*Please also see the letter from the CCSRE Faculty Program Directors.
Dear Students, Colleagues and Faculty,
Please allow me this moment to address the recent course experience in Introduction to Race and Ethnicity and the considerable dialogue and work that has followed. With this note, I share my apology, my appreciation and CCSRE’s response to the many events and insights of these past days.
Let me begin with my apology. To the students in the course, the many students engaged with CCSRE and students across our campus community, I apologize. I am so sorry that you experienced distress and disruption in association with one of our courses. You are at the center of our work, and the future in which we are invested. This experience was not consistent with our mission for racial justice.
I want also to share my appreciation to the students for bringing your concerns to my attention, for the many hours you have spent talking with the professors and community leaders and for vulnerability you have shared with me. Thank you to my faculty colleagues here at CCSRE and to our staff, institutional and community leaders across the university for your many hours of dialogue and outreach with each other and our students in and beyond this course. I am grateful to have this space for all of us to work towards immediate and broader action, not only in response to this experience, but in support of the ongoing work of the Center. I thank all of you for allowing CCSRE and me to do this necessary work. It is all the more urgent to work against racism and inequality and towards interracial comity as we live in a moment of rising racial hate. I need not mention the on-going assassinations or the fact that Latino/a(x), Native Americans and African Americans are dying of COVID-19 disproportionately and that Asian Americans have been scapegoated and attacked.
For nearly 25 years, addressing such concerns has been at the core of our mission. We are a public center and an academic unit—a home for faculty and students as well as the entire Stanford community to discuss questions about race, equity and justice. The Center seeks to foster meaningful dialogue about the myriad ways that race and ethnicity are part of our lived experience and theoretical ideas. Brave student activists—most of them Chicanas—became hunger strikers and thereby brought attention to their desire to make Stanford more diverse—in both scholarly course offerings and in the composition of the faculty (two different goals). We continue to honor their legacy and the interracial coalition of Stanford Faculty who were our first race and ethnicity scholars. We also work closely with AAAS, the MLK Institute and activists, artists and scholars who are affiliates across the entire campus to foster the study of race and racism and in the pursuit of racial justice. I would not be here were it not for the advocacy of our founding Director, Al Camarillo as well as other previous Directors such as Claude Steele and Matt Snipp. I too I have been an advocate for the cadre of younger race studies scholars who have affiliations with CCSRE and of course for our students who share a passion for our subject.
Thus, it has been all the more painful to see tensions emerge in the classroom and over email during the last two weeks. What has transpired was a shame: the use of odious language in the class and in some of the responses to the incident was hurtful.
I understand that the use of the “n-word” indexes the systemic historical and present white supremacist violence against people of African descent around the globe. Given that the coursework of CCSRE, AAAS and other disciplines often considers fundamentally the study of racism, the “n word” is bound to appear. This hateful term has a long history of usage and its prevalence and purported power is precisely the reason certain Black artists and people “reclaim” it as a term. James Baldwin, used a different tactic to redress the term: he dis-identified with the “n-word” claiming that its invention served as a feature of white supremacy that had nothing to do with him as a person. Even when we reference such words, we must prepare students in advance by discussing the context of its use; and clarifying why such words may be critical to particular issues within a specific class. We continue to condemn the use of racial and other epithets. I believe that the utterance of the term by our colleague (who is an affiliate in both AAAS and CSRE) was an objectively hurtful mistake; and I was dismayed by the tenor of some of the responses to the incident. Our students are paramount to our work and we must do our best to treat one another as fallible.
I hope always to live up to my values and to shepherd the vision I share with so many of you. In times when that goal falls short, I hope to be able to listen, to lead with grace and I request that each of you try to do the same with every member in this collective. I ask once again for your time and for your trust to advance this work, while acknowledging and embracing the lessons of this experience so it can inform an even stronger way forward. In the aftermath of these events, I feel called to confirm my respect for all members of our community, even or especially when they are vulnerable, as indeed each of us is at this time.
It is my conviction that we must be a welcoming community where our constituents—faculty, staff, students and community members—have the chance to learn to be compassionate yet critical scholars and practitioners of our difficult subject. We all regret this rift in our community and hope to amend things going forward by introducing concrete actions that demonstrate our values.
To all of the students who are in our major and classes, please stay tuned for an invitation to an upcoming strategy session to discuss ways to move forward as a community.
Jennifer DeVere Brody, Faculty Director