In recent years, this country has experienced a horrific series of racially motivated, violent events that built upon centuries of slavery and systemic racial oppression. The murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbury, Breonna Taylor, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, and others were only the harrowing apex of a surge of ethno-nationalism and discrimination against people of color. These developments have tested the foundations of democracy in ways that have challenged our deepest sense of society, community, and nation.
In the context of German Studies, at various points in the 19th and 20th centuries, Germany itself was a breeding ground for extreme forms of nationalism, racism, antisemitism, xenophobia, and slavery. This culminated in genocides against the Herero and the Nama in Namibia, two World Wars, and the Holocaust, one of the most horrible crimes against humanity ever committed. The question of how to face this history, how to come to terms with guilt and responsibility of such magnitude, has profoundly shaped Germany’s public discourse and has informed how Germans negotiate concepts such as nation and patriotism, generational memory, and collective identity in general. German society today still continues to grapple with different forms of systemic racism and xenophobia, and these issues accordingly have informed and continue to inform the texts, debates, and courses we provide for our students. We will continue to review our program and to make more explicit the histories of racism and nationalism in Germany and German-language culture that reach beyond the national and historical contexts of German Studies.
As German Studies embarks on a greater quest toward decolonizing the field as a whole, so, too, do we wish to take up the important work of decolonizing our curriculum. In the German Studies Department at Gettysburg College, we have long embraced opportunities to make productive intercultural comparisons in order to foster a sense of informed citizenship in our students and to promote a climate of total inclusivity. A number of our courses fulfill the conceptualizing diversity requirement and are already doing this work on some level, especially the courses cross-listed with Jewish Studies, as well as the newly revised European Cinema course that incorporates a focus on connections to “third cinemas” in Latin America and Africa. A number of other courses (GER 270, 305, 335, 400) offer students the chance to engage with Afro-German history, Turkish-German experiences, the so-called refugee crisis of 2015, and other important minority discourses. We will continue to emphasize these topics in as many courses as possible. Further, we commit to empowering each of our students with tools and strategies to negotiate the complicated and profound legacies of racial inequality and injustice as a core focus of our ongoing efforts of curricular innovation.
Personnel, Hiring and Staffing
At the point of submitting this departmental statement, all of our department members will have taken the Intercultural Development Inventory. Henning Wrage regularly fulfills the function of a Qualified Administrator for the IDI. Kerry Wallach and Henning Wrage both have received training through the Inclusion Partner training program that will shape and inform future hiring decisions.
First Year Seminars
All of our First Year Seminars will offer a focus on social justice in the future: Kerry Wallach plans to develop a new first-year seminar on cultural naming practices that will have at its center the exploration of cultural differences and traditions as expressed through name choices and traditions. Henning Wrage’s seminar on Conspiracy Theories will integrate an explicit focus on conspiracist ideologies such as QAnon, the social construction of group affiliation, and the role of compartmentalized informational flow in today’s mediascape that reinforces structural bias. Richard Lambert’s FYS, Puppies! An Investigation of Dogs in Literature and Film, includes a unit on animals as mediators and media of racial and social equity, and also includes hands-on, community-based learning initiatives (including visits to the Adams County SPCA) to address questions of animal, social, and public welfare. Christiane Breithaupt’s course on Living in Dictatorships inherently lends itself to the discussion of authoritarianism and the ostracizing of marginalized communities.
In January 2021, our department met for the first time to discuss how to foster a culture of growth and inclusivity. This begins with a reevaluation of the definition of our field that will need to integrate not only Germany and German-speaking countries such as Austria and Switzerland, but also the literature of exile, Afro-German and Turkish-German culture (among others), and cultural negotiations of exile and migration.
We have changed the titles of 11 courses in our curriculum to avoid implicit bias and notions of Eurocentric dominance; we recognize, though, that this can only be the beginning of a collective effort to build a curriculum that actively fosters the examination of the sources of systemic violence and oppression, as well as the processes of reflecting and combating it by engaging in intercultural dialogue.
We have also chosen two courses that are required for a large number of our students, GER 302 (Advanced German, a core course for all our majors and minors) and GER 240 (our Methods class, mandatory for all majors and encouraged for our minors) to integrate a robust and intensive engagement with historical and contemporary social justice issues in Germany, and, to some extent, with the United States in comparative context.
In the coming years, we will aim to revise our other language and topics courses to substantially integrate issues related to race/ethnicity and social injustice. For example, a new course on graphic novels to be offered in spring 2022 will include an entire unit focused on these and related topics.
Feedback and Assessment
In the spring semester of 2022, the department will meet again to track and evaluate departmental progress and to ensure that the goals formulated here are moving forward. We will also use the assessment tools we develop in cooperation with COLA to measure the extent to which our goals of furthering the conceptualization of diversity and informed citizenship are met by our courses.