The Mississippi State University English Department condemns the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Ricky Ball, and too many others who have died because of police brutality and violence. We understand the necessity to confront the past and present forms of systemic racism that devalue Black lives and perpetuate white supremacy. We stand with the Black Lives Matter movement, and we stand with the massive protests demanding structural changes necessary to achieve racial justice and equality.
Mississippi is a particularly important place in America’s struggles for racial equality. It was a focal point for the civil rights struggles, but Mississippi State was closed to Black students until 1965. Half a century later, our current student population is 20% Black or African American. As educators and as scholars of literature and culture, we have a responsibility to recognize and understand this rich, difficult history and its significance in shaping the students we teach. The English department has not acted on that responsibility as it should. We have begun re-envisioning our curriculum to address its emphasis on white authors and literary traditions, and we commit ourselves to carrying through the work to produce the anti-racist, fully representative curriculum that our students deserve.
These proposed curricular changes will not succeed unless we are also attentive to broader systemic issues in a department that reflects the demographics and dynamics of the Predominantly White Institution (PWI) it is housed in. We acknowledge that Black faculty members, GTAs, instructors, and lecturers often face additional demands for service, mentorship, and diversity work. We recognize the necessity of recruiting and retaining Black students in our undergraduate and graduate programs, and a concomitant commitment to recruiting and retaining Black faculty members and staff in the department. The Black Lives Matter movement has re-energized national dialogue on systemic racism and anti-Blackness, and we commit to the ongoing work of making our curriculum and department culture inclusive and supportive.