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A Message from Communication Studies Faculty to the UI Community

Jun 09, 2020

Dear Campus Community: 

Black Lives Matter. 

In recent weeks, millions of people have gathered in the streets of Iowa City, the state of Iowa, the United States, and the world to condemn police violence and the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers. In response to these calls for justice and accountability, we have witnessed the use of escalated force and militarized policing tactics. Many institutions have followed with statements of solidarity and condemnation. With them, we condemn acts of white supremacy and racist violence. We also know these more recent acts of violence come with long histories that are embedded in the structures within which we work and live, in the access we have to the basic resources of life: water, food, air. Influential decolonial thinker Frantz Fanon underscores the urgency of these actions amidst environmental racism: “We revolt simply because, for many reasons, we can no longer breathe.” This is a time not only to affirm and share our values with the campus community, but more importantly, to act on that vision.

Communication Studies has been part of these systems of anti-Blackness. In the discipline, the department built its reputation as producers of white- and U.S.-centric scholarship. We were complicit in long-existing systemic problems that the field-wide debates about #CommunicationSoWhite have made explicit to its dominant center of whiteness. These debates demand that the discipline acknowledge the shared and enfleshed experiences of Black and non-Black scholars of color and rectify the differential recognition of Black and non-Black scholars of color. At this juncture, we recognize our duty to produce more just knowledge in the field, create space for Black scholars to thrive, and collaborate with the campus community in the struggle against anti-Black violence. The conditions responsible for the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery and so many other countless lives are not exterior to universities in the United States and the world. Taking responsibility for another world necessitates deepening our accounts of that world, our place in it, and the collective obligation to create more just ways of living. Be it in the streets, in interpersonal relationships, on screens and in writer’s rooms, we believe the study of communication can be transformative and world-making.  

We, faculty in Communication Studies, renew our commitment to racial justice. 

  • We will continue to enlarge the number of underrepresented faculty, to develop a mentoring structure, to reexamine our Tenure and Promotion criteria in order to acknowledge socially engaged scholarship, and to ensure salary equity across race and gender. 
  • At the graduate and undergraduate level, we will audit all disciplinary procedures. 
  • We will continue to make the GRE an optional requirement for graduate admissions, given its racist, classist, and ableist legacy and harm.
  • We will continue to recruit historically marginalized graduate students and to build relationships with Historically Black Colleges and Universities. We will redouble our  efforts to mentor them in our historically white program. We will continue to build relationships with relevant divisions, interest groups, and caucuses in the National Communication Association, the International Communication Association, the Society for Cinema and Media Studies, and other scholarly organizations in which our faculty and graduate students operate.
  • At the undergraduate level, we have committed to proposing three new Diversity and Inclusion General Education courses to our curriculum  to expose our largely white undergraduate majors to new and challenging ideas. Additionally, we will audit current syllabi to ensure that the existing courses address race and justice in relevant manners. 
  • Within the discipline, we have financially contributed to the creation of Rhetoric, Politics, Culture, a journal created after vital debates about scholarly gate-keeping in the discipline. We will continue to support this journal and our faculty will continue to mentor others in the field about fairness in the process of anonymous review. 

But we also know more must be done, and we ask the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the University of Iowa to act with us. We understand our university faces daunting financial challenges. However, we believe these are vital to the university mission and its core values of excellence, learning, community, diversity, integrity, respect, and responsibility. 

  • First, we ask the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences to allocate more resources to hire Black and non-Black scholars of color and develop retention programs. 
  • Second, we ask the University of Iowa to reinvest in partnerships with the City of Iowa City to foster a more liveable environment. We welcome the University’s condemnation of the police violence against Black Lives Matter protesters on June 3, 2020. However, that is not enough. The University must work with the City to proactively address biased lending and housing practices that affect University and community members.

We pledge to center our commitment to racial justice in our classrooms, in our research and mentorship, and in our disciplinary and local community.

The Faculty of the Department of Communication Studies
The University of Iowa