Editor's Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article do not reflect those of The Collegian.
After I signed the disaffiliation statement and listened to the voices of Shira Greer, Jesse Amankwaah, Jordyn Lofton and Simone Reid, student leads of the University of Richmond Black Student Coalition on the Race Capital podcast, I felt compelled to offer my voice in support.
I have been involved with UR since 2009, and I know my perspective as an alum, faculty affiliate and active resident in Richmond is part of what so many Black students experience here at UR. I also want my voice to be on the right side of history and support a collective body of students who are tired of having to advocate for their own needs.
I have been Black in higher education long enough to know the exhaustion from repeatedly explaining your humanity on “equity panels,” or having to code-switch and talk theory jargon to prove that our Blackness is intellectual too.
The author feels this Instagram post relates to some of the content discussed in this op-ed.
We are more than the trauma and oppression narratives. We are more than the uncompensated diversity and inclusion photos that circulate on campuses like UR. Yet, we are rarely tied to direct action without our labor. Before reading my words below, I want to say to the Black student leaders, I see you. I am learning from you. And, I am proud of you for recognizing your power and interlocking it with your education experience and your identity to change the things you cannot accept. You should not accept anything less than what you deserve: everything.
I feel deep in my spirit that the cultural change on this campus is overdue. In fact, I feel like I disaffiliated from UR nearly a year ago, because of my own disheartening experiences in 2020, seeing how much fight and invisible labor it takes from Black staff, lower-ranking faculty and Black students to make a sustainable change. I emphasize this point about invisible labor because I see students across this campus facing the same disappointments and unmet promises that my peers and I used to vent about in our student days back in 2011. The usual response is that higher education moves slowly, or we just need to hire more Black administration.
Then brave, Black femmes and queer folks step up and apply pressure, and we see how our experiences across this campus and this city intersect. Together, we call out the folks who are paid big bucks to “represent us,” but do not see us or value our labor if it does not push their ideas of diversity and inclusion.
While the caucasity of this institution never surprises me, as I am from Connecticut, even if I have become inured to or jaded by it, I do not believe that those who come after me should have to endure it to get merely a piece of what’s being offered at “the table.” Working at UR in 2020 really made this point clear to me, so I share it here for my fellow colleagues: find ways in your everyday work and practice to listen to and be led by the intellectual, political,and social demands and imaginations of those who are younger than you. Why else would you be in higher education if not to dream as a community?
Connected to this, there are three points I hope anyone reading takes away from my experiences at UR:
- “Representation” through the hiring of Black folks, queer folks and women for leadership positions means nothing if the culture is about holding onto white supremacy and suppressing the dreams of the marginalized. (I don’t think that this can be said enough in higher education because it still feels like y’all ain’t listening!)
- If you are Black at UR, whether faculty or student, and your work cannot be co-opted to fuel the “diversity and inclusion” agenda, then there are subtle forms of white supremacy that suppress and silence you. Or make it hard for you to remain at this institution. Check stats on Black faculty persistence and attainment across predominantly white institutions.
- Power encourages hoarding, so just because someone has the title of president, dean, trustee or even scholar does not mean that that person is qualified to represent the population of people impacted by this campus’ decision to give unequal access to power and money.
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I hope that this moment pushes us in the direction of not only meeting the demands for overdue changes but also engages a deep reflection of the roles and responsibilities of university leadership and governance when these blind spots persist. What does it actually take to commit to the sustainable development of anti-racist culture, including literal building names, in 2021?
As UR departments and affiliates disaffiliate in vast solidarity, the message is clear that “diversity and inclusion” kumbaya initiatives are not enough to get us on our greatest path of excellence as an education community.
The culture of complacency that so many have called out at UR and PWIs alike will change, whether by grace or by force.
Still, I am grateful to be part of an institution whose mishaps, blind spots and glory days make it clear that no matter who you are, it is always uber important to build a community with those who see your humanity and value your voice without fight. Period.
Chaz Barracks (he him/they them) is a scholar-in-residence at the Bonner Center for Civic Engagement and affiliated with the Department of Rhetoric and Communications at the University of Richmond through June 2021. He earned the PhD in Media, Art, and Text from Virginia Commonwealth University in May 2020. His research interests blend Black studies, Black queer feminist narratives, and queer performance epistemologies through art and media-making in ways that cultivate creative expression through interdisciplinary mediums, such as podcast and short films that illuminate local Black cultural production.
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