On the evening of Wednesday, June 10, 2020, Muhlenberg community members received an email in their inboxes. Attached to this email was a document containing both a letter and an action plan, “both of which [spoke] to [Black faculty’s] desire to move both the nation and Muhlenberg toward genuinely inclusive, anti-racist futures.” In short, the letter “call[ed] on the College to make more substantive efforts to center the experiences, theories, and activism of Black people, particularly regarding their efforts combating racism, coloniality and anti-Blackness.”
Below the letter, after a lengthy list of faculty co-signers, was the action plan. Included therein were various requests and suggestions. Categories of requests covered recruitment and retention of Black students and students of color, hiring and retention of Black Faculty and faculty of color, institutional leadership and capacity in diversity, equity and inclusion, support for and expansion of the Africana studies program, initiatives that support Black students and students of color and curricular change and extracurricular event support.
Since the receipt of this letter over a year ago, the primary changes have been seen in that final category: curricular change. The music, theatre & dance, psychology and English departments, among others, have changed their curricula in various ways. Alterations include renamed and reimagined courses, completely new courses, more diverse performance material and more.
The College has more to do in addressing the initiatives outlined in the faculty letter. We need to support programs like Africana Studies, Latinx and Asian Studies, and Women’s and Gender Studies that are intellectual centers for diversity.Francesca Coppa, Ph.D.
Francesca Coppa, Ph.D., of the English department comments that “In terms of department curriculum changes, I’m proud of what we’ve done in English. The renamed Department of English Literatures and Writing… has a new curriculum with a focus on social justice… and we have new classes like ‘Black Comedy/Black Drama;’ ‘Literature, Social Justice, & Current Events;’ ‘Black Women Writers,’ et cetera. We are also delighted that we have Center for Diversity Fellow Ali McTar teaching for us this year… I love the CDF [sic] program and think that it’s been successful in attracting talented, diverse candidates to our campus.”
But the list of demands extended far beyond changes in curricula. Students and staff still have hopes for more equitable and anti-racist future for Muhlenberg that reaches beyond the subjects taught in the classroom. “I’m not sure I will ever be satisfied with the progress that the College has made or is making, but isn’t that the point?” says Student Government Association President Zaire Carter ‘22. “We should never be satisfied in work relating to diversity, equity, inclusion and justice. I do believe the College is making progress in a few areas, specifically the President’s Diversity Advisory Council, which did a lot of work in facilitating conversations around diversity and belonging, and how we can envision a more equitable, fair and just campus climate together, truly supporting the office of multicultural life, which means not only giving them appropriate funds and resources, but supporting the students who are closely tied to that office, like all of our affinity groups, Emerging Leaders, et cetera. So, those are a few things that we’re making progress on, but like everything in this work, there is still plenty that needs to be done in terms of equity, fairness, access and representation that we will continue to push.”
This belief is echoed by staff members. As Coppa expresses, “The College has more to do in addressing the initiatives outlined in the faculty letter. We need to support programs like Africana studies, Latinx and Asian studies, and Women’s and Gender studies that are intellectual centers for diversity. While we are doing better at recruiting and retaining students of color, we can and should do more, and we definitely need to do more for faculty. There are hires on the way for Africana studies, and the College has partnered with various experts to help us improve hiring and faculty retention broadly speaking, but that’s a slow process and we haven’t really seen results yet. We need muscle (and money) behind our good intentions!”
I’m not sure I will ever be satisfied with the progress that the College has made or is making, but isn’t that the point?Zaire Carter ’22
Still, the future seems bright. “I do feel like I’ve seen genuine enthusiasm for centering Blackness (and anti-racism) in our curriculum and that has made it an exciting time to be teaching and learning here,” said Coppa.
Correction: A previous version of this article quoted Dr. Francesca Coppa as mentioning the “Latinx” studies program. The name of this program is the Latin American & Caribbean Studies Minor.