full professors in the department earn almost seven thousand dollars more, annually, than the five female. The four associate professor men have salaries six and a half thousand higher than the seven women holding such rank; and the two male assistant professors, almost five thousand greater than the three women. Women in the department don’t necessarily begin at equal pay, and their situation worsens, relatively, through time. We encourage the department to continue to make salary equitization one of its priorities.
We also recommend that the department implement the “Guidelines for Good Practice by the Committee on the Literatures of People of Color in the United States and Canada” issued by the Modern Language Association. (See appendix.) Some of the key recommendations in this document include reexamining definitions of positions in traditional fields and considering including diverse approaches to literature, language and culture.
These guidelines also recommend advertising available positions in nontraditional places, including email discussion lists, websites, social media, and newsletters for recipients of Ford, Mellon, and Javits dissertation and postdoctoral fellowships. We encourage the Creative Writing program to continue its existing practice of advertising Creative Writing positions with Cave Canem, Lambda Literary, and CRWROPPS, which all reach diverse audiences in the profession.
We would also like to highlight the recommendations in these guidelines to ensure that junior faculty members of difference receive excellent mentorship, as well as the recommendations for evaluation of faculty members for retention, tenure, and promotion. The guidelines recommend paying particular attention to the effects of race, gender, and sexuality bias on teaching evaluation. The guidelines also recommend that when evaluating a faculty member of difference, they should seek out external reviewers with expertise in the candidate’s area of specialization. The department is obligated to inform itself of the significance of the venues where its faculty are publishing. Departments must be mindful of how disproportionately heavy service loads can decrease the time faculty of difference have to devote to their research. Departments should limit the service of junior faculty members, but when they have performed substantial and outstanding service, this should be considered carefully in the evaluation of faculty members’ qualifications. (See also “An Immodest Proposal for Creating a Culture of Retention.”)
The Executive Committee Demographics and Recommendations
The executive committee of the English Department typically consists of four positions – Chair, Director of Undergraduate Study, Director of Graduate Study, and Director of Creative Writing. Since 2006, white women have consistently held leadership positions; faculty members who identify as non-white have seldom been included on the executive committee. Bearing in mind that an important measure of the success of the department’s efforts in the areas of diversity, equity, and inclusion will be reflected in who holds leadership positions, we recommend the chair be mindful of the importance of diverse representation on the executive committee. The chair should solicit participation from underrepresented groups in our department, most notably at present BIPOC and female faculty. In the event that there are a limited number of faculty qualified to serve or interested in serving in leadership roles, the chair (with assistance from a permanent EDI committee with rotating membership) should evaluate and make improvement plans in the areas of mentorship, faculty retention, compensation, and recruitment in the department.
Staff Demographics and Recommendations
This is another area where the limitations of CLARA data should be noted. Non-tenure track teaching staff and staff with a variety of designations, including PNA, Civil Service and Labor Represented, are grouped into this category, though their job responsibilities, longer-term security of their positions, and compensation scales vary greatly. Since Spring 2019 there has been one member of this omnibus group described by CLARA “staff” who did not identify as white; 16 out 23 positions were held by women. In Fall 2018 no staff positions were held by people who do not identify as white; 16 out of 21 positions were held by women. In Fall 2017 2 staff positions were held be people who did not identify as white; 15 out of 20 positions were held by women. In Spring 2017 no staff positions were held by people who do not identify as white; 14 out of 21 positions were held by women. There is no data on staff demographics for Fall 2016. We recommend that when positions under any of these various “staff” categories become available, the department make every effort to increase diversity in these positions.
We would also like to acknowledge the good work already being done by those in positions described on our website as “Support Staff.” In their roles to make everyone who comes to the department feel welcome, many of our colleagues in these positions have taken the initiative to pursue professional development opportunities in the areas of EDI and to keep EDI principles in mind as they undertake efforts to recruit and support students. While the CLARA system does not record demographics of student workers, in Fall 2019 there was a marked improvement in the diversity of student workers in the English Department, which is likely to have a positive impact on the message our department sends to current and prospective students, faculty, and staff about who belongs in this department. The work members of the current staff have done to recruit and retain these student workers is commendable and we encourage the staff to continue with these practices in the future.
It is also worth noting that several members of the staff have taken part in EDI trainings offered by the Office of Equity and Diversity, up to and including completing a certificate program. It is to the department’s credit that staff have been given the necessary time and encouragement to participate in these professional development opportunities and we recommend the department continue to support such trainings for faculty and staff as compensated work that can be completed during the regular work day.
We also recommend the department create a staff position for a highly qualified expert in EDI (full or part-time, exclusive to English or shared with another department in CLA) in which EDI work, including collaborating with a standing EDI committee of faculty, staff, and students, is a specific part of the job description. Please note that the present EDI committee understands that locating the funds and administrative support in CLA for such an initiative will be challenging and that implementation of this goal will take time, effort, and ingenuity. (See “Recommendations for Improving EDI Fluency and Sensitivity” for a list of training opportunities and certificate programs offered by UMN.)
Graduate Teaching Assistants Demographics and Recommendations
The 2018-2019 graduate student cohort, who teach a significant percentage of undergraduate students in the department, included 18 international and 14 US non-white members out of 115. The report does not further distinguish whether international students self-identify as white or non-white. 78 out of 115 of the graduate assistants self-identify as female, though it is important to reiterate that the question about gender is binary in nature and a number of the graduate students identify as Transgender, Genderqueer, or Non-binary. It is also worth reiterating that we do not have data about the LBGTQIA+ representation among graduate students, or faculty, or staff. In the 2017-2018 academic year 30 out of 114 graduate students self-identified as international or non-white; 74 out of 115 students self-identified as female. In the 2016-2017 academic year 29 out of 107 graduate students identified as international or non-white; 67 out of 107 self-identified as female. As with faculty demographics, the graduate student cohorts in recent years have tended to be 75% people who identify themselves as white, which is a disproportionate degree of representation. Women have composed significantly more than half of the graduate student cohort.
The department’s commitment to ensuring full funding for all MFA and PhD students, aggressive pursuit of DOVE scholarships, and awarding of CLA scholarships are all consistent with recommendations for establishing the groundwork for diverse, inclusive, and equitable communities in higher education. These practices are consistent with recommendations The Association of Writers and Writing Programs provides in their “Hallmarks of a Successful MFA program” and the Modern Language Association’s “Recommendations to Graduate Programs." (See appendix.)
As the department creates additional programmatic activities and opportunities for professional development of faculty and staff, we encourage the department to include graduate teaching assistants in these initiatives. These instructors interact with a significant number of prospective English majors at the undergraduate level and their capacities to create diverse, equitable, and inclusive classrooms will have a direct impact on the quality of education undergraduate students receive, as well as efforts to recruit new majors.
Undergraduate Student Demographics and Recommendations
Among the undergraduate majors, in Fall 2018 124 out of 521 majors identified as non-white. In Spring 2018 122 out of 587 identified as non-white. In Fall 2017 96 out of 492 majors identified as non-white. In Spring 2017 100 out of 589 identified as non-white. In Fall 2017 93 out of 440 identified as non-white. In all of these semesters women significantly outnumbered men. A comparison of this data to the “New Student Characteristics” demographics gathered by CLA indicates that the Department of English Language and Literature has had non-white representation in the major at roughly the same rates as the college overall, though clearly it would be desirable for the department to exceed the college’s disappointing track record of recruiting and retaining a diverse student population. The “New Student Characteristics” shows that the college has consistently been matriculating more women than men, with the most recent cohort including 60% women, which is a trend reflected in our department numbers as well. Lamentably, we do not have data on the representation of LGBTQIA+ students in our department or the college.
In the first “From the Dean’s Desk” email of the 2019-2020 academic year, Dean John Coleman celebrated gains in the numbers of students from underrepresented backgrounds matriculating into CLA. “In fall 2018, the undergraduate African American student population in CLA exceeded 1000 students for the first time, with 1,040 students. (Note: the counts in this paragraph are based on students’ self-identified primary race or ethnicity.) That represented an improvement of 38% since fall 2014. Hispanic student enrollment reached 670 students, up 44% since fall 2014. Asian student enrollment increased 20% over that time period, to nearly 1,610 students. And American Indian student enrollment was at about 225, an improvement of 9%.” (See appendix.)
These gains in the college are encouraging given that a number of demographic studies, including Nathan Grawe’s “Demographic Changes Pose Challenges for Higher Ed” (see appendix) indicate that in the coming decade higher education institutions can anticipate a 10% decline in enrollment from traditional undergraduate demographic groups. To maintain current enrollment numbers, departments will need to recruit from underrepresented groups and non-traditional students. Redoubled efforts to retain students will also have a positive impact on enrollment numbers. To this end, it will be essential for this department to consider improving equity, diversity and inclusion to be a key component of plans for recruitment and retention. Recommendations elsewhere in this report to revise certain elements of the B. A. in English to deemphasize the Eurocentric origins of the discipline (See “Of the Manor Born”) and to encourage ongoing professional development related to teaching methods in all department disciplines will help to address these long-term demographic challenges as well. Moreover, professional development in the area of accessibility in teaching is likely to improve retention and matriculation numbers for students with disabilities, which is another undergraduate demographic group that is growing.
Though representation of historically marginalized groups in our department is a key indicator of how well a department is enacting goals for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, demographic data cannot present a complete picture. The SERU report has the potential to provide greater insight into the climate of this department. However, recent reports have had extremely low response rates, particularly among graduate students. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that among undergraduate students of color campus-wide, 40% disagreed with the statement that “students of my race/ethnicity are respected on this campus” and another 28% only somewhat agreed. In CLA 30% of students of color disagreed, disagreed strongly, or disagreed somewhat with this statement.
The graduate student data for the Department of English Language & Literature was combined with another department on campus due to a low student response rate. Despite such limitations in the data, it is important that the department attend to these reports, which indicate that among graduate students who identify as students of color, only 73% agreed that the climate is “as good for students of racial/ethnic minority students as it is for non-minority students.” Among graduate students who identify as students of color only 64% said “the climate for female students is as good as for male students.” This suggests that female students of color may be experiencing intersectional biases that should be a subject of deeper consideration. Perhaps the most important observations and recommendation that can be derived from the SERU data is that a department committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion must do a better job communicating with students about these surveys and seeking out input on the climate in the department through a variety of methods and metrics.
It is imperative to create a department culture that is actively, rather than passively, inclusive. Many initiatives focus on students and faculty; staff must also feel supported and encouraged to grow in this area. We would like to commend the English Department administration for supporting staff members who have requested to use part of their work day to pursue OED’s Basic and Advanced Certificate programs (see below); that support is a crucial first step.
Building on that support, we recommend:
- that the department more actively advertise—and encourage staff, students, and faculty to voluntarily pursue—the OED Basic Certificate training. It is not this committee’s intention to burden current English Department staff with additional training requirements; participation in any training or other professional development should be voluntary. Therefore, we only recommend making explicit to staff (as well as students and faculty) that the OED program exists, and that the department supports pursuit of the training during the work day.
- that hiring managers request a “diversity statement” when crafting job postings for open staff positions; i.e., language that lays out the expectation that successful candidates will demonstrate their experience with, and commitment to, advancing issues of EDI. A diversity statement is an application component that is becoming more commonly required by hiring committees in other departments and programs at the university—for staff as well as faculty positions—and in the private sector. Should the department wish to take this recommendation even further, “Interest in pursuing further training and professional development in the areas of EDI” could be added to the list of “preferred qualifications.” (We are, however, mindful that such a statement could be inferred as implying an additional service burden, particularly among applicants to faculty/P & A positions; therefore we stop short of making it a formal recommendation.) Making professional interest in, and commitment to, EDI a “preferred qualification” for future hires will introduce a greater commitment to EDI into the department culture organically.
- that the department provide time and space for periodic EDI-related enrichment activities that include staff, during the work day. This provides an opportunity for staff who have traditionally and systematically enjoyed privilege to broaden their understanding in these areas, so that they may better support English students, faculty, and colleagues who may have felt marginalized. These activities could be facilitated by the EDI staff position proposed elsewhere in this document, or by any staff member who has pursued or is pursuing the training offered by OED. An example: A department book club (open to staff, students, and faculty) that meets once a month on Friday afternoons to discuss a book that deals with an issue related to equity, diversity, and/or inclusivity. Participants will take turns choosing books and leading a discussion. Sample titles: A Good Time for the Truth (essays); The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee (Treuer; nonfiction); On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous (Vuong; fiction); Whereas (Long Soldier; poetry); Citizen (Rankine; poetry); There There (Orange; fiction). (We include suggested titles here to make explicit that all genres have utility and value when it comes to increasing “EDI fluency”; e.g. there is ample scholarly evidence to suggest a link between reading fiction and increased empathy.)
Additional Training in EDI for the University Community
The U’s Office of Equity and Diversity (OED) offers certificate programs (Basic and Advanced) in Equity and Diversity. These programs may be pursued by anyone within or outside of the U community; they are free of charge for university students, faculty, and staff. At this time, workshops are offered during the workday only; it is up to individual departments/units whether department staff may pursue certificates during their shift, and whether staff who are paid an hourly wage will receive their regular pay for those hours.
The goals of the certificate program, as stated by the OED, are:
- offers participants a theoretical framework for understanding equity and diversity work
- helps participants develop necessary skills for equity and diversity work
- gives participants direct experience working and communicating across differences
OED’s basic certificate program consists of thirty hours of workshops; each workshop is three hours long and there are ten in all. The workshops are offered roughly once a month during the academic year, and need not be taken in order, nor must they be completed within a particular timeframe.
Current workshop topics at the time of this writing (fall 2019):
- My Role in Equity and Diversity Work
- Communicating About Equity and Diversity
- Collective Access for All
- Facilitating Challenging Conversations
- Religious and Spiritual Identities
- Race, Racism, and Privilege
- Gender Equity
- Ableism and Disability Justice
- LGBTQIA Identities and Communities
- Challenging Classism
Upon completion of the Basic certificate, individuals interested in further work may enroll in the Advanced program. This program consists of:
- a further eighteen hours of “Dialogue Circles”—nine meetings of two hours each, facilitated by OED staff, in which a smaller group of roughly twenty people discusses issues of equity, diversity, and inclusivity at (slightly) more depth; and
- a six-hour service requirement in which participants must bring what they have learned into their unit or their own community.
OED also offers two additional workshops for faculty and staff:
- Implicit Bias in Search and Selection Processes (two hours; offered roughly once a month)
The description of the “Implicit Bias” workshop reads:
Departments across the University of Minnesota regularly participate in searches and selection processes. The university is committed to increasing diversity among its staff, faculty, and students in admissions, promotions, scholarship decisions, and other related selection processes. The presence of implicit bias in these processes can inhibit this goal. This workshop will expose participants to the breadth of implicit bias research and will help them recognize shorts cuts that are the result of unconscious or unexamined bias. Participants will learn promising practices and resources for addressing implicit bias in the context of search and selection processes.
- Teaching with Intention: Facilitating Challenging Conversations in the Classroom (there are no workshops currently scheduled).
The description of “Teaching with Intention” reads:
Most instructors are adept at handling conversations dealing with their content areas. But when conversations become more challenging, particularly around topics some find controversial and even “off topic,” how can we facilitate in such a way as to increase learning? In this workshop, instructors will learn strategies for addressing issues of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, disability, and religion, among others that may arise, in order to support classroom community and promote inclusive teaching.
Faculty and students generally have the flexibility in their schedules to enable them to take OED workshops, should they choose to. Staff who work the typical 8:00 a.m.-4:30 p.m. shift must obtain the permission of their supervisor to attend training.
When reviewing the University of Washington’s suggestions for “[developing] a plan for welcoming and supporting your new colleague,” (1) one notices some precarious advice.
“Be careful not to immediately overburden faculty from underrepresented groups, including women, with additional “diversity” demands or expectations (e.g., multiple committee assignments or multiple advisees, multiple peer or student mentees, or a major overhaul of the curriculum).”
Followed immediately by:
“At the same time, be careful not to overprotect new colleagues from service or outreach opportunities they seek out or that will be essential to their professional and personal success, since overprotection can lead to isolation.”
a number of indicators for positive
and negative climates. Though
their focus is faculty, many of
these can easily be applied to
staff and students. (See UW
website, Appendix )
2 Funding questions are perhaps
above the purview of this
Committee. It is worth noting,
however, that the University of
Iowa is launching a Faculty
Recruitment and Retention
Program with support from
The Department of Athletics,
which will “contribute $150,000
a year for three years, or a
total of $450,000, to this pilot
program. The Office of the
Provost is committing $50,000
per year, for a total of $600,000.”
3 See “Holding Patterns: On
Academic Knowledge and
Labor,” Eugenia Zuroski and
“Recruitment without Retention:
A Critical Case of Black Faculty
Unrest,” Bridget Turner Kelly,
Joy Gaston Gayles,
Cobretti D. Williams
Thinking through these suggestions in light of the article, “Want to Retain Faculty of Color? Support Them as Faculty of Color” (Larissa Mercado-Lopez) which provocatively, though perhaps not inappropriately, argues against a universalist thinking Mercado-Lopez calls “All Faculty Matter,” one can begin to imagine that providing adequate mentoring for new faculty of difference requires more than experience, especially if that experience comes filtered largely through the subjectivity of the dominant culture.
Instead, training might be necessary.
Training, as suggested here, is not punitive. Instead, it is a realistic response to a recognition of a limit. Simply put: it’s education.
Many of the articles that discuss retention for staff of difference are often focused on corporate environments whose processes for advancement we do not (yet) completely emulate. Discussions with the EDI Committee’s staff representative (this inaugural version of the committee only has one) revealed that retention issues are different for staff; this makes sense. Few who are not high-level administrators or student employees move from great distances to take positions here. Even so, climate affects retention of staff, and OED training—for which some staff members have expressed concern might be disproportionately mandated upon them—is not focused strictly for the care of faculty or students.
Taking this into account, we urge that as a component of accepting leadership role that includes a stipend, course release, or vote for appointment, members of faculty, staff, and student bodies should be required to take university diversity training [see Recommendations for Increasing EDI Fluency and Sensitivity Among Students, Faculty, and Staff].
There are several benefits to this approach.
- Our unit leaders will have a skillset for mentoring new hires of difference
- EDI training is connected directly to leadership and professional development
- As a number of Departmental/Programmatic leadership roles are rotating, more members of our community will have milestones signaling time to receive training (especially if paired with our recommendation to link EDI training with review)
- Leaders get picked for more leadership positions—and while EDI training may help these leaders figure out how to better distribute their privileged access to opportunity, it might also help them be stronger advocates of stated EDI goals as chairs of search committees, task forces, and other departmental/program representational service duties
BUT, there I’ve done what I promised myself I would not do, which is: placed primary focus on the people who are already here and not on retaining those we hope to bring. I can only mitigate this, I suppose, with the fifth recommendation, before I move on to the proposal. So:
- The training is voluntary, in that pursuing leadership and advancement in one’s career is not mandatory.
The opportunity to advance, however, should be mandatory. That’s where privilege has tended to make reports like this necessary.
And on that note, a bit of a pivot to whom we would like to retain and how we might do so.
The EDI Committee recommends that the Department seek resources and University partnerships to support initiatives, projects, and programming with EDI focus. These—let’s just say “initiatives” for now—would not necessarily be about solving EDI problems, but they would be opportunities for students, staff, and faculty to work together to create inward and/or outward facing work connected to EDI issues, supported by funds from the U (more on that in a moment) (2) via a robust grant process.
The EDI Committee argues that it would be critical that such a process be juried by community members with demonstrated EDI training—it would be an act of bad faith to imagine granting awards for Chemistry to be distributed by, say, scholars of Euripidean drama. If we are serious about EDI, then we are aware that our need for it is not in spite of our home near fair Coffman Hall, but because of a history that has brought us, not exceptionally, to this pass.
A granting jury with EDI training can begin the essential process of framing concepts of “rigor” and “value” in ways that will potentially challenge hegemonic notions in meaningful ways from within the University context. Generous resources invested in the fund allow a legible demonstration of institutional priorities toward EDI, which, in turn, will encourage more attention toward initiatives with EDI focus. Applicants who wish to have access to the funds will be more apt to collaborate with people who have experience and interest in EDI matters. This may also residually incentivize voluntary training.
Community members hired with EDI experience or commitments (see recommendations and existing practices for diversity statements in hiring and admissions) will enter an institutional space in which they see that statement was not simply a perfunctory hoop through which to jump, but one that actually has a place where such interests, experiences, and affinities would be activated and valued. They are also more likely to see a community engaged —publically and with support—in addressing EDI with creative initiatives, research, and ideas. Such a climate is one in which their contributions and knowledge will not—and this is key—simply be instrumentalized for EDI low-maintenance. (3)
If we actually care about EDI, we must care about the experiences of our community members of difference. If we want them to stay, we are saying we are willing to change something. If we are to make EDI a part of our 3-year plan in good faith, we recommend that we create a climate in which EDI is something we practice and support.
After all, our law school didn’t get big because people didn’t talk about law.
O shame, where is thy blush? ~ William Shakespeare
Words make headlines; words, words, words, the news. This particular, old, noxious word exemplifies the relation between language and force, signifier and the transformation of subjectivity. In the news lately, the utterance of this single, overdetermined word prompted the recent investigation, at NYU, of Laurie Sheck; and the suspension, at Augsburg, of Philip Adamo. Or, more accurately, a ventriloquism did: the reading aloud of that word in the classroom. An unspeakable word interdicted by that other it once interpellated, a word unsayable by anyone, everyone but that other in any space deemed public. Is this silencing, as some might insist? Should one invoke the First Amendment? One could—and I would. But the problem raised by the prohibition exceeds that of unabridged speech: it simultaneously calls out entrenched privilege, conduct to the manor born.
The continuing usage of the word “without analog” (Jared Sexton) puts to question the assertion on our home page of a state, subjectivity, “the human condition.” (“By studying and creating literature in English, we enlarge our understanding of the human condition and the power of the creative imagination.”) For, if you trace its itinerary, the nomination, bearing the full force of the episteme, framing some humans as the differance of others, as different from and inferior to—“the missing link in the slow evolution from ape to man” (Fanon)—signifies the eurocentrism of the assumption, assertion of a singular, universal, timeless, undifferentiated “human condition.”
As does the seemingly innocuous imagination—and its affine, empathy. At least as thematized by Percy Shelley—husband of Frankenstein’s author, as a student once characterized him—they distinguish savage, lacking those traits, thus literature, from civilized. Thomas Babington Macaulay, a colonial administrator writing on education for India, conceptualizes (English) literature as “works of imagination” which, through empathy, enables a condition superior to the savage, the barbaric, to surrender Indianness, metamorphose, upgrade their status to civilization. (Accompliced texts, Macaulay and Shelley deploy empathy to eradicate alterity.) From its intersection of emergence, abetting colonialism as epistemic violence, the discipline of English literature (trans)forms subjects: values some, delegitimizes others. Marked by the trace of that other, literature emerges as a problem for thought, a “provocation to read” (Mowitt, 2015), an axiological, contested concept rather than a transparent signifier with a known, stable, tangible referent. The itinerary of English, the places it has been, hails from, the sediment it accrues, must be attended to when evaluating the relation of a particular institutionalization of it, our department, to the challenge of diversity. A department that iterates the itinerary, fortifies the privilege.
The universalist assumption, assertion arrests the metaleptic (and unwritten) charge of this committee, to engage, in relation to our unit, the reticulated issues of equity, inclusivity and diversity (EDI) or, as I prefer, difference. (As we will see, diversity or the lack thereof is not our pressing matter; inclusivity an inadequate response; and that word without analog, not the only unmentionable.) A charge that, read against the department’s home page, mission statement, curriculum, parity of faculty and hiring, all of which this section of the report, on the literature program, addresses, pressures this committee to autoimmunize the department and by extension itself. Accepting such a charge is both impossible and irrepressible.
Intersecting Shelley and Macaulay, Elizabeth Cady Stanton takes just two words—“and women”—to question the undifferentiated human condition, in “all men are created equal.” (At the risk of stating the obvious, Stanton demands radical transformation, equality, not inclusion or equity.) Stamped by the other, the male, the Declaration of Sentiments finds no unmarked human subject, just gendered difference, gendered oppression. Deriving its authority—like the Declaration of Independence, a text in its tracks it responds to, critiques, dares to rewrite—from a transcendental force, the “law of Nature…dictated by God himself,” it holds such law, unwritten, unverifiable and unenforceable though it maybe, commanding, binding gender equality, “over all the globe, in all countries, and at all times.” Despite cathecting difference, Stanton confronts universalism from universalism.
She calls to account a system of oppression, privilege, the patriarchal. But DS remains oblivious to its own, a sanctioned ignorance (Gayatri Spivak, 1988) of the other, symptomatic of a certain feminism, that a different feminism challenges. Speaking from one place, one country, perhaps even for a single race, DS would nevertheless totalize, represent all women, at all times—including the past. Speaking from a classed subjectivity—among the rights it demands are to property, the professions and higher education, goals that concern the manor born—it nevertheless screens non-gendered difference, speaks for every woman, framing that woman, everywhere, throughout history, as a cc of its drafter. But the all-inclusive never includes all.
To begin (again): what is diversity? Is it self-evident, an incontrovertible good? What relation does it bear to equality? Where does it hail from? What is the difference it seeks? What is it opposed to? Does it matter? Could it help develop, will it helm an alternative to universalism, to human condition? When asked to address it, even in a report, a managerial, anti-intellectual exercise that prefers to defer these problems, an English department, deriving its writ from a claim upon language, should initiate inquiry with some grasp of the signifier, its itinerary, the writing on the subject. Another discipline might find such inquiry a waste, luxury; an English department should welcome the opportunity to read.
The dictionary suggests itself as the initial place to turn. The word comes to English from the Old French, meaning “difference, oddness, wickedness, perversity.”
To unravel a further strand of the text: the Regents’ policy on ‘Equity, Diversity, Equal Opportunity, and Affirmative Action,’ adopted in 1995, last amended in 2018, while affirming a commitment to diversity declines to define it, implicitly finding it a known—or else unknowable—object. We were, therefore, handed the definition adopted by the University of California, Berkeley, as guide; it, too, enables addressing the “what is.” Berkeley asserts that “diversity includes all the ways in which people differ.” Inextricably bound to inclusion, diversity universalizes, totalizes, encompasses every aspect of difference, however (apparently) trivial. A formulation that: a) both accomplices and distinguishes diversity from difference; b) frames difference as a sociological fact, something out there, diversity as an acting upon it, a gathering; c) fails to mention the other objects “included” in diversity; and, d) in totalizing, cannot comprehend that a different conceptualization of difference, weighting the difference within difference, might contour itself in opposition to diversity. Rather than the sociological, or constative, as Berkeley offers it, difference is better approached as something forged, forced. An epistemic, interpellative force that, always relational, weights some subjectivities, lets others wait.
The Berkeley delineation makes inventorying some or indeed any of the components of diversity redundant but, compelled by a drive to accommodate, fearful of exclusion, of getting out-lefted by the left out, the statement details them regardless, privileging some over others: “race, ethnicity and gender” get precedence, and everything first place implies; though, symptomatically, this iteration excises that which habitually displaces ethnicity in the familiar trinity, class. Apart from these traits, diversity “also [that is, in addition, as supplement to the main object] includes age, national origin, religion, disability, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, education, marital status, language and physical appearance”—but not left-handedness, the sinister—and “also includes diversity of thought” and “also recognize[s] that individuals affiliate with multiple identities.” Eschewing the axiological, Berkeley attempts pure, neutral description. But replacing the more common class with socioeconomic status reveals the interest of this formulation. Class brings into play movement, exploitation, struggle; socioeconomic status resonates with the more stable, static, unthreatening condition. Quite astonishingly, since it responds to conflict, the definition assumes a placid, conflict-free institution, that the subjectivities it incorporates—for instance, religion and sexuality— co-exist without collision.
Anticipating supplementation, Berkeley’s repetition of the adverb situates diversity/inclusion as always already inadequate to its task—knowing that another also lurks around the corner, as it were, seeking recognition, admission. As the verb indicates, the all-inclusive must fail to include all. (Include, OED: to “incorporate as part of a whole.”) Include signifies absence, a to come, but diversity—to cite the insufferable Polonius—grappling the word to itself with hoops of steel, functions despite such knowledge.
Michel Foucault speaks of
“a passage in Borges…that
shattered…all the familiar
landmarks of my thought…
breaking up all the ordered
surfaces and all the planes
with which we are
accustomed to tame the
wild profusion of existing
things…and threaten with
collapse our age-old
distinction between the
Same and Other. This
passage quotes ‘a certain
Chinese encyclopedia’ in
which it is written that
‘animals are divided into:
(a) belonging to the Emperor,
(b) embalmed, (c) tame,
(d) sucking pigs, (e) sirens,
(f) fabulous, (g) stray dogs,
(h) included in the present
classification, (i) frenzied,
(j) innumerable, (k) drawn
with a very fine camelhair
brush, (l) et cetera, (m)
having just broken the water
cooler, (n) that from a long
way off look like flies’.” The
Borges essay’s ‘The
Analytical Language of
With the exception of that parodic Borges essay, taxonomy groups, flattens objects, establishes similarity, homogeneity from heterogeneity. (1) But the like takes its sense by distinction from the unlike. As Saussure argued more than a century ago, a signifier coins meaning only in relation to others it ain’t, or isn’t. The Berkeley statement, however, accommodating, incorporating every identity, offers diversity as an impossibility, a concept without outside, opposite, opposition. On the other hand, by defining diversity as pivoting around difference, it stumbles, implies an antonym, inducing the question: different from what? If difference is odd, what is even, balanced, impartial? If, by the pricking of my thumbs, wicked, what constitutes the virtuous? If perverse, what might be verse?
Read closely, an imbricated, juridical text helps divulge that opposite, point of reference which, in this case, Berkeley represses for diversity to operate.
Grutter vs Bollinger, a U.S. Supreme Court judgement on affirmative action, reveals the stakes for those of us committed to more than diversity/inclusion, to going beyond increasing the “body count” (Spivak, 2000) in the department of bodies that do not count, even as we consider such hires, retention of faculty, admission of students pressing. The judgement endorses “Justice Powell’s view [in the Bakke ruling] that student body diversity is a compelling state interest that can justify the use of race in university admissions…[because, in part, for] underrepresented minority students,” their performance on standardized tests, “race is likely outcome determinative.” Elsewhere, the judgement specifies these races as “African-American, Latino, and Native-American.”
What, if anything, do these races—if they are races—share? The court deems it underrepresentation (in higher education). In which case the solution to the dilemma is straightforward: increased representation, inclusion. But the court argues metaleptically. The position that the race of these groups causes their (under)representation suggests some lack in the groups themselves—rather than their situation being consequent to a set of oppressive forces directed at them. In a word, that the court, and Berkeley, thou-shalt-not themselves from uttering: racism.
Or one could follow the lead of the court and consider the races minor. What does that signify? A numerical matter of fact, as social science might respond. Or insignificant, underprivileged, a set of bodies that, though counted, still don’t count. Are these groups better understood as minoritized? As cabined, cribbed, confined. Put in their place, kept in their place—in unbearable circumstances they are unwilling to abide, unable to quit. Minoritization is the making lesser, inconsequential of othered social groups; the interpellation of such groups by scripts written for them, scripts that bind them to the manner born; the naming of the other by the subject—(American) Indian being perhaps the exemplary case; the framing of a politico-epistemological interest as a sociological fact; a naturalization of the privilege of the manor born.
Would the addition of a few such bodies, in the name of diversity, transform an institution by itself? Gloria Anzaldúa, for instance, remains wary, designating “multiculturalism, difference and diversity…an attempt to control difference by allocating it to bordered-off sections in the curriculum.” Unable to think without difference (as fact) to critique difference (as force) Anzaldúa situates these terms within institutional power, wielded by one social group against others.
What is diversity? An incoherent concept with and without an opposite. An opaque term symptomatic of the repression of racism, conflict, oppression. A regulation of difference as unshaped by force. The cortical contemporary signifier of the disciplinary prose of management that celebrates and compresses difference, reducing each heterogeneous iteration of it to a version of the same. Put differently, diversity irons the heterogeneity of difference. (Thus, for instance, age, subject to nonagential alteration, occupies the same thematic space as level of education, which could change, and race, which usually doesn’t—unless, for instance, you’re a light-skinned black person from Bridgetown, who finds herself interpellated, as a student of mine once did, as colored in Cape Town.) An alternative to equality, impediment to structural change that passes itself as such change. The deferment rather than confrontation of a threat. A “form of public relations,” Sara Ahmed calls it in her book On Being Included—a nuanced treatment of this object that should be required reading— written, as she describes herself, by a “diversity worker” sympathetic to the program. An institutional mechanism that conserves both privilege and otherness.
A solution in search of a problem, diversity is at best a pharmakon, medicine that’s simultaneously poison.
Treating diversity descriptively, Berkeley holds its accomplice, inclusion, bears an imperative, a thou shalt: “the act of creating environments in which any individual or group can be and feel welcomed, respected, supported and valued.” This position, though consistent with the accommodation of every difference, beggars belief. One could—and I would—support unabridged expression on First Amendment grounds. But I shalt not, simply couldn’t—and wouldn’t—make an anti-Semite, transphobe or the Sri Lankan Jamiathul Ulema, if they manage to receive visas here to defend child marriage, polygyny, wife beating and other absurdities, feel welcome, supported or valued. The injunction to respect the disrespectful, support the insupportable, as opposed to opposing them, should trouble us.
Echoing its approach to diversity, the Berkeley definition of inclusion fails to account for its necessity. If some unstated prior acts, processes or structure of force compel diversity, what exclusions compel inclusion? What wrongs does it right? The same as diversity? If diversity seeks inclusion as end, what is the telos of inclusion? Parity or fairness (equity) of representation? Would representation alone suffice to that end? How might one evaluate that web of issues? Arithmetically or geometrically (Aristotle)? Clearly in need of interminable analysis, the Berkeley announcement represses these questions too.
The name on a public building invokes more than history, a narrative of the past. If nominated after a figure of revulsion, it would disturb, if not disgust those who work in it, walk by it or just the woke. Occupying, punctuating space, these buildings assert privilege, not of the past over the present, but of the present over itself. They underscore the hierarchies undergirding the everyday.
As we know, the meticulously researched and carefully, even cautiously argued Report of the Task Force on Building Names and Institutional History recommends the renaming of four campus buildings: Coffman, Coffey, Middlebrook and Nicholson. It demonstrates how Edward E. Nicholson, for instance, Dean of Students for twenty-four years, from 1917-1941, and controversial even during his time, “exhibited antisemitism and racism in his actions as a University administrator, often targeting Jewish and Black students whom he labelled ‘communists’.” Nicholson admitted to spying on students in his correspondence; and even informed the FBI about some of them. His activities are matters of record.
Despite the overwhelming evidence, the Regents, largely acting to the manner born, declined to reorder the manor, rename any of the buildings, including Nicholson.
The Regents ask us to practice integrity as a core value of this university. In the wake of the report, two of them actually attacked the intellectual competence and academic honesty of members of the task force, our colleagues in CLA. Could we consider those Regents ethical subjects? Do they set an example for the rest of us? Of what?
Difficult to locate online, our mission statement (2007) informs both the world, the outside, and the inside. It (trans)forms us, informs us about us, our charge as a department: to study, as per the home page and—compelled by that drive to accommodate, accumulate, describe rather than conceptualize—also to pursue, analyze, disseminate, foster, advance, engage, cover, practice, explore, examine, create and analyze once more. The catalogue demonstrates the inadequacy of inventory, instantiates again the impossibility of inclusion without exclusion: it keeps unsaid, repressed from its list of verbs two methods critical to the discipline —interpretation and, strikingly, reading. Sounding like wielders of weapons, we explore, advance, pursue, engage and so on; but, apparently, we do not read.
Which begs the question of the noun, our object; what do we pursue and so on but refrain from reading? The statement offers two constative lists. We “cover…a broad scope that [of course] includes literature, language, creative writing, literacy and rhetorical studies, linguistics and cultural inquiry, as well as the theories and documents that inform and critique these disciplines.” At first glance an impressively diverse set of objects. But it situates literature etc outside theory and, bafflingly, documents, neither literature nor theory. This distances, with the as well as, theory from literature.
The statement nominates—titles, heads, helms—us the Department of English Languages and Literatures, plural, even as its body deploys the singular; we maybe a department of literatures, but we study literature, a formulation that, despite itself, enables thematization, delineating the “what is.” (What is literatures? Pluralization is a concession to description that circumvallates itself from theorization. A gesture in the direction of diversity that rejects the possibility that all literatures—like Nietzsche’s leaves—must be presumed to share something for the singular signifier to be, take the plural.) Regardless, our coverage, reach exceeds our name, enlargens our entitlement and, in so doing, distinguishes between primary (included in title) and secondary (excluded) levels of the unit. The formulation situates creative writing, for instance, in the latter, lesser location. Even though, at some point, creative writing presumably metamorphoses, gets upgraded to literature, it fails to reward study at this stage of development. The transformation requires sanction, the stamp of the critic, the authoritative representative of the discipline. Distinction, hierarchization, privileging is characteristic of departmental manner.
Dissatisfied with the first breakdown, a dissatisfaction the announcement anticipates by—that verb intrudes again—includes, two sentences later it fills the absence, offers a second inventory of objects, genres (or so it appears): we “create and analyze books and print media, film, speech, electronic media, journalism, popular literature, drama and other performance arts, as well as traditional and developing genres.” This raises other issues: how do you distinguish literature from popular literature? What’s film doing on the list? It wouldn’t fit under any of the cited disciplines; but doesn’t it constitute one itself? (If film, why not television, video, video games? I pose the query merely to expose the incoherence of inventory, taxonomy.) If film is covered, analyzed or actually read by a literature department, is that unit properly named? Has it exceeded its title, entitlement? Or do we cathect literature, a discipline that’s changed radically in the last few decades, less than we care to admit, letting I dare not…
In sum, we address a multiplicity of objects—disciplines and genres—but, another unsaid, ignore that which our former colleague John Mowitt (1992) thematizes, after Roland Barthes, as antidisciplinary, text, a network of bound unbounds (signifiers), an inside without outside, opposed to the concept of the discrete, tangible literary work, and to the work of what he calls disciplinary reason, emergent from the (nonagential) meeting of writing and reading. Text/uality enables transgression, establishing the intersections between, for instance, the writers cited here—including Stanton and Spivak—whom historicism would routinely cabin in a discrete time period and/or place and/or genre. It critiques foundational terms that ground our approach, both in historicism: event, agent, period, place, cause, effect; and in literature: author, original, creative, classic, canon, genre. I mean, for instance, how does one tell the (expletive deleted) difference between a novella and a short story? Or, while we are at it, has anyone, in any time or place, developed rigorous criteria to distinguish fiction from nonfiction. (Surely the Borges essay mentioned before defies classification.) The (o)mission of text sounds ominous.
We address a multiplicity of objects through a multiplicity of methods, but the description evades mention of content. Do books, film, electronic media and so on engage heterogeneous matter? We pursue, analyze and disseminate knowledge—but of what? Though the statement defers this, we’ve been introduced to the what, or what is: the diversity of objects camouflages a uniformity of content. What, to the English Department at the University of Minnesota, is literature? The study of the singular, undifferentiated human condition.
As a department, don’t we, rather than just ignore or disregard, oppose diversity (difference) where it matters most? The word’s missing from our mission. Should I point this out?
The literature program hired six new faculty, including three women of color, in 2005. All of the latter have since left. (The rest remain in CLA; a New Zealander, an international, switched departments in 2016.) We appointed a Native American/ist in 2001; he departed a decade later. In 2016 we made offers to two professors of color, then inexplicably withdrew that to the woman. Our search committee last year hailed exclusively from the race the Supreme Court suggests we call the overrepresented majority. Just a single recent hire of a woman of color, from 2014, a McKnight Land-Grant Professor, continues in the literature program.
It is tempting to claim that, (incorrectly) assuming just two, we have gender parity in the department. Indeed, the number of women and men, again assuming those signifiers stable, uncontested, on our faculty are almost equal. But does it follow, after the logic of arithmetical equality, that women are adequately represented, equal in other respects? Parity surely involves more than just number. It must also take into account departmental officers, wielders of institutional authority. Our record in this regard undoubtedly impresses. Two of our last three chairs, three of six, have been women (excepting the brief interim occupant from the tally). At least one woman has served on every Executive Committee since Fall 2004. (Not the same woman.) The committee from 2006–2009 was entirely female. However, we have regressed: in the last three years the literature component has been exclusively male; and is scheduled to continue so for the next three.
It bears emphasis that achieving this largely happened before university policy on diversity, by a critical mass of women faculty struggling against, opposing—intellectually, professionally, politically—consignment to the minor, (relative) powerlessness, straightforward quotidian sexism, if not misogyny. Upon having the numbers, they pursued equality—refusing to surrender, settle for mere inclusion, demonstrating the stakes in the difference. Employed every trick in the book, including the book, Roberts’ Rules of Order. They paid for this both professionally (delayed promotion, lack of institutional support) and affectively, the latter a happening beyond the comprehension of the bleached prose of management. But they triumphed (sort of). Their example demonstrates the imperative to keep pressing matters, pressure on the manor born.
If we also consider pay, as we must, the anomalies (re)appear. Subject to the qualification that there’s a story, singularity behind every salary, the figures of disparity, detailed elsewhere in this report (see ‘Summaries of Available Data…’), engender—and I say this more in anger than sorrow—shock.
Though this be madness, yet there is method in it.
Ahmed contends that, by approaching “discrimination” as affecting individuals, as opposed to a class of persons, EDI manages, regulates the issue by denying its systematic basis. She argues persuasively.
In that brief speech, that insurgent intervention we receive as ‘Ain’t I A Woman,’ Sojourner Truth, if responding most immediately to the debates at the Women’s Convention in Akron, nevertheless intersects Stanton. Her biography includes, she told the gathering: enslavement, torture (whipping), agricultural labor (ploughing, planting) and bearing thirteen children, “most all sold off to slavery.” In a word, torment. The possibility didn’t arise to Truth of social mobility, owning property, attending college; nor to Stanton that women could be, are different, with heterogeneous manners, demands. In staging her subjectivity as feminist and subaltern, as raced and classed, apart from gendered, as an instantiation of the difference within difference, Truth calls to account, as a formerly enslaved black woman, “mainstream” Stantonist feminism as upper-class, elitist and—the unmentionable word inevitably, finally enters this text—white.
The other is not the only subjectivity contoured by race, stamped by difference.
What if I had put the (redundant) adjective before racism, the word the Supreme Court and Berkeley recoil from writing. Called the enunciation of the unspeakable entrenched white privilege? Reminded you that the overwhelming number of our Regents are white. What if, to draw the argument closer home, I had stated—as I do now—that eleven of the twelve members of our executive committees since 2006 have been white, the last exception serving a decade ago, in 2009/10. (This brackets the question of the indeterminate relation between Jewishness and whiteness in the U.S.)
What, that is, if I turn the unmarked subject into the object of interrogation. Race the erased. Returning the gaze maybe a familiar, even limited move. It remains necessary.
But what if I ask, after Nahum Chandler’s reworking of DuBois: how does it feel not to be a problem?
It was claimed at the outset that diversity/inclusion isn’t our pressing matter. Confining the possible, it cabins daring, cribs hope.
We require our majors to pass: ‘Textual Analysis’; at least two historical surveys of British and/or American (i.e. U.S.) literatures; another “historically-oriented” course; a class in language, theory or criticism; and one on Shakespeare, of course.
We also—in addition, as supplement to the main object—offer classes in African American, Native American, Asian American, and Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Literatures; though not on women’s writing. Unmandated, they get remaindered into Anzaldúa’s bordered-off territory, the waiting-room marked other. We include them, but not as equal, a move that highlights the limitations of inclusivity, as concept and practice, solution and program. Made lesser, their status signifies, yet again, the hierarchization grounding our manner, this time in our most consequent responsibility, training the next generation.
For the canon, the center, that which all our students are commanded to know, without which they couldn’t pass for English majors, or minors, prevails as British and American literature (interpreted historically). We may teach English literatures, plural, but we value some of them more than others. Individual teachers may keep canonized texts off their survey syllabi, which stay unpoliced, formally or informally—a truly, consistently admirable feature of our department—but that doesn’t change the configuration of the major/minor.
These requirements make our program historicist, eurocentric.
The naïve perception of eurocentrism deems it knowledge pertaining to or produced in/by Europe, an empirical entity. But the epistemic force of eurocentrism marks time (GMT), place (the denomination of continents), even fissures my Muslim name (Sri Lankans adopted family names only after colonialism).
If one approaches Europe non-empirically, as a provocation to read, and eurocentrism as the inflection of a structure, the episteme, and that in turn an ordering, organization of concepts, then one finds—if you’ll overlook the schematic argumentation—at its center, the (modern) subject. (Hegel : “Europe presents on the whole, the center and end of the old world, and is absolutely the West.”) In the texts—including Stanton, Shelley, Macaulay—that instantiate eurocentrism, the subject, staged as the knowing, disinterested knowledge-producing human, appears as rational, agential, autonomous, conscious and so on, terms with a “European birth certificate” (Derrida, 1992) but also as male, heterosexual, civilized and, from the intersection of emergence of race as taxonomic, interpellative category, European, white.
Our curriculum privileges the white subject. We can hire as many colleagues of color as we like or the dean permits, and we should, but the excess of entitlement will remain until we are prepared to helm matters of course off course. Beginning with that hypercanonized helmsman himself. Our pressing problem: our privileging of a particular, dominant subject prevents us from approaching, comprehending the other as anything other than other, a lesser image of the self.
If we take our rhetoric seriously, that we study English literatures, plural, why can’t we treat all literatures as equal? Offer a two or three track major? One as is (despite its incoherences). The second emphasizing social justice, perhaps turning on the question: what might it mean to read English in this specific place, Minnesota, with its specific history? And maybe a third, theoretically-oriented, that approaches literature as problem. This would underline a commitment to diversity of thought—and decenter the subject. It might even transform us from a conservative to a cool department, actually attract more students, stop the decline in enrollment.
But would the suggestion trigger whitelash?
Many images stage the presence of students and faculty of color on our website. Caption: we welcome, celebrate diversity. However, in every photograph featuring two or more persons, at least one of the others is white. Groups of color, apparently, don’t hang out in the department. We celebrate diversity, include people of color—but not in numbers large enough to matter.
Get the picture?
William Shakespeare taught me how to read.
That couldn’t be literally true, of course, but, as freshers at the University of Peradeniya, Kamal de Abrew took us through Hamlet—a ghost story—line by line, often word by word. Patiently, over a whole year. No criticism, hardly any “secondary” material, though he attended consistently to context. (I still remember him saying that nunnery was slang for brothel. One student, the son of a bishop, blushed.) Mostly just close reading. You get to know a text reasonably well if taught it thus. You cathect its author.
Then you go to graduate school, learn the critique of the author, canonization, realize you can read Shakespeare as author or text.
According to a 2015 study by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, “only four of the top 52 universities and liberal-arts colleges ranked highest by U.S. News and World Report required their English majors to take a class delving into Shakespeare…” (We don’t appear on the list.)
Though the Council protests too much, that’s progress.
Teaching Shakespeare and requiring him signify discordantly. The former perspective considers him one of many, at worst first among equals. When we mandate, venerate Shakespeare as the exclusive single author all our undergraduates need to read, we transform, reduce him to a dead white man. Proclaim that the sole writer that truly matters, among the heterogeneous literatures the discipline encompasses, that the paramount subject, the Mecca of our curriculum, if not program, is white and male. That this man, writing at the turn of the sixteenth century, in feudal England, understood the eternal human condition better than anyone else, before or since. The claim eviscerates difference.
Indeed, it makes me wonder: if Shakespeare perfects knowledge of the human condition, why bother reading anyone else? If he doesn’t, why hypercanonize him?
In conclusion, as we go to press, a last citation, a conceit: the time in our department is out of joint. You know how that ends. [Smiley face emoji]
- Ahmed, Sara. 2012. On Being Included: Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life. Durham: Duke University Press.
- Anzaldúa, Gloria and AnaLouise Keating. 2009. The Gloria Anzaldua Reader. Durham: Duke University Press.
- Aristotle. 2003. Nichomachean Ethics. Trans. Hugh Tredennick. New York: Penguin.
- Barthes, Roland. 1986. The Rustle of Language. Trans Richard Howard. Los Angeles: University of California Press.
- Chandler, Nahum. 2013. X: The Problem of the Negro as a Problem for Thought. New York: Fordham University Press.
- Derrida, Jacques. 1992. The Other Heading: Reflections on Today’s Europe. Trans. Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael B. Naas. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
- Fanon, Frantz. 1967. Black Skin, White Masks. Trans. Charles Markmann. New York: Grove.
- Foucault, Michel. 1970. The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences. New York: Vintage.
- Hegel, G. W. F. 1956. The Philosophy of History. Trans. J. Sibree. New York: Dover.
- Macaulay, Thomas Babington. 1972. Selected Writings. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
- Mowitt, John. 1992. Text: The Genealogy of an Antidisciplinary Object. Durham: Duke University Press.
- —. 2015. Sounds: The Ambient Humanities. Los Angeles: University of California Press.
- Painter, Nell Irwin. 1997. Sojourner Truth: A Life, A Symbol. New York: Norton.
- de Saussure, Ferdinand. 1998. Course in General Linguistics. Trans. Roy Harris. Open Court.
- Shelley, Percy Bysshe. 2002. Shelley’s Poetry and Prose. New York: W. W. Norton.
- Sexton, Jared. 2015. ‘Unbearable Blackness.’ Cultural Critique, #90, pp 159–178.
- Shakespeare, William. 1978. Hamlet. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
- Spivak, Gayatri. 2000. “Claiming Transformation: Travel Notes with Pictures.” In Sara Ahmed, et. al. (eds) Transformations: Thinking Through Feminism, 19–130. London: Routledge.
- —. 1988. “Can the Subaltern Speak?” In Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg (eds) Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture, 271–316. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
- Stanton, Elizabeth Cady. 1997. ‘Declaration of Sentiments.’ In Ann D. Gordon (ed) The Selected Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, 75–88. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.
- Truth, Sojourner. 1851. “Ain’t I A Woman.” https:// sourcebooks.fordham.edu/mod/sojtruth-woman.asp.
- U. S. Supreme Court. 2003. Grutter vs Bollinger.
Chris Pexa, imnížaska othúŋwe (Village of White Cliffs/St. Paul)
In the following text, there are redactions related to confidential human resources information.
I have been asked to comment, as part of this committee’s report on diversity in our department, on the place of Native American and Indigenous literatures, and perhaps people, in our midst and I am happy to do so, however briefly. This past week I was teaching Gerald Vizenor’s short story, “Custer on the Slipstream,” in my Indigenous futurisms class. Its portrayal of the “devious loser” general is apposite to my sense of the state of this field I was hired to teach here so I want to start out by quoting from it a little, and by reading it in the spirit Qadri invokes in his portion of this report. Vizenor also has the benefit of being ascerbic and hilarious—qualities I’m finding difficult to conjure yet medicinal as I sit down to write.
The story imagines a present-day (1978, but just as easily could be now) “resurrection” of George Armstrong Custer in the person of a United States Department of Labor worker named Farlie Border. This is no Buddhist or karmic parable, exactly: Custer has been resurrected by the descendants of those he sought to exterminate a hundred years prior, with their “tribal memories” of Custer embodying Border with “blunt white fingers” and “an evil curl on his thick lips” (Vizenor 18). Both Custer and Border, we are told, “sought power and wealth in small places, and worked better under attack” (17). This petty tyrant-bureaucrat who profits from the “gain games” he stages by his racialization (via fractionated blood quantum and tribal enrollments) of the “tribal people” he manages is complicated, however, by the appearance of other resurrected historical persons including Tĥašúŋke Witkó (lit. “His Horse is Crazy,” or, Crazy Horse) and Tĥatĥáŋka Íyotake (Sitting [Buffalo] Bull). Before these figures appear, though, the story recalls a scene of Native-settler politics during the early 1970s, in which Farlie Border asks his “mixedblood” henchman/fellow agent Clement Beaulieu for a report on the activities of Saul Alinsky at a Lutheran church in Minneapolis:
“It was spring and the winter dreams of radicals and racial ideologies were budding into abstract forms. Saul Minsky [Beaulieu’s name for Alinsky], the radical organizer and street-tough theoretician, was on his ‘zookeeper mentality’ tour and had spoken at the Lutheran Redeemer Church in Minneapolis to a collection of fair-minded liberals. He said it was the issue and the action, not the skin color that made the difference in organizing for social changes…. The liberals loved him. You should have been there…. Why do you fight being the great white liberal you are?” (19)
Beaulieu’s mocking of the resurrected Custer is spot-on, if we consider how liberalism served as both instrument and alibi for colonizing tribal nations: from Carlisle Indian School’s assimilationist torture and death camp atmosphere to liberalism’s historical expression in allotment policy’s legalized land theft and genocide and on to the Indian Reorganization Act in 1934, which mandated—in what was thought a charitable devolution of power back to tribes—that tribal-national governments that were thousands of years old be replaced by constitutional governments in the model of the oppressors. When characters like Farlie Border/Custer and Beaulieu can side with “radical organizer[s]” like Alinksy, yet feel deeply threatened by the also-resurrected Sitting Bull’s prophecy that “the land will be ours again,” it underscores the facts of settler parasitism and extractivism (not to mention ephemerality) in relation to Indigenous lands, waters, and skies. Custer both insists on difference—as race—for his “gain games,” yet disavows or downplays that difference in relation to the originary crimes of the settler nation.
It is my experience, having taught at a range of institutions prior to arriving here—Pima Community College, Vanderbilt University, Cornell University, and Oklahoma State University—that tribal nations, and the literatures our citizens produce, constitute a critical difference that is often overlooked completely, or at best poorly grasped, in literature departments (and outside of them for that matter). Even if that difference is understood in historically sensitive and nuanced ways, it still presents a problem for thinking diversity, since if that thinking is to be robust at all it must account for not only Indigenous difference, but as Chris Andersen (2009) urges, Indigenous density also. That density consists in the facts of origins and homelands, of superior ethical and philosophical traditions to those of disease-ridden and licentiously liberal settler-colonists. It consists in the fact that Indigeneity is neither a racial nor a cultural category but primarily a political one, and those politics cannot be grasped adequately without substantial knowledge of tribal intellectual, ceremonial, linguistic, historiographical, and gender traditions, among others.
I made this point at least a couple of times in a [departmental interchange last summer about future hires.] [redaction related to confidential human resources information] One disturbing point that came out in our initial volleys back and forth [redaction] was that African American studies were far more [redaction] important and weighty a field than Native studies. [redaction] I then fielded a rhetorical question asking whether I worked in Native studies, implying of course that one such scholar is sufficient for our department. This gain game was, needless to say, not a shining moment of wokeness. But it was evidence that some wašíču relatives here were indeed úŋšika—pitiful and in need of rehabilitative care through visiting, through hanging out and conversation. It’s in that spirit that I write what follows.
I don’t want to extrapolate unfairly from this one example, but it seems reasonable to me to conclude that if even one person in a relatively small department is not only capable of these ideas but of expressing them with impunity then there is a real problem with diversity, among other things. In my response, composed at intervals of sporadic wifi while conferencing in New Zealand, I noted [redaction] that Native American and African American studies more and more articulate with one another—they can’t be thought apart from each other in work that wants to call itself decolonial (see especially Day 2015; Moten, like, anything really, but especially 2017); Wolfe 2006; Veracini 2010). To quote from my own email:
I have to say I’m a bit puzzled at the assertion that Af Am studies is [vastly greater in importance than Native studies—forgive the redaction/gloss, but I’m trying to avoid direct quotation here]. First of all, these fields articulate with one another more and more in recent theoretical work—they can’t be thought separately, I mean, in much work that calls itself decolonial. Settler colonialism is a thing, in other words, and so is its critique in the academy : ) Second, I can’t imagine any basis for weighing one of these fields over the other unless one is playing by numbers, which would be a mistake.
And yes, my theoretical home is very much in Native studies. But why shouldn’t our department have more than one scholar who draws on methods and approaches of Native studies? You, we, are all on Dakhota territory, when we are in Mni Sota. [redaction]
[redaction] Certain follow-up replies characterized my position as activism or protest rather than as an intellectual project. My position was further ventriloquized as wanting to find common cause among the oppressed, i.e., people of color, because of settler-Native-black intermarriage and the existence of local solidarities. [redaction] Activists shouldn’t be lumped together, was what I took away from this conversation, because or despite different “races” and “ethnicities” (Indigeneity was never mentioned as an irreducible category) offering important perspectives. [redaction]
There are a few issues/problems to note here: the first of these shows up as subordination (i.e., Indigenous studies is less important than…), which Qadri rightly pointed out is an inexcusable power move. The second has to do with a lack of awareness of really exciting and important scholarship being done in Indigenous studies and settler colonial studies, where critiques of Black and Native solidarity or at least shared structural experiences of colonization are increasingly the norm rather than anything unusual. Leanne Simpson (Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg) for instance writes in “An Indigenous View on #Blacklivesmatter” (December 2014) that “I was reminded over and over this week that black and indigenous communities of struggle are deeply connected through our experiences with colonialism, oppression, and white supremacy.” But these connections, as I tried to argue, are structural ones rather than historically isolated instances of local solidarities. Put another way: Patrick Wolfe’s now-orthodox formulation in “Settler Colonialism and the Elimination of the Native” (2006) that settler-colonialism gave birth to the structural identities of settler-indigene-chattel slave is increasingly unavoidable as an analytic in our historical moment of #NoDAPL, #IdleNoMore #Blacklivesmatter, #MMIWG, among many other cases of decolonial action, thought, and feeling.
A third issue: naming my position as activism rather than serious research. That this position—cheek-by-jowl to accusations of “me-search” still too-commonly levied against scholars of color whose archives are embedded in their own communities—was voiced among our faculty disappointed me, to say the least. But as Qadri has also noted by paraphrasing Nahum Chandler, it speaks to the issue of what it feels like not to be a problem, to have one’s invisibility not be a matter of inescapable otherness but instead the symptom of (up until now, at least) comfortable enfranchisement.
Okay, we’re all learning. But it’s not the job of scholars of color and/or Indigenous scholars to bring up to speed those who should know better already, is it? What I’m saying is that my committee experience this summer is symptomatic of a larger lack—a lack that, if I were being uncharitable and speculative, I might call an inevitable consequence of tokenism. [redaction] It’s all the rage to give land acknowledgments nowadays, but these are just white hand-wringing and faux expiation if they don’t require anything of us and if they do not motivate structural change. Just because our department has had in the last two decades, as far I know anyway, one prominent Ojibwe scholar followed by one (by all accounts middling) Dakhóta scholar, doesn’t mean things could go differently in the future. [redaction] In a perfect world, by which I mean a just world, by which I mean one where settler-colonists not only realize but act upon their knowledge of being invaders in these lands, we would count among our numbers at least one representative of each major tribal nation represented in this state: Ojibwe, Dakota, and Ho-Chunk literary scholars, poets, and writers.
I realize I haven’t really very directly given my read of the state of Indigenous literary studies as part of our department’s diversity make-up, but instead have tried to show the as-yet awkward fit of the field in which I work in the face of certain tendentious points-of-view. In closing I would urge us all—and ironically, I overheard this same thing in one of our summer exchanges—to keep thinking against the multiculturalist grain, its flattening of difference, and tendency toward tokenism. But you can’t do that without in the first place understanding Indigeneity as a separate category from race and ethnicity. You can’t do that without moving beyond acknowledgment toward material and institutional change. And you can’t do that (very well at least) without partnering more robustly with existing institutions on campus like RIGS (their cluster hire three years ago, and the amazing people they got from it, signals something about how categories of identity can’t be lumped together or thought apart from one another, I’d guess). Indigenous studies (and in my own work, especially Indigenous feminisms), critical Black studies, queer of color critiques, and to a lesser extent settler colonial studies are doing this intersectional, decolonial work in really robust ways right now.
- Chris Andersen, “Critical Indigenous Studies: From Difference to Density,” Cultural Studies Review 15:2 (2009): 80–100
- Iyko Day, “Being or Nothingness: Indigeneity, Antiblackness, and Settler Colonial Critique,” Critical Ethnic Studies 1.2 (2015): 102–121
- Fred Moten, Black and Blur (Durham, NC: Duke UP 2017)
- Leanne Simpson, “An Indigenous View on #Blacklives-matter” (December 2014), yesmagazine.org
- Lorenzo Veracini, Settler Colonialism: A Theoretical Overview (Palgrave Macmillan 2010)
- Gerald Vizenor, “Custer on the Slipstream,” in Grace Dilllon, ed. Walking the Clouds: An Anthology of Indigenous Science Fiction (Tucson, AZ: U of Arizona P, 2012)
- Patrick Wolfe, “Settler Colonialism and the Elimination of the Native,” Journal of Genocide Research 8.4 (Dec. 2006): 387–409.
Kathryn Nuernberger & Douglas Kearney
In “To the Manor Born” elsewhere in this report readers can see a series of recommendations for curricular changes to the Literature tracks in the Department of English. Because Creative Writing has goals, methods, and outcomes measurements that differ in significant ways from those of literature programs, this section of the report will describe ways the Creative Writing program at the graduate and undergraduate levels can improve diversity, equity, and inclusion in the program, drawing upon recommendations made by important voices in the discipline, including the Association for Writing & Writing Programs.
Faculty, Staff, Instructors, Visiting Writers
The creative writing program has many strengths in terms of diversity, equity, and inclusion. 33% of the tenure track faculty are faculty of difference. Women comprise more than half of the faculty and regularly assume leadership positions in the department. The significant racial, cultural, and LGBTQIA+ diversity in recent classes of MFA students has meant that introductory classes to creative writing are often taught by instructors from backgrounds often underrepresented in Academia.
will, no doubt, be familiar to the
program at large.
The committee recommends that the program continue to join with the English Department at large in retention efforts, as well as the recruitment of additional diverse tenure track faculty members, to ensure there are ample advisers and mentors available for increasingly diverse cohorts of graduate students and the increasing numbers of students in the undergraduate program. The reason: research and anecdotal experience (1) shows that students from historically underrepresented backgrounds will seek out guidance from faculty whom they presume have similar experiences. This leads to an “invisible” service burden that may negatively impact the retention of BIPOC faculty as, in most cases, this service—which typically includes mentorship, advising, advocacy, and uncredited independent study hours—is not factored into promotion or acknowledged as “real work.” (See “An Immodest Proposal” and “Emergent Energy” elsewhere in this report for more detailed discussions of these points.)
Attempting to offer positive insights from the isolation BIPOC and LBGTQIA+ people experienced in her MFA years at University of Wyoming, Kristen Sloane recommends in “Challenging the Whiteness of MFA Programs,” which appeared in The Writer’s Chronicle, that MFA programs help students “find a mentor outside of the program, or even the university. It may be wise to develop such networks over time with these concerns in mind.” In response to an ongoing self-study about the EDI climate in the creative writing graduate program, a Brown Bag Series has been created for the 2019-2020 academic year. Visits from community members like David Mura who will speak on “Teaching Using Alternate Workshop Models” are a good start to implementing this recommendation. The committee advises, however, that over-reliance on “outsourcing” mentorship can reflect limited departmental commitment to EDI, particularly if recruitment for tenure-track positions fails to produce faculty of difference. The UMN MFA is fortunate to have a Graduate Program Coordinator with Diversity Certification who is able to act as an advocate for students and we consider this one of the strengths in the program.
To its credit, when possible the UMN MFA program has used its discretionary funds, like those available through the Edelstein-Keller Visiting Writing Series, to create additional opportunities to bring more diverse voices and perspectives into program. Sloane recommends administrators “make sure the program brings in a diverse range of visiting writers. Furthermore, if the program is to respect the students’ interests and agency, ask students who they’d like to bring to campus and take such wishes into consideration.” Both of these recommendations have been standard practice in the UMN MFA program for some time.
Advising and Mentorship
The creative writing program has also established advising and mentorship frameworks that have the potential to contribute to a positive climate for diversity, equity, and inclusion in its sustained support for students. Sloane recommends that faculty “declare a genuine commitment to serving and protecting your students. Pretending that what happens outside of class is none of your business for the sake of ‘professionalism’ is just another way of ignoring the problem and will worsen the situation.” She advises faculty to “check in with them. Ask them how they are. Do what you can for them within the bounds of respecting their agency and gaining their trust.” The creative writing faculty at UMN have formal student progress meetings once each semester with the aim of improving student success and retention.
Interventions regarding student care are welcome in the second half of each meeting; the student reps (MFA 1, 2, 3) are invited and attend for the first half of most of the twice-monthly faculty meetings. There are also numerous instances of faculty reaching out to students in myriad ways through office hours and other meetings. We also know based on an open letter sent by some students in the Creative Writing MFA program and the available SERU data that creative writing students of difference, do not always feel valued in this program. Thus, while we have formal and informal frameworks for supporting graduate students, the EDI committee recommends that the Creative Writing program investigate ways to more actively leverage resources to help meet the program’s emergent EDI goals for retention, for graduate/undergraduate students and faculty (See “An Immodest Proposal”).
Beyond advising on matriculation, faculty are called to be mentors. While writers expect to mentor MFAs on craft, compositional questions, and the shapeshifting “Writer’s Life,” many MFAs are drawn to teaching, not as an ancillary concern but as a part of how they see themselves as writers engaging community—in traditional institutions or outside of them. To this end, AWP also recommends strong mentorship for TAs. “A regular program of TA training and mentoring ensures that TAs develop good pedagogical methods and benefit from the experience of a skilled teacher.” Moreover, AWP provides extensive recommendations about quality teaching for undergraduate programs. Given that our TAs are responsible for teaching a significant percentage of the undergraduate courses, and given that much of the most recent research on creative writing teaching is related to questions of stereotype threat and implicit bias manifesting in workshop classes, we recommend that the program treat the training and support of TAs in their classrooms as an important task that is closely related to the EDI climate at the undergraduate and graduate level. Examining the workshop as a received framework itself (for faculty and students) via the early semester programing of a Brown Bag lunch featuring UMN alum David Mura, is one example of how the program can create opportunities for critical exchange on a foundational teaching idea regularly reproduced yet often not unpacked in the program. We encourage the creative writing committee to extend and deepen this burgeoning conversation about workshop methods that this Brown Bag event opens. Some examples of possible topics that could follow on Mura’s talk include Liz Lerman’s “Critical Response,” Felicia Rose Chavez’s “Seven Strategies,” Beth Bich Nguyen’s “Unsilenced Workshop,” or Matthew Salesses’s essays poking at the notion of “pure craft.” (See appendix.)
Communicating Programmatic Goals and Expectations
In his essay “Ferguson, Whiteness as Default, & the Teaching of Creative Writing,” Mura outlines reasons why an awareness of systemic injustices and privileges, as well as an understanding of how to resist such biases in one’s community and in art, is essential for all creative writers as a key component of their educations in the craft. He writes, “As is commonly proclaimed, sometime around 2040 or sooner, we will no longer be a white majority country. No racial group will constitute the majority. Artists of color, who are both reenvisioning the past and creating our future, know what it means to be a racial minority in America. This knowledge is embedded within our imaginations and identities, and we speak from that knowledge. That knowledge is out there for white artists to share, but whether they want to avail themselves of that knowledge is another question, one they will have to answer if they are to prepare themselves for the America that is surely coming.”
In her keynote address at the AWP conference in 2016, Claudia Rankine explained why the development of critical consciousness (as coined by Paolo Freire) is an essential component in creating a supportive community. “This inability of white faculty and students to know and understand themselves as white Americans and white writers, as white writers conditioned by a racist history with resulting dominance and privilege, diminishes and marginalizes students of color in the workshop. This is whiteness working at privileging the white imagination, keeping their notions of their normality, universality, and transcendence intact. Thus making participation a struggle for the nonwhite student. When a student takes the time to point out the inequality determining, governing, and policing white spaces by stating simple facts, that student is often read by white writers in positions of authority, as well as the student’s white peers, as problematic, difficult, and ungrateful. The now silenced student of color is overly sensitive, angry, unable to fit in, and, in short, a problem.” (See appendix.)
The committee invokes critical consciousness here, because it speaks toward teaching. That is, teaching people to see the world they’re given, yet look further, critically, even skeptically. Then directing that awareness into anti-oppressive action. And for EDI, it speaks toward recognizing structures of domination—Mura and Rankine emphasized race, we see that and add to it other modes of difference, including, but not limited to: gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, religion, class.
It is important that this program find systemic ways to support students sharing their expertise with peers, staff, and faculty in a timeline scaled toward student matriculation. We recommend that the program explicitly states to students that the development of a nuanced understanding of privilege and systemic injustices is a necessary step in developing all students’ 21st century literary talents, as well as a crucial part of creating an engaged, evolving, and supportive community for all. In the absence of such a statement, we recommend that the program reflects equally critically on why it would eschew one and voice that instead.
recent controversies in conceptual writing,
including Kenneth Goldsmith and Vanessa
Place, as well as the Michael Derrick
Hudson/Yi-Fen Chou uproar come to mind,
as does Lionel Shriver’s speech on cultural
appropriation delivered at the Brisbane
The MFA program already has a student handbook that is a clear and well-written resource to guide students through their educations. We recommend incorporating goals and a mission statement that address critical consciousness into that existing document. Other important topics that can be addressed in an expanded handbook include cultural appropriation, as well as appropriate and ethical use of citation and documentation in creative contexts. The undergraduate creative writing program would also benefit from a handbook that addresses these issues. These topics are not abstractions. They are urgent and have had significant impacts on the profession in general and several careers in particular. (2) Thus, beyond their importance in class discussion, they impact creative work beyond the university. Please note that by suggesting that the handbook address these issues, the committee does not seek to impose what such content might be. While a “rule-of-thumb” might be applicable in the context of a fixed classroom, the publishing public is a different complexity; therefore statements should inform faculty and students about trajectories and the contemporary conversations while reducing a top-down regulatory approach.
Ongoing Professional Development
In response to concerns expressed by graduate students, in 2018–2019 the faculty in the Creative Writing program began a year-long conversation about the structure and content of ENGW 8170 and the related undergraduate course 1101. We encourage the Creative Writing committee to continue this important, impactful, and positive work, continuing their tradition of reflective and responsive teaching, while acknowledging the initiative and work several students have undertaken in addition to their creative writing. We recommend that in addition to the internal conversation within the Creative Writing committee, the faculty leverage the opportunity to provide interested graduate students with robust mentorship in curricular development. This will better equip the students to understand institutional structures, developing their professional and critical experience.
More generally, in addition to their recommendations for teacher training, AWP recommends introductory undergraduate classes encourage cross-genre classes, with small class sizes, meaningful conversation about diverse works of contemporary literature, and workshopping of their work. They recommend course structures that allow students to develop meaningful relationships with the TAs who will be leading their first workshops, times that can be quite precarious in terms of the opportunities for microaggressions to arise. We also encourage the creative writing committee to keep these recommendations in mind as they continue this self study and continue to strategize about revisions to the 8170/1101 frameworks. The TAs are the most constant faces of our program to the undergraduates. They are teaching the students the faculty may be teaching soon.
An additional recommendation from AWP is that “Extensive and diverse reading lists for such courses should inform creative and critical writing assignments.” Because there have been some classes with only token representation of EDI texts, it is important that the program consider systemic ways to ensure their responsibilities to students in this area are being met. In connection with recommendations elsewhere in this report (See “Emergent Energy”), we recommend that the Creative Writing faculty share reading lists annually to help create a better sense of the range of writing undergraduate and graduate students are encountering across the various creative writing courses they are taking. Many members of the Creative Writing faculty have described a desire for an increased sense of intellectual conversation, less mediated problem-solving, more exchange about what excites them. Blending this desire for collegiality with the need to ensure all classes include robust exposure to EDI texts may be a path that avoids the deadening effect of another self-study.
We have described professional development for staff elsewhere (see “Summaries of Available Data” and “Recommendations for Increasing EDI Fluency and Sensitivity”). We argue here that professional development in EDI for faculty is, frankly, a retention issue. Class preparation isn’t after all, just reviewing the writing in question, but being ready to manage expectations for interactions in the classroom itself—feeling ill-equipped to address these interactions can make many faculty members deeply anxious. Being an instructor ill-equipped to address them can make one’s students deeply anxious. The microagressions (and sometimes macroagressions) the EDI committee recommends the program helps its students unlearn, the faculty may also need to unlearn. We encourage faculty to voluntarily enroll in unconscious bias training that the U offers before issues are brought to the program’s attention. We imagine such training as decoupled from punitive measures. We encourage participants to not imagine that the training will “fix” or “absolve them of” problems, but rather to consider that deepening one’s understanding of EDI issues is a crucial part of the intellectual and artistic climate in 21st century literature. We do ourselves a disservice as writers as well as teachers when we decline opportunities to grow in this area. We also do our students a disservice if we do not prepare ourselves to help them grow in their understanding of EDI.
It’s a process.
Elsewhere in the report (see “An Immodest Proposal”), we present ideas for department-wide professional development in EDI. These ideas are intended to move the resources from correcting bad actors (compulsory punitive training), to creating opportunities for students, staff, and faculty committed to the work.