March 5, 2022
Dear Fairfield Community,
We, the undersigned faculty in the departments of English, History, Modern Languages and Literatures, Philosophy, Religious Studies, and Visual and Performing Arts write regarding the recent removal of the Black Lives Matter flag from the office of Counseling and Psychological Services. We are deeply troubled by the details described in the February 23, 2022, article “Black Lives Matter Flag Removed by Administration” in the Fairfield Mirror. We are equally disturbed by President Nemec’s subsequent comments, particularly those made at the February 28 Diversity and Inclusive Excellence Narrative “unveiling.” We stand with our students, staff, and colleagues across campus and censure these recent administrative actions and communications.
As scholars with a broad range of expertise, we acknowledge systemic institutions of racism and stand in solidarity with the sentiments and commitments inherent in the claim that Black Lives Matter. Forced removal of the Black Lives Matter flag has inflicted pain on our campus community, especially on our Black students, staff, and faculty. Perhaps even more damaging has been the failure of President Nemec to listen to this pain with humility and self-reflection.
We value the meaning of words. We mourn the fact that the phrase “Black Lives Matter” is seen as controversial. We mourn the fact that Fairfield’s senior leadership is unwilling to see that standing behind these words is a particularly urgent responsibility for Fairfield University, given the enduring whiteness of all facets of our institution. Asserting that a life “matters” should be the lowest bar. Our students, colleagues, and co-workers matter. To say that “Black Lives Matter” is to acknowledge centuries of erasure and violence toward Black communities and experiences, an acknowledgement that is especially important given our own institution’s complicity in such erasure. Saying Black Lives Matter means that we see and acknowledge the past and the present moment. It is a first step towards more substantive and hard-won equality. If we cannot see or acknowledge our community members, if we cannot say that they matter specifically and individually, how can we call ourselves a community, and how can we teach and learn effectively?
We reject the claim that Fairfield University can reach objectivity through neutrality. “Neutrality” as a stance reinforces and supports existing systems of power. It actively supports and duplicates existing power structures and therefore existing, real oppressions verifiable by every field of study on this campus. Furthermore, “neutrality” only appears as an option available from positions already shaped by power and systemic privilege. Taking a “neutral” position on injustice will never be objective; Nor, of course, can any space claimed and marked by a specific religion be neutral.
Claims to universality only perpetuate biases and tacit hierarchies of being. Any deliberate program of inclusion and equality necessarily begins by recognizing that conscious action and reflexive analysis are required to produce that equality–i.e., that it cannot happen on its own. This is among the most basic tenets held by Dr. King. We are therefore particularly troubled to learn that the administration welcomes “anti-anti-racist” views on this campus. We find it impossible to deny that racism exceeds individual biases and is embedded in our institutions and systems—the basic point of “anti-racist” stances—and see it as crucial to admit this fact with regard to our institution, just as we admit it in our own disciplines and adopt anti-racist pedagogies. The simple truth motivating anti-racist education is the same truth motivating the statement Black Lives Matter: to practice inclusivity, we must actively reach out to and recognize the systemically excluded while also scrutinizing the dynamics of exclusion. From a rhetorical standpoint, the claim that we invite “anti-anti-racist” positions also means, especially to those who hope it to be the case, that we openly welcome racist views at Fairfield University.
The administration’s position on the removal of a Black Lives Matter flag on campus stands in direct opposition to Jesuit values of social justice and equity. We hear time and again that we must be “the modern, Jesuit, Catholic university.” Yet we cannot be “modern” when we refuse to decry racism. Indeed, Pope Francis has declared racism a sin. Pope Paul VI stated nearly 50 years ago the Catholic Church “is called” to support Black people’s liberation from marginalization and to do otherwise is to allow “a social structural sin.” President Nemec’s insistence on permitting open and equal space for opponents of anti-racism, just as these educational approaches are gathering incipient momentum against overwhelming tides of systemic racial bias, is nothing short of the institutional racism Pope Paul rejected. Because the space for racism is already here in all facets of life in the United States–in our “educational, legal, financial, health, and political” institutions, as Pope Paul has stated. By invoking naive notions of free expression, President Nemec has asked us to inhabit an imaginary world where privilege and marginalization do not exist. If we are concerned about our branding and our image and most particularly our mission, we should attend most carefully to the damaging image of Fairfield University currently being shared internally and externally, one that refuses to acknowledge a message and vision that has galvanized the globe.
We support the demands made by the Fairfield Alumni Response Team; by our colleagues in the School of Education and Human Development; by the Faculty of Color; by our colleague Dr. Paul Lakeland, Aloysius P. Kelley, S.J. Professor of Catholic Studies; and others calling for specific administrative and community responses to these incidents.
We state affirmatively and without qualification that Black Lives Matter, we support BIPOC students, faculty, and staff at Fairfield University, and we will work in solidarity to dismantle white supremacy in our country and on our campus.
Nels Pearson, Chair, Dept. of English and Director, The Humanities Institute; Martin Nguyen, Chair, Dept. of Religious Studies; Michelle Farrell, Chair, Dept. of Modern Languages and Literatures; Kris Sealey, Chair, Dept. of Philosophy; Marice Rose, Chair, Dept. of Visual and Performing Arts; Patricia Behre, Chair, Dept. of History
Dept. of English Faculty Signatures: Betsy A. Bowen; Lindy E. Briggette; Matt Tullis; Lisa Pierce Flores; Emily Orlando; Rachel Heffner-Burns; Sonya Huber; Elizabeth Petrino; Elizabeth Boquet; Curtis Ferree; Tommy Xie; Colin Hosten; Mary Laughlin; Tiffany Wilgar; Jill Bodach; Tania Eicoff; Kim Gunter; Carol Ann Davis; Magda Desgranges; Johanna X. K. Garvey; Nadia F. Zamin; Shannon Kelley
Dept. of Philosophy Faculty Signatures: Maggie Labinski; Sara Brill, Dennis Keenan, Ryan Drake, Jason Smith, Steven Bayne, Jose Luis Fernandez
Dept. of Religious Studies Faculty Signatures: Martin Nguyen; Lydia Willsky-Ciollo; John Thiel; Xavier M. Montecel; Nancy Dallavalle; Paul Lakeland; Clarence Hardy
Dept. of History Faculty Signatures: Patricia Behre; Jennifer Adair; Shannon King; Gavriel Rosenfeld; Danke Li; Silvia Marsans-Sakly; Cecelia Bucki; Anna Lawrence; Elizabeth Hohl; Nick Rutter
Dept. of Modern Languages and Literatures Faculty Signatures: Sergio Adrada Rafael; Carolina Añón Suárez; Covadonga Arango Martín; Sara Diaz; Laura Gasca Jiménez; Lauren Shigeko Gaskill; Jerelyn Johnson; Viviana Rigo de Alonso, Luis Alberto Rodríguez Cortés, Mary Ann Carolan, Jiwei Xiao, Joel Goldfield
Dept. of Visual and Performing Arts Faculty Signatures:
Patrick Brooks, Claudia Calhoun, Suzanne Chamlin, Michael Ciavaglia, Ive Covaci, Michelle DiMarzo, Cheryl Yun Edwards, Philip Eliasoph, Julie Learson, Marti LoMonaco, Meryl O’Connor, Lynne Porter, Katherine Schwab, Brian Torff, Jo Yarrington