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Black Faculty Sends Open Letter to Black Students

June 4, 2020

Seven members of the College of Social Sciences and Public Policy faculty were among the 33 Black faculty of FSU who released a letter to Black students in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd and the resulting protest movement.

The faculty members responded to events of recent weeks with a letter of support for students, recognizing "the toll institutional and structural racism can take on your motivation, as well as mental, physical, and spiritual health, especially with the heightened anxiety of living through a pandemic that has disproportionately affected Black, Latinx, and Indigenous communities."

One of the authors of the letter, Assistant Professor James E. Wright II of the Askew School of Public Administration, told the Tallahassee Democrat, "We want to take what’s going on in the nation and locally and use that as a platform for us to engage around conversations on anti-racism." He defined anti-racism as “the practice of identifying, challenging, and changing the values, structures and behaviors that perpetuate systemic and institutional racism.”

The letter, reproduced in its entirety below, also sets forth ten recommendations to the FSU administration for addressing the campus racial climate and building "an academic space that is rooted in anti-racist ideology."

An important step, Wright noted, is to see more diversity and representation among the faculty and administration at the university.

"There is not a ton of representation of Black faculty at FSU relative to the population of Black students,” Wright said. “Students deal with implicit and explicit racism, and that is hard. When I was a student, I dealt with the same sort of issues.”

The letter has received positive response from COSSPP Dean Tim Chapin, FSU President John Thrasher and Provost Sally McRorie.

"I am so very pleased to see Black faculty in COSSPP, and across the university, provide support to our Black students and offer advice to the university to combat racism, continue to push us to diversify our faculty, and advance the Black Lives Matter movement within the university and community," Chapin said.

Here is the full text of the letter (signatories in bold are COSSPP faculty - our emphasis):

Dear Black Students at Florida State University,

We are writing to offer our public love and support for you and to let you know that we see you and feel the racial battle fatigue, grief and frustration that you are probably feeling.

The last few weeks coupled with the historic antagonism and attack on Black people in the United States is troubling. The current and persistent anti-Black racism in the United States and in the rest of the world is exhausting, distressing, and debilitating. We recognize the toll institutional and structural racism can take on your motivation, as well as mental, physical, and spiritual health, especially with the heightened anxiety of living through a pandemic that has disproportionately affected Black, Latinx, and Indigenous communities.

We know that you are balancing all of this while striving to thrive in your academic programs. We recognize that institutional racism is still very much an issue on our campus and we are committed to doing our part in addressing this wherever and whenever we can.

We encourage each of you to give yourself grace. Take some time for yourself, the work will always be there.

On February 23, 2020, Ahmaud Arbery was chased down by two white men, videoed by a third, and shot and killed in South Georgia for jogging in his neighborhood. On March 13, 2020, Breonna Taylor was shot eight times in her own home by police who served a warrant at the wrong address while the suspect they sought was already in custody. On May 25, 2020, George Floyd was killed by a police officer who pinned him down to the ground with his knee on his neck for nearly 10 minutes while pleading “I can’t breathe”. On May 27, 2020, Tony McDade, a Black trans man, was killed by police here in Tallahassee, Florida. These lives that were violently snuffed out by the very institutions claiming to serve and protect remind us of too many others; Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Atatiana Jefferson, Aiyanna Stanley-Jones, Trayvon Martin, Nina Pop.

These are only a few of the names and stories of Black people who have been killed for being Black in the recent decade. There are countless others whose names have gone unmentioned in the media and even more who have died as a result of the coronavirus epidemic. These killings and the many other forms of anti-Black violence that go un- or underreported by the media have led to the recent protests and unrest occurring in nearly every state around the country. Just this past week the Tallahassee community took to the streets to protest local police actions and police violence across the country. During the course of these protests the people were met with violence in the form of someone driving his vehicle into the crowd. Many such cases of extrajudicial violence and vigilantism have occurred.

President Thrasher did release a statement on Twitter on Friday, May 29, 2020. On the evening of Wednesday, June 3rd President Thrasher shared a follow up email updating the campus community on efforts to address student concerns. However, there are no official university statements of acceptance, apology, tolerance, diversity, and/or inclusion that any campus administrator can write that will make a meaningful dent in deconstructing the system of white supremacy that is threaded through the fabric of our country.

We, as Black faculty, want you to see and feel our support for you as Black students. As faculty we have a responsibility to hold the FSU administration accountable for addressing the campus racial climate. While we acknowledge that solving structural and systemic racism within academia will not happen overnight (as our foremother Audre Lorde states, “the master’s tools will not dismantle the master’s house”), we want to clearly state our investment in continuing to deconstruct the present system and to begin to rebuild an academic space that is rooted in anti-racist ideology. In the interest of transparency, we offer the following recommendations to the university administration and offer them here for your review. We invite you and FSU alumni to engage in this conversation with us and with university leadership to address your needs as Black students and pursue a more just and inclusive campus community.

Our recommendations are as follows:
1. Acknowledge that all of higher education is complicit if we are not naming and calling out racism and its entangled nature with the injustices of sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and ableism in our work.

2. Provide mentorship networks between Black Faculty, Black Staff, and Black Students across departments and disciplines.

3. Strongly recommend a First-Year Experience reading curriculum rooted in social and racial justice and First-Year Discussion Group Series. Those who lead these discussion series should be compensated for their labor.

4. Strongly recommend that All First Year Students (including transfer students) complete a module on the racial history of Tallahassee that focuses on segregation past and present in the city, unrest and race relations, and the historical relationship between FSU and the city, and with FAMU.

5. Create reciprocal partnerships between the University and organizations in the community that are fighting racism, prejudice, injustice, and bigotry.

6. Strongly recommend that all departments and programs complete the eight hour National Coalition Building Institute training.

7. Strongly recommend that new faculty and staff hires, including Deans, upper administration, and FSU Board of Trustees members, attend NCBI training within their first six months of being onboarded to FSU.

8. Strongly recommend that all departments and colleges craft a diversity and inclusion statement and plan that addresses a strategy for increased recruitment, retention, and mentoring for Black students, staff, and faculty that is supported and accounted for within the University Strategic Plan.

9. Strongly recommend that the University create a paid Anti-Racism Task force composed of students, staff, faculty, administrators and individuals from the community that directly reports to the President and Provost. This task force will also build space and create structure for a Vice President for Anti-Racism as a part of the FSU Cabinet.

10. Strongly recommend that FSU should hold at least two events per semester in conjunction with FAMU (one located on FAMU’s campus and one on FSU’s campus) entitled “Community Conversations” designed to help facilitate dialogue between the two Universities and to address the historical injustices brought on by Florida State University as an institution as well as early alumni and founders of the University.

As Angela Davis astutely notes, “It’s not enough anymore to not be racist, we all must be anti-racist.” We believe now can be a time not just for building and sustaining community, but to remember and live by the words of Federico Garcia Lorca: “I will always be on the side of those who have nothing and who are not even allowed to enjoy the nothing they have in peace.”

We believe that if we work together, we will win.

#BlackLivesMatter

In peace and solidarity with all of you,
Dr. Cameron Beatty, Educational Leadership & Policy Studies
Dr. Shantel Gabrieal Buggs, Sociology & African American Studies
Dr. James E. Wright, II, Askew School of Public Administration & Policy
Dr. Antonio C. Cuyler, Art Education
Dr. Tamara Bertrand Jones, Educational Leadership & Policy Studies
Dr. Patricia Golay, Division of Undergraduate Studies
Dr. Stacey E. Hardin, Special Education Teaching Program
Dr. Lakeisha Johnson, School of Communication Science & Disorders
Dr. Katrinell M. Davis, Sociology & African American Studies
Dr. Bradford Johnson, Department of Geography
Dr. Rhea Estelle Lathan, Department of English
Dr. Ceasar Douglas, Department of Management
Dr. April Jackson, Department of Urban & Regional Planning
Dr. Tisha Holmes, Department of Urban and Regional Planning
Dr. Erik M. Hines, Educational Psychology & Learning Systems
Dr. Kawana Johnson, Department of Management
Dr. Christopher L. Small, Educational Leadership & Policy Studies
Dr. Simone May, Educational Psychology & Learning Systems
Dr. Maxine L. Montgomery, Department of English
Professor Carla Laroche, JD, College of Law
Dr. Shanna R. Daniels, Department of Management
Professor Maxine D. Jones, Department of History
Prof. Ravi Howard, M.F.A., Creative Writing Program/English
Dr. LaTonya Noel, College of Social Work
Dr. Nicole Patton Terry, School of Teacher Education
Dr. Maura Scott, Department of Marketing
Dr. Alisha Gaines, Department of English
Dr. Laura Reid Marks, Educational Psychology & Learning Systems
Dr. Jerrilyn McGregory , Department of English
Dr. Kema Gadson, College of Medicine
Dr. Mackenzie Alston, Department of Economics
Dr. Adrienne P. Stephenson, The Graduate School
Dr. Shalay Jackson, College of Social Work