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English Department restricts graduate admission to Black Studies only

JBStillFlyingJBStillFlying 7866 replies28 threads Senior Member
edited September 14 in University of Chicago
Faculty Statement (July 2020)

The English department at the University of Chicago believes that Black Lives Matter, and that the lives of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and Rayshard Brooks matter, as do thousands of others named and unnamed who have been subject to police violence. As literary scholars, we attend to the histories, atmospheres, and scenes of anti-Black racism and racial violence in the United States and across the world. We are committed to the struggle of Black and Indigenous people, and all racialized and dispossessed people, against inequality and brutality.

For the 2020-2021 graduate admissions cycle, the University of Chicago English Department is accepting only applicants interested in working in and with Black Studies. We understand Black Studies to be a capacious intellectual project that spans a variety of methodological approaches, fields, geographical areas, languages, and time periods. For more information on faculty and current graduate students in this area, please visit our Black Studies page.

The department is invested in the study of African American, African, and African diaspora literature and media, as well as in the histories of political struggle, collective action, and protest that Black, Indigenous and other racialized peoples have pursued, both here in the United States and in solidarity with international movements. Together with students, we attend both to literature’s capacity to normalize violence and derive pleasure from its aesthetic expression, and ways to use the representation of that violence to reorganize how we address making and breaking life. Our commitment is not just to ideas in the abstract, but also to activating histories of engaged art, debate, struggle, collective action, and counterrevolution as contexts for the emergence of ideas and narratives.

English as a discipline has a long history of providing aesthetic rationalizations for colonization, exploitation, extraction, and anti-Blackness. Our discipline is responsible for developing hierarchies of cultural production that have contributed directly to social and systemic determinations of whose lives matter and why. And while inroads have been made in terms of acknowledging the centrality of both individual literary works and collective histories of racialized and colonized people, there is still much to do as a discipline and as a department to build a more inclusive and equitable field for describing, studying, and teaching the relationship between aesthetics, representation, inequality, and power.

In light of this historical reality, we believe that undoing persistent, recalcitrant anti-Blackness in our discipline and in our institutions must be the collective responsibility of all faculty, here and elsewhere. In support of this aim, we have been expanding our range of research and teaching through recent hiring, mentorship, and admissions initiatives that have enriched our department with a number of Black scholars and scholars of color who are innovating in the study of the global contours of anti-Blackness and in the equally global project of Black freedom. Our collective enrichment is also a collective debt; this department reaffirms the urgency of ensuring institutional and intellectual support for colleagues and students working in the Black studies tradition, alongside whom we continue to deepen our intellectual commitments to this tradition. As such, we believe all scholars have a responsibility to know the literatures of African American, African diasporic, and colonized peoples, regardless of area of specialization, as a core competence of the profession.

We acknowledge the university's and our field's complicated history with the South Side. While we draw intellectual inspiration from the work of writers deeply connected to Chicago's south side, including Ida B. Wells, Gwendolyn Brooks, Lorraine Hansberry, and Richard Wright, we are also attuned to the way that the university has been a vehicle of intellectual and economic opportunity for some in the community, and a site of exclusion and violence for others. Part of our commitment to the struggle for Black lives entails vigorous participation in university-wide conversations and activism about the university's past and present role in the historically Black neighborhood that houses it.

https://english.uchicago.edu/?fbclid=IwAR1vW5HOB42Rf6q5ETmvR9k2iWRFnLtJOKXU7y_BUnBb0GxwIqrdSsMTmck
edited September 14
61 replies
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Replies to: English Department restricts graduate admission to Black Studies only

  • Mom2MelcsMom2Melcs 62 replies9 threads Junior Member
    It's beyond redemption.
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  • JBStillFlyingJBStillFlying 7866 replies28 threads Senior Member
    marlowe1 wrote: »
    A while back we were debating the purport of a previous statement of the English Department in connection with the Rachel Fulton-Brown affair. There were those who argued that that statement was not suggesting that perspectives other than critical-race-theory ones were being implicitly banned. Now the English Department has resolved that dispute for us. Not only do they tell us in the statement above that as a department they are committed to critical race theory but, astoundingly, they tell us, in the most literal sense, that no one else need apply.

    - So, I guess that means @MohnGedachtnis was correct? :wink: The prior statement might have been a tad too nuanced for today's more literal younger folk. Perhaps the English department was continuing to get too many applications from the Chaucer / Shakespeare / Milton crowd.

    Actually, it does looks like they might be attempting to start a Black Studies department within English. I wonder if it will eventually be spun off to it's own academic home over time. By the way, I've heard that humanities departments everywhere have really halted further acceptance of PhD students until they can clear out their current set (who have no jobs because no university is hiring . . . ). The Shakespeare scholar doesn't stand a chance this year regardless. Unless, of course, they can convince the English department that they are want to pursue "Black Shakespeare." https://english.uchicago.edu/courses/black-shakespeare


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  • marlowe1marlowe1 1004 replies27 threads Senior Member
    @JBStillFlying , to clarify, I meant to say that the argument was being made by some that the English Department's prior statement amounted to nothing more than a condemnation of the alleged conduct of a particular professor. Whereas it seemed to me to be saying more than that - that certain ideas and approaches were no longer welcome, specifically those not in conformity with critical race, decolonizing, and other such perspectives. I.e. that there was no longer room in the English Department of Manly, Crane, Booth, and Bevington for what might be called traditional literary studies.

    I had hoped I might be wrong, but the recent statement shows clearly that I was not. The debate is over, and my forebodings have been proven correct. This saddens me unspeakably.
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  • JBStillFlyingJBStillFlying 7866 replies28 threads Senior Member
    edited September 14
    ^ Oh I agree that it was saying more and that some were thinking it wasn't but they were probably wrong and that you were right. This seemed to be coming regardless, perhaps rushed along in an unprecedented way by Covid and social unrest. At least the department is being honest now.
    edited September 14
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  • Happytimes2001Happytimes2001 2356 replies19 threads Senior Member
    It’s 2020. Nothing at all surprises me.
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  • vpa2019vpa2019 799 replies22 threads Member
    Just....wow. So thankful my kids are almost done with the American system of higher education. Just continues to sadden and disappoint me.
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  • 85bears4685bears46 768 replies44 threads Member
    edited September 15
    This is not just an U of C thing. I just read another website which I cannot link it on CC. On that site it lists (as of now) 43 grad programs that suspend admissions for fall 2021. The programs include Brown History; Columbia English, History and Math; Harvard Education PhD; NYU English; Princeton Sociology; UCB Sociology; UCLA Film; Yale Art History and Drama.

    And these are only the programs that formally announce the suspension of graduate admission program. I have to believe that there are more programs that face such a severe cutback that they can admit only a handful of students instead of the usual 15 to 20.
    edited September 15
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  • lookingforwardlookingforward 35696 replies403 threads Senior Member
    I know nowhere near as much about UChi as OP does. My view is much from the sidelines. But note this is as much a sales pitch, a recruitment effort, not necessarily *any* any attempt to close out other aspects of grad Englsih studies. They want to bring on more scholars of color, interested in delving into this particular perspective.

    Grad program admits depend on the student being aligned with the present needs and wants of the department and its available profs. No surprise there. I know some of this is uncomfortable (and perhaps uncomfortably phrased,) but couldn't they simply be focusing on what they need/want to build, at the moment?

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  • JBStillFlyingJBStillFlying 7866 replies28 threads Senior Member
    I know nowhere near as much about UChi as OP does. My view is much from the sidelines. But note this is as much a sales pitch, a recruitment effort, not necessarily *any* any attempt to close out other aspects of grad Englsih studies. They want to bring on more scholars of color, interested in delving into this particular perspective.
    - Are you implying that a qualified white scholar interested in the subject wouldn't be admitted due to skin color? That's actually illegal. And what about scholars of color who are interested in other areas of research - aren't they being shut out?
    Grad program admits depend on the student being aligned with the present needs and wants of the department and its available profs. No surprise there. I know some of this is uncomfortable (and perhaps uncomfortably phrased,) but couldn't they simply be focusing on what they need/want to build, at the moment?
    - Sure. But this isn't quite the same thing as, say, the newly-formed school of Molecular Engineering which was planned out a little more thoughtfully. This presents as a knee-jerk reaction to recent public events and appears designed to rectify some perceived wrongs within the discipline and the university. That's not exactly following the course of thoughtful scholarship. That sort of activism really has no place within a university department.
    aquapt wrote: »
    We can be upset about the lost opportunities that are occurring for many students, without fanning the flames of outrage about Black Studies opportunities being sustained. How many times throughout history have Black students and the study of Black issues been left behind in the competition for resources? Nursing resentments about this and bemoaning the "death" of Eurocentric scholarship (as if, lol) is really not a good look.
    - If the issue is having been left behind in the competition for resources, then how does being offered a chance to pursue "Black Studies" in an already overly-glutted industry rectify that? Wouldn't it be better instead to accept qualified Black applicants into a graduate course of study where they are actually under-represented?
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  • lookingforwardlookingforward 35696 replies403 threads Senior Member
    JB, I'm not implying anything beyond that this appears to be a recruitment effort, to me. Do not wish to get sucked into an argument.

    I don't believe this locks out scholars of color who wish to study other aspects, nor non POC scholars deeply committed to Black studies. (Too soon to tell. I know you know much more about the U- and have had issue with other decisions of theirs- and am merely commenting.)

    Nor do I assume scholarship is static, cannot evolve in perspective or practice. I do believe it's well about time we accept that status quo (whether scholarship or cultural realities) is not always reasonable and fair. It often does benefit from a fluid approach, a willingness to view from new and varied perspectives.

    That's all.
    Peace.
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  • Mom2MelcsMom2Melcs 62 replies9 threads Junior Member
    "Black Studies" has been a priority at universities since the late 1960s. A careful inspection of the English department faculty list of U of C would show that an interest in black studies is over-represented, whereas scholarship in Shakespeare is greatly under-represented.
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  • Happytimes2001Happytimes2001 2356 replies19 threads Senior Member
    All purely political posts and thinking. No more needs to be said. Pity the kid who just wanted to study English devoid of politics, however.
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  • JBStillFlyingJBStillFlying 7866 replies28 threads Senior Member
    I don't believe this locks out scholars of color who wish to study other aspects, nor non POC scholars deeply committed to Black studies. (Too soon to tell. I know you know much more about the U- and have had issue with other decisions of theirs- and am merely commenting.)

    Nor do I assume scholarship is static, cannot evolve in perspective or practice. I do believe it's well about time we accept that status quo (whether scholarship or cultural realities) is not always reasonable and fair. It often does benefit from a fluid approach, a willingness to view from new and varied perspectives.

    - A couple of nits: this decision was made by a specific department, not the university as a whole. Departments are generally free to hire, tenure, accept for admission and set curriculum as they deem best. Also, a poster on Shred-it has clarified that Black Studies will need to be a primary focus (although not the sole focus), which means that scholars of color wishing to focus on Renaissance literature will be locked out unless they focus that research in an area that combats "anti-Blackness." In fact, the entire reason for this project is to undo the "anti-Blackness" of the discipline and the university, according to the statement. So, Renaissance Scholar, if you can show how the Renaissance period was "anti-Black" you have a shot. Otherwise, forget it.

    - Scholarship certainly shouldn't be static and the English department itself has a rich history of initiating all sorts of methodological innovation, particularly in the areas of theory and criticism. That's hardy surprising, given its institutional home. What is surprising is that this latest evolution isn't methodological - it's activist. That's an odd pivot for an academic department at a university whose faculty have overwhelmingly affirmed scholarship over political statements. And, of course, to use race or political cause as criteria for hiring and admitting to graduate study isn't really demonstrating much innovation. Any university can do that.
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  • JBStillFlyingJBStillFlying 7866 replies28 threads Senior Member
    All purely political posts and thinking. No more needs to be said. Pity the kid who just wanted to study English devoid of politics, however.

    - My son was very interested in pursuing a literature-based major. He excelled in his Greek and Rome humanities sequence and opted for the third course (which maybe a third of first years tend to do). His writing tutor begged him to major in English. He gave it serious thought but ultimately dismissed it based on the lack of "politics-free" content. This latest political statement only re-affirmed his decision to major in something more rigorous (he's currently exploring Philosophy). Just one example from the undergraduate side.
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  • lookingforwardlookingforward 35696 replies403 threads Senior Member
    I agree it's worded in an aggressive way. But I can't control for that, only my own reaction. I recall other threads complaining about other ways Chi has sought to apply their notions of "fairness" to admissions, how angry some got.

    I do wonder how many new Shakespeareans or Chaucerians we need. How much can be re-studied? This isn't as simple as some kid's enthralled by American lit of the 19th century and wants to know more. Behind it, there should be some new or greater contribution to the scholarship.

    It's not uncommon to revise approaches in the humanities. In some subfields, more accepted in Europe . Each decade or generation brings their own experiences, viewpoints, cultural markers to bear on their interpretation of sources. That becomes the so-called standard view. Someone comes along and says, let's try a different angle.

    Maybe let me out of this fury. I've said what I can and advocate waiting to see what really rolls out.
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  • CheddarcheeseMNCheddarcheeseMN 3763 replies14 threads Senior Member
    edited September 15
    I agree with a couple of posters above who point out that this was likely the result of a discussion of whether or not to admit ANY PhD students in English this year, something that is being discussed widely around academia. It is a strongly worded announcement, but I read it as saying we aren’t accepting any students this year except for those in an particular area that is currently of great importance(and hence the students might actually be employable down the road.). Some of you are aware that Columbia’s entire cohort of English PhD students on the market last year failed to get tenure track jobs. I assume Chicago’s next cohort will be much smaller than usual as well.
    edited September 15
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  • CheddarcheeseMNCheddarcheeseMN 3763 replies14 threads Senior Member
    Pity the kid who just wanted to study English devoid of politics, however.

    I think a lot of us feel bad for the students who spent years in a PhD program who then end up facing a grim job market. It’s great to see academic departments recognizing that they need to limit enrollments to do their share in reducing the glut.
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