Wednesday, September 16, 2020

University of Chicago English faculty prioritizes Black studies graduate students for 2021

The English department at the University of Chicago made a similar decision, with a twist: the program will admit only those graduate students who plan to work in Black studies.

“For the 2020-2021 graduate admissions cycle, the University of Chicago English Department is accepting only applicants interested in working in and with Black Studies,” the program said in a statement on its website. “We understand Black Studies to be a capacious intellectual project that spans a variety of methodological approaches, fields, geographical areas, languages and time periods.”

The statement says that Black lives matter, as do George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and “thousands of others named and unnamed who have been subject to police violence.” It also says that English as a discipline “has a long history of providing aesthetic rationalizations for colonization, exploitation, extraction and anti-Blackness,” and it is “responsible for developing hierarchies of cultural production that have contributed directly to social and systemic determinations of whose lives matter and why.”

Disciplinary progress has been made on this front, Chicago’s English faculty wrote. Yet there is “still much to do as a discipline and as a department to build a more inclusive and equitable field for describing, studying and teaching the relationship between aesthetics, representation, inequality and power.”

The university said in a separate statement that “like many graduate programs around the country,” English at Chicago “can accept a limited number of Ph.D. graduate students in the 2020-21 application season due to the COVID-19 pandemic and limited employment opportunities for English Ph.D.s.”

Chicago currently has 77 Ph.D. students studying a wide variety of subfields, and the department is admitting five additional Ph.D. students for 2021.

The department’s faculty “saw a need for additional scholarship in Black studies, and decided to focus doctoral admissions this year on prospective Ph.D. students with an interest in working in and with Black Studies,” Chicago said.

The work of “undoing persistent, recalcitrant anti-Blackness in our discipline and in our institutions must be the collective responsibility of all faculty, here and elsewhere,” according to the English department's statement. “In support of this aim, we have been expanding our range of research and teaching through recent hiring, mentorship and admissions initiatives that have enriched our department with a number of Black scholars and scholars of color who are innovating in the study of the global contours of anti-Blackness and in the equally global project of Black freedom.”

In closing, the English professors acknowledged “the university's and our field's complicated history with the South Side” of Chicago, where the campus is located. While the university serves as a “vehicle of intellectual and economic opportunity for some” in the surrounding community, it remains a “site of exclusion and violence for others.”


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