Department of History Statement on Racial Violence
Thanks to the department staff and especially to Seana and Karin, who came up with the idea to compose a statement responding to the murder of George Floyd and other racist violence. Seana provided an initial outline and Steve Hahn wrote the draft.
This statement represents a first step in the process. Our diversity committee is developing a plan of action for us as historians to undertake.
9 June 2020
The brutal police murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and the cold-blooded civilian murder of Ahmaud Arbery remind us yet again of how deeply embedded racism is, not only in our basic institutions, but in the course of everyday American life. As members of the NYU History Department, we are outraged by these vicious assaults on human rights and the lethal repression of Black people they evidence. We wish, as well, to express our strong support for the nationwide protests that demand justice for the victims and an accounting for the systemic racism that so many Americans of color endure.
We are painfully aware of this country’s long history of exploiting, denigrating, detaining, confining, and dehumanizing people of African descent through enslavement, demands for racial submission, lynching, segregation, incarceration, and countless official and unofficial forms of discrimination. We are aware of the struggles that Black people have mounted to gain the rights that have been denied and to establish a meaningful democracy for the country as a whole. We are aware of the opposition they continue to meet, of the police harassment they continue to suffer, and of the murderous attacks that are regularly visited upon them. We have studied this history, written about this history, and taught this history. We have also lived this history, if in ways that differ according to our racial and class position. We will continue to engage with this history in an effort to learn more from each other and deepen our understanding.
But it is not enough to express outrage or to support protest. It is not enough to recognize and document a shameful and abhorrent history or to show how much of our society is still contaminated by that history. We must also take responsibility for what happens in our own community and for embodying the practices and values we claim to hold dear. The History Department has stated its “commitment to creating a diverse, equitable, and inclusive learning, teaching, and work environment.” Yet we know that we have come up short in many of these regards, and that the goals and the realities have not coincided. We must therefore take this tragic occasion to redouble our efforts – as an obligation to our faculty colleagues, staff, and our students – to fulfill these objectives in the department and demand that NYU use its considerable resources to achieve these objectives at all levels of university life. For our part, we pledge to engage in a continuous process of dialogue and ongoing strategic planning around issues of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging.
We must also take this tragic occasion to call upon all members of the NYU community and the leadership of all NYU’s units to repudiate, in the strongest terms, incidents of racist behavior such as occurred very recently at the Lambda Phi Epsilon fraternity. And we must make sure that students, staff, and faculty can engage in constitutionally protected activities without threat of violence and repression at the hands of the NYPD, INS agents, or ICE patrols, that NYU is truly a safe place for intellectual inquiry and political expression for all members of our community. We have reached a turning point and must resolve to turn in a direction that expands the meaning of social justice.
Toward some of these ends, we endorse the following steps based on the principles for university reform laid out by the NYU Chapter of the AAUP:
Indigenous study and engagement should be instituted and encouraged in all university programs.
NYU resources should prioritize the reduction of institutional inequalities for students, staff, and faculty of color, along with LGBTQ and disabled community members, DACA and undocumented students.
NYU should insist on staffing reforms on the part of departments and units with an overwhelming majority of White instructors.
Gender balance and racial diversity should be adopted as an institutional principle of all NYU workplaces. Resource distribution from salary to housing to tuition scholarships and fellowships must be made on an equitable basis and should include redress of historic inequalities.
For example, truly affordable housing should be made available for faculty of color and first-generation academics who often have higher student debt burdens than their peers and cannot rely on family wealth.
We also call upon the NYU administration to follow the lead of North Central University in Minneapolis in establishing a George Floyd Memorial Scholarship for Black students who demonstrate leadership potential.