[To cite this piece: Ramasubramanian, Srividya (June 4, 2020). A Letter to my dear dept colleagues: BLM, Communication, and Long-term Changes. Dr. Srivi Blog, https://www.drsrivi.com/post/a-letter-to-my-dear-dept-colleagues-blm-communication-and-long-term-changes]
(This is a slightly edited version of a letter that I wrote to my dear colleagues in the Department of Communication at Texas A&M University today)
Thursday June 4, 2020
I am here on Twitter/Facebook, co-organizing with other comm/media/journalism faculty and students. I am reporting back that the discussions are about how to move our feelings to long-term structural changes in Communication as a discipline. The discussions are about how to make Black lives matter within the academe. Some points that are being brought up are:
De-whiten and decolonize our curricula
Create space and support for critical/political education: Black faculty and those who teach on Blackness have to cope with hate, negative pushback and such in the classroom and outside; how can we support them better
Material solidarity – addressing racial inequalities in service, teaching assignments, salaries, tenure, and promotion; tenure for the common good; allyship with contingent faculty
Public/engaged/community-based scholarship: A lot of Black scholars are also public scholars and activists; but when it comes to merit and evaluation, community-engaged scholarship is not seen as “real scholarship” but designated as either service or community engagement; if we do not change this, they have to work double/triple shifts of doing traditional scholarship and public scholarship
Trust in higher education/science: What value do we as scholars bring to Black (and other marginalized) communities, to the world, to real-world impact beyond abstract theorizing and fancy jargon?
Performative allyship: going beyond performative allyship on social media
Broadening notions of merit, excellence, and scholarship: How do we change our understanding of types of presses, journals, courses, etc., “count” as excellence.
Methodological diversity: Black scholars often use qualitative approaches, including auto-ethnography, performance studies, etc. Top-tier comm journals often do not publish such work. NCA/ICA journals are mostly into publishing multiple studies from lab settings -- Black faculty often do not have such support systems through grants and funding.
Professional and social networks: Professional and social networks are constructed (often around the intersections of race, gender and faith-based networks) such that academic resource sharing, grant collaborations, co-teaching, syllabi sharing, informal mentoring, care support (childcare/eldercare) and such leave out Black faculty/scholars out of these essential support groups.
Invisible labor: Black faculty are continuously being expected to create reading lists, toolkits, syllabus materials, etc. for white colleagues. DEI work becomes their job. However, it feels like these are merely performances of allyship and further deepens service inequalities.
Productivity and the “whole” faculty: Black faculty/PoC faculty are not just their CVs – not just their publications, h-indices, metrics, and citations. They are human beings. If we are going to teach the “whole” student, we also need to respect them as “whole” faculty. Moreover, this applies to all of us regardless of race.
This is a moment to listen and support our Black colleagues/scholars/students. Black faculty are exhausted. Please do not ask them to do additional work in terms of educating, helping find resources, and giving them more tasks/assignments to do right now.
My field notes are not an invitation for discussion, debate, or deliberation. This is a time to listen and reflect.
I am ever so grateful to this department, college, university for giving me the freedom, the space, and support to do what I love. Without your kind support, I would not be standing here as the first WoC to be tenured and the first WOC to be promoted to Full Professor in this department. I do not take this privilege, honor, and support for granted.
I do NOT speak for my Black colleagues. Their voice is powerful and important to center. I am speaking as a PoC faculty, as a race scholar of 20+ years, as the Founder of the Difficult Dialogues project (and the Communicating Diversity student conference, Media Rise, Inclusive Pedagogy Workshop Series), as a former Associate Dean for Climate and Inclusion in the College of Liberal Arts, and as one of several organizers of the CommunicationSoWhite movement.
It is incredible what we have accomplished together as a department in its 30+ years of existence. We are being seen as leaders today on DEI issues in our discipline, thanks to the pioneering work of so many of our colleagues of all subfields and racial groups. We are so lucky to have Leroy Dorsey, Robin Means Coleman, and Antonio La Pastina in our department who have led (and are continuing to lead) our department, college, and university on DEI issues. We have one of the most active and committed Climate & Inclusion committees on campus. This gives me hope, energy, and optimism.
We all have much work to do. So whatever professional and social networks we are all part of (families, church groups, dinner tables, parties, writing groups, academic mom groups, soccer mom groups, happy hour groups, ICA divisions, NCA divisions, editors’ groups, other informal and formal groups), I hope we will ask the difficult questions about what changes need to be made and how these groups are going to disrupt their “regularly scheduled programming” to ask how they might do better to invest in Black communities (Black scholarship, businesses, art, etc.).
Thank you so much. Peace and solidarity,
Srividya “Srivi” Ramasubramanian, Ph.D.
Professor of Communication, Texas A&M University
TAMU Presidential Impact Fellow
Liberal Arts Cornerstone Faculty Fellow
Founder & Co-Director, Difficult Dialogues Project
Founder & Executive Director, Media Rise