The English Department condemns the anti-Black slurs and threats made on social media by a UW student this week. As members of a department dedicated to learning about and engaging with the power of language, we recognize the immense harm that hateful speech inflicts and the more subtle but likewise harmful effects of tepid statements in response to violent words.
We are also aware that this incident is part of a long-standing pattern and that it occurs at a moment in the semester when students are expected to be preparing for finals and should be celebrating the end of the academic year, rather than processing the violent impacts of anti-Black racism and having to once again demand more than thoughts and prayers.
As Toni Morrison stated, racism can be an insidious diversion that “keeps you from doing your work” and “keeps you explaining over and over again, your reason for being.” While we encourage community members to process this incident in a way that feels right for them, we also want to acknowledge how the impact of racist words and actions can hold students back from pursuing excellence on their own terms. Student organizers responding to the video have emphasized this fact and called for academic accommodations for all students affected.
The English Department therefore calls on all department instructors to provide flexibility for students whose processing or activism must take priority right now and welcomes students naming those needs in English Department spaces.
We likewise call on campus leadership to take seriously the demands put forward by students and to invest resources to address patterns of racist harm on campus.
The following is a list of institutional resources at UW–Madison for those seeking additional support to process this incident.
- Dean of Students Office, 608-263-5700
- UHS Mental Health Services (24/7), 608-265-5600 (option 9)
- UHS Let’s Talk sessions, providing daily no-cost, informal, and confidential consultations to all students both in-person around campus and virtually through May 5.
- Employee Assistance Office, 608-263-2987, email@example.com
We also encourage you to connect with instructors, with academic advisor Erin Polnaszek Boyd (firstname.lastname@example.org), and with other students organizing on campus. On May 4 at 3pm, people will gather at the bottom of Bascom Hill for a rally organized by the Blk Pwr Coalition @theblkpwrcoalition: https://www.instagram.com/p/Cr0ujQnOoTd/. Donations of water, snacks, poster and medical supplies are also being accepted and can be dropped off at the Black Cultural Center.
The English Department reiterates our commitment to engaging with language as a tool against racism and its underlying causes. While language has the capacity to injure, we also believe it can facilitate community and connection, and we are actively creating department structures and curricula in service of those goals. As we reflect on the past history of the university and our department and on the events of this week, we remain committed to the role that language can play in imagining and realizing more equitable futures.
Christa Olson, Department Chair
Erin Polnaszek Boyd
Chris Cañete Rodriguez Kelly
Dr. Amy Gaeta, Postdoctoral fellow
Óscar Iván Useche
Lindsay Dunne Jacoby
Kim Hagerich, Senior Lecturer in ESL
Kirk B. Sides
Helen E. Smith, PhD student, Literary Studies
Mandy Moe Pwint Tu
Elizabeth B. Bearden
Lisa Marvel Johnson
Caroline Gottschalk Druschke