Department Statement on Structural Racism

The Fierce Urgency of Now[1]

The killing of George Floyd at the hands of police on May 25, 2020 and the following protests – which brought together hundreds of thousands of people in cities and small towns across the United States and the world – remind us yet again of the violence, injustice, and oppression that is still widely experienced by black people and non-black people of color in this country. Black lives matter; the time is far overdue to take action and create a more equal system. To stay silent in this moment is to allow injustice to continue unchallenged. Moreover, words of solidarity and solace alone are insufficient. Without action, our words will do little to combat racism and systemic violence. As faculty, we are called upon to “engage in and provide leadership for addressing the critical social and political issues of our time.”[2] We must be better than we ever have been for our students.

The Department of Political Science at Gettysburg College is committed to fostering an inclusive, safe, and just environment that uplifts the intellectual potential of our students. We strive to help our students understand the global, national, and local contexts of politics, government, and citizenship and to appreciate the importance of engaging in politics. To be true to these goals, then, we must take action to directly address: (1) the ways in which personal and systemic violence are used to consolidate power and silence marginalized communities—specifically black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC), and (2) the power of the masses to push back against violence and oppression. If politics is the struggle of who gets what, when, and how, we – as political scientists – need to directly address how national, state, and local institutions have perpetuated a system whereby the outcomes of that struggle are neither equal nor just. Gettysburg College is not immune from such negative forces, but we do believe that we can use the power of our community to do better.

As a department, we have read statements from alumni and communicated with current students. We are listening, and it is clear that we need to do more. Based on these interactions, we have identified a number of steps to directly address the experiences raised by past and current students, which we discuss below. While we acknowledge that this is a process, the time is long overdue to initiate that process and make progress. We are committing to changing the ways that we teach, the content of what we teach, the way that we envision our major, and the ways that we view and understand our own privilege. We are committing to continuing dialogues with our students to ensure that our actions are meaningful, broad-reaching, and more directly anti-racist.

The Department of Political Science commits to the following:

    1. In the immediate term (beginning Fall 2020), we will begin working as a faculty to share resources, improve course designs, and foster a culture where we grow together as teachers and scholars. Specifically, we recognize that this collective effort should focus on how political science, as a discipline and major, provides a lens for examining the institutional and political sources of systemic violence and oppression as well as the processes of combatting and ending such oppression.
    2. We encourage current students to consider courses including POL 242, 253, 322, and 350 that already heavily engage racial injustice. In addition, we plan to further integrate content into our classes that directly teaches our students about the ways in which political structures have perpetuated systemic oppression and violence against BIPOC at local, national, and global levels; the economic, social, and political implications of racial discrimination, segregation, and marginalization; and/or the racialized nature of policing, surveillance, and incarceration. Our hope is to open meaningful dialogue about the drivers that have motivated the Black Lives Matter movement. Plans to incorporate this content into our classes will begin immediately, and more detailed statements of changes will be forthcoming in conjunction with point 3 (below).
    3. Within the next three years, we commit to restructuring our major requirements to ensure that all political science majors take at least one course organized around issues of race, systemic oppression, white privilege, and/or the political underpinnings and implications of racial injustice. As part of this goal, we commit to revising the department’s goals for its majors and minors such that we tie ourselves and our courses to a new standard for addressing structural racism and oppression. Specifically, we will expect that our majors and minors will be able to understand and critically analyze the ways in which political institutions at local, state, national, and international levels have perpetuated injustice and marginalized BIPOC.
    4. To achieve both course and curriculum goals that prioritize issues of race (see points 2 and 3), the department commits to hiring a scholar whose research and teaching focuses on race and ethnicity as our next faculty hire. On behalf of our students, the department will continue to advocate to College administration the urgency of staffing a race and ethnic politics position.
    5. We are working with the Office of Diversity and Inclusion so that all faculty members in the department complete all parts of the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI). Our target date to complete the IDI is no later than September of 2020.
    6. Beginning in Fall 2020, the department will convene a student advisory group to:
      1. Identify additional areas of action that can be taken to make our students more socially responsible citizens and more aware of the politics of systemic oppression;
      2. Lead in dialogues and break-out sessions surrounding race and politics;
      3. With faculty, suggest and coordinate speakers and events to ensure they are inclusive for all of our majors;
      4. Take a more active role in interviewing and providing feedback on candidates for tenure-track and visiting faculty positions;
        • In accordance with this point, the department plans to continue participation in the pilot program to involve students in the College’s Inclusion Partner training.
        • Formally, the department will notify the student advisory group – and our majors, more broadly – in advance of interviews and candidate presentations to ensure greater student participation in interview processes; all candidates will be required to do teaching demonstrations in addition to research presentations; formalized feedback forms will be distributed to those students in attendance during interviews; and student feedback will be considered by the department in hiring decisions.
      1. During the fall semester of 2020, we will develop a transparent reporting mechanism to track and evaluate departmental progress and to ensure the changes outlined herein move forward.

Staying silent about the virulent racism that remains so deeply entrenched in American life would itself be a political decision. As educators, we reject the notion that our courses and curriculum can simply remain unchanged in the face of the persistent racial injustice that pervades our nation and world. Instead, we will move forward with intentionality and “the fierce urgency of now” to do the important and unfinished work of addressing these injustices. Failing to do so would betray the very purpose the study of political science is intended to serve.

[1] From MLK’s speech at the March on Washington; August 28, 1963.

[2] Gettysburg College Faculty Handbook