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Statement of Anti-Racism from the Graduate School

June 8, 2020

Dear Stony Brook graduate community,

As we enter the third week of global protests and demonstrations in response to the brutal murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, we are writing to you to affirm that the Graduate School stands against police brutality and racist violence, and that we support our graduate students, postdoctoral scholars and faculty members who are engaging in protests and demonstrations across the nation.

The tragic deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and others are only the most recent of the countless black and brown lives lost and devastated as a result of actions of the police and vigilantes. Their murders are a part of the history of racist violence that extends back to the colonial settlement of this island, this state, this country, indeed this hemisphere. These losses are also the result of decades of local and federal guidelines, practices, and failures to take reformative and restorative action against the use of excessive and unnecessary force in the policing of black and brown persons. The compounding effect of this history leaves us today in a country where people of color are fifty percent more likely than their white counterparts to experience some use of force in their interactions with police. The combination of these recent deaths with the disproportionate impact COVID-19 has had on Black, Latinx and Native communities, has wrought the current landscape with understandable anger, frustration and sadness, but also fear, exhaustion and most notably, trauma.

It is well past time for the privileged majority in our country, our government, and our institutions to come to terms with the ongoing and systemic racism of today--racism deeply rooted in our past, active in our present, and with no place in our future. It is also the responsibility of those same people to take intentional, loving and collaborative action, based in careful listening and empathy, to build a foundation on which new, anti-racist systems of learning and governance can be built, together. And this must be done in such a way as to refrain from re-traumatizing our community members of color or placing further burdens on our underrepresented friends to do the work that must be done in this space.

Stuart Hall said the following, in reference to new forms of scholarly engagement with a world in pain and in need of transformation:

It tries in its small way to insist on what I want to call the vocation of the intellectual life. That is to say the necessity to address the central, urgent, and disturbing questions of a society and a culture in the most rigorous, intellectual way we have available. That is, above all, in my view, one of the principle functions of the university, though university scholars are not always happy to be reminded of it.

Today we stand in solidarity with those of you exercising your right to assemble and demonstrate—it is your call to remind us. We want you to know we are committed to change in this national arena, but also to our local one. We must lead by example and tackle bias and discrimination in higher education head on. We must use our work as scholars and researchers to examine, question and resolve the ways in which systemic racism and unchecked bias unfairly impact your experiences as graduate students and members of the Stony Brook community. We must engage with the work of scholars and activists in all fields who are studying and documenting the state of race relations in America. We must work together on a more collaborative design of policies and procedures that support scholars of color and affirm Stony Brook's claim as a safe and welcoming institution for scholars of color.

We stand with you today, committing us to that challenge. We in The Graduate School and the Center for Inclusive Education will work with you and for you, in association with other university leadership and organizations. We commit ourselves to making changes that ensure you as students, scholars, and citizens have access, equity, and agency in your work. This cannot be accomplished overnight, but it can be done. In the coming weeks we will be scheduling in collaboration with broader university efforts a series of listening sessions to hear from our students of color your concerns about bias and discrimination on campus and in the community. I also invite you to email us with any immediate concerns so we can work together to address them.

In solidarity,

Eric Wertheimer
Dean and Vice Provost
Professor of English and American Studies
The Graduate School
Stony Brook University--State University of New York

Toni Sperzel
Assistant Dean for Diversity and Inclusion, the Graduate School
Director, the Center for Inclusive Education
Stony Brook University--State University of New York