NYU English Department Statement on Diversity and Antiracism
(May 25, 2021)
The NYU Department of English strives to be an antiracist community, working against white supremacy, racism, religious intolerance, and discrimination on the basis of gender, sexuality, class, age, and ability.
The department therefore stands against anti-Black, anti-Asian, anti-Latinx, anti-Indigenous racisms, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, and xenophobia. We believe that Black Lives Matter. We condemn the intensifying anti-Asian violence in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. We acknowledge that the Department of English at New York University is located in ancestral Lenape homelands, and we recognize the longstanding significance of these lands for Lenape nations past and present. New York City has long been and continues to be a convening point for Indigenous people across the planet, and it is currently a major hub of urban native people in the United States. We are committed to addressing and challenging the effects of Indigenous exclusion and erasure.
As a discipline, English has a complex relationship with colonization, racialization, and exploitation. We recognize that to study the English language as well as literatures written in English is to grapple with its imperialist and colonialist underpinnings, its relationship to power and whiteness, and its mediating work in the spread of Western domination. Through the development of aesthetic hierarchies, the discipline has long contributed to systems of valuation that determine whose stories matter, whose histories are told, and whose knowledge is counted. The discipline has come a long way. Intersections with postcolonial and ethnic studies; women and gender and queer studies; and disability studies have challenged and changed the field in important ways. There remains much more work to be done.
In reckoning with this living history of the discipline, the NYU Department of English fosters attention to the ways in which language and language-use are historically, formally, and culturally conditioned. We are committed to developing, studying, and teaching anti-racist, decolonial strategies for reading literature, which entails interrogating its capacity to normalize, perpetuate, and constitute violence. We are also committed to studying and teaching the many ways in which language, writing, aesthetics, forms, media, and texts have subverted, redefined, and retooled our imaginations for collective action, social justice, and decolonial struggle.
Our work requires coming to terms with NYU’s historical and present relationship to the multracial politics of New York City. New York, a sanctuary city, has been and continues to be shaped by palimpsestic layers of both forced and voluntary migration, from the enslavement of African people to the US via the Dutch slave trade starting in 1626 and continuing through the city’s role as a refuge for communities and individuals fleeing violence and discrimination. The city’s diversity has fostered its contributions to nearly every landmark tradition of art, performance, music, literature, and film, and shapes every aspect of its daily operations.
The global entanglements of our city therefore make it imperative that we reject all forms of xenophobia, racism, and nativism that have long targeted communities of color and intersect with misogyny, homophobia and transphobia, ableism, and religious intolerance. We unequivocally support those in our community who have been harmed by colonialist histories of racialization and other forms of violence, hate, and marginalization.
While these commitments are ongoing and unfinished, they require our teaching, service, and scholarship to initiate and encourage conversations about race and racism, immigration, gender, sexuality, class, indigeneity, colonization, ecology, and earth justice. We aspire to create classrooms, colloquia, events, and conversations informed by an ethic of care where all ethnicities, faiths, gender identities, national and indigenous origins, neurodiversity, political views, citizenship status, and ages; atheists; LGBTIA+; those with disabilities; veterans; and anyone who has been targeted, abused, or disenfranchised can learn, teach, and build hospitable community.