By Rachel Bryant, Director, Office of Diversity and Inclusion June 10, 2020
Like many of you, I am left raw by the relentless violence and death in our communities. Nothing has prepared me as a human being or as the current Director of Diversity and Inclusion to adequately address these tragic days. African Americans are dying disproportionately and rapidly due to health disparities and police brutality; this moment is only illuminating the consequences of long-standing white supremacy in this country and the world.
The purpose of this letter, however, is to localize the conversation to CIIS, where Black students, staff, and faculty have been striving for the recognition of white supremacy at our institution for many years. Admittedly I do not speak for everyone; I speak from my 12-progressive years as a Black student, alumna, staff, faculty, and administrator at this institution.
Anti-Black racism is nothing new, but neither is Black resistance at this university and much of the incremental progress is largely due to the labor of Black and Indigenous people of color. Certainly, Black women have used their creativity, vitality, and emotional labor needed to address racism and take care of others. Their names include Shirley Strong, Arisika Razak, Monique LeSarre, Joy Amao, Denise Boston, Annette Williams, Danielle Drake, Cynthia Mitchell, Kathy Littles, Bisola Marignay, Fania Davis, Adeeba Deterville, Gealeta Perkins, Natalie Bell, and Michelle Coleman. Thank you to everyone who has created a legacy of shared humanity in the face of systemic racism at CIIS. Please add your names to this list.
Hundreds of Black students have trusted CIIS with their intellectual and professional growth even as this institution has, at many times, caused them harm. The current Pan African Student Union (PASU), led by Somatic Psychology students Joelle Dussek, Adisa Stewart, and Zuri Montgomery, stands on the shoulders of Pan-African student resistance across decades. We must do better for our Black students who have consistently demonstrated their power to express the complexity of who they are, and what they expect and deserve from this institution.
In the struggle to end anti-Black racism at CIIS, there have always been allies, white allies, LGBTQ allies, international allies, and indigenous people of color allies who have done the tremendously difficult work of introspection and self-responsibility that dismantling systemic racism and white supremacy requires. Despite the herculean effort from all of our allies and the strides we have made addressing racism at this institution, it has not been enough. In what ways can we think and act beyond what has already been done, because those strategies have not significantly changed the experiences of Black and Indigenous members of this community?
When people emerge from collective engagement with a sense of self-worth, self-respect, and dignity, they are prepared to invest greater effort into making necessary changes. As a first step, we must collectively mitigate the long history of racism and class issues at CIIS.
My deepest prayer is that we double down on our resistance to end racism in the most fierce and compassionate way possible, understanding that everyone is not resourced to respond in the same way. The feelings of solidarity and possibility this moment has brought must not fall back into the cycle of amnesia and bystanding that has enabled injustice to continue.
To support this process, ODI is currently co-organizing a series of teach-ins, listening sessions with ODI and the president, and other immediate steps that are better accomplished through face-to-face communication. More importantly, we affirm the commitment of CIIS becoming an antiracist school in both culture and policy; to this end, we are in the process of creating an infrastructure that is thoughtful, organized and sustainable in collaboration with staff, faculty, students, and President Emerita Wexler; please look for more communications and announcements about these efforts in the coming days.
ODI does not hold this work alone, and already these initiatives are developing across the institution. Let me know if you would like to help to organize anti-racism and equity projects that move us forward as a community. You may email your ideas and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org a new email address dedicated to antiracist work.
I am here to receive your wisdom and concerns and to walk with you as we face this historic moment together. We have an opportunity to turn the tragedies endured by our communities into a galvanizing and energizing force that can propel us into an antiracist future in higher education.
Best and Highest,
P.S. Please start by checking out these resources: