George Floyd's murder by Minneapolis police on May 25, 2020 was one in a series of brutal attacks against Black people and communities in our country over the past four-hundred years. It galvanized waves of protests across the world that continue today and serves as a call for all of us to address systemic racism and anti-Blackness across each of our social institutions. The Women's and Gender Studies (WGST) Program, active since 1974, is often pointed to as one of the University of South Carolina's key academic units for inclusion and diversity. But inclusion and diversity are not enough and, too often, the university highlights such units for their emphasis on inclusion and diversity but does not provide them with equitable institutional resources to realize these purported aims. WGST stands with the Movement for Black Lives and its calls to move beyond “inclusion and diversity” rhetoric and toward meaningful change that is actively anti-racist and fully supports, incorporates, and celebrates Black students, staff, faculty, and community members. To this end, we want to share with you some of our ongoing efforts and plans to engage in anti-racist action and support for Black lives. We also are reflecting on areas of the WGST Program that are not yet where they need to be and invite your suggestions for next steps and how we can do better. As we actively plan for the future of WGST, please share your thoughts about the steps that we are taking and how you would like to see the program grow and change to become a key site not just for diversity and inclusion at the University of South Carolina, but for anti-racist action and support for Black communities and community members here at the University of South Carolina and in the larger community. We honor, support, and join the #BlackLivesMatter/#BLM social movement and its co-founders, Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometi, in their critical work towards ending White supremacy, systemic racism, and violence against Black people.
Here are some of the actions that WGST has undertaken so far to engage in anti-racist action and support for Black lives:
The College of Arts and Science has not granted WGST authorization to hire through a nationwide faculty search since 2014. Our most recent WGST Program hiring plan requested that the College of Arts and Sciences place renewed focus on WGST's need to hire scholars in: 1) race, gender, and health--with a focus on Black populations and systemic barriers to health and wellbeing; 2) global feminisms and sexualities--with a focus on critical race studies; and 3) gender and social movements--with foci on race and ethnicity, critical race theory, and direct social action.
WGST leadership has advocated strongly and consistently to the College of Arts and Sciences for equitable staffing in WGST, higher starting wages for our faculty and staff, and made requests to hire faculty and staff who more fully reflect the demographic background of our university and local community.
See more about these demographics here: https://sc.edu/about/offices_and_divisions/diversity_and_inclusion/diversity_data/demographics/index.php
We have broadened our curriculum offerings to ensure greater emphasis and education about Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) lives and experiences. To offer these critical courses to our students, we work in collaboration with other academic units (such as African American Studies) and utilize crosslisting and meets-with options. WGST 304: Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality is one required course for the major; WGST 308: African American Feminist Theory is another regularly-offered option among the required courses for our major. Additional recent and upcoming courses include: Race, Gender, and Graphic Novels; Black Women Writers; Gender and Globalization; Minorities, Women, and Mass Media; Black Women Writers; African-American and Women's Health Issues; Global Women's Health; Social Welfare Services for Women and Minorities; and Black Women in Folklore.
To learn more about our curriculum and offered courses, click here: https://www.sc.edu/study/colleges_schools/artsandsciences/womens_and_gender_studies/study/index.php
Our scholar-activist faculty have ongoing commitments to direct mentorship, collaboration, advancement, and prioritizing support opportunities (e.g., co-publishing, award nominations, letters of support for funding and employment) for: first-generation; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ); and BIPOC undergraduate and graduate students. Our faculty also serve on numerous program, college, university, local community, national, and international committees and organizations that aim directly to increase academic equity, inclusion, and diversity, and to engage in anti-racist direct activism and community engagement work.
To review the CVs of our faculty, click on the links in our faculty members' bios: https://www.sc.edu/study/colleges_schools/artsandsciences/womens_and_gender_studies/our_people/index.php
We work to ensure that our WGST Partnership Council involves community partners and leadership from a broad cross-section of BIPOC leaders in our community.
Read more about our WGST Partnership Council members and leadership here: https://www.sc.edu/study/colleges_schools/artsandsciences/womens_and_gender_studies/beyond_the_classroom/partnership_council/index.php
Our Women's Well-Being Initiative (WWBI) involves active community engagement and service learning focusing on: 1) transitional shelter for unhoused women and their children and 2) preventing adolescent progression through the school-to-prison pipeline--particularly among BIPOC adolescents, who are disproportionately tracked through carceral disciplinary systems. Current and ongoing programs include: 1) digital media and arts for unhoused women and children; 2) juvenile justice arbitration involving arts immersion and engagement; and 3) social justice-focused adolescent mentorship training.
We prioritize featuring the voices, experiences, and scholarship of Black women in our annual WGST keynote lectures and ensure that these distinguished scholars and activists receive the compensation that they deserve for performing this critical labor. Our WGST lectures and speakers series also have a long history of focus on anti-racism. Our most recent and upcoming keynote lecturers include: Mamphela Ramphele, Claudia Rankine, Cathy J. Cohen, Courtney Bryan, Ijeoma Oluo, Anita Hill, Kimberlé Crenshaw, Valerie Smith, Ruha Benjamin, and Sandra Rattley.
Learn more about our annual lecture series here: https://www.sc.edu/study/colleges_schools/artsandsciences/womens_and_gender_studies/beyond_the_classroom/lectures/index.php
Here are some of the actions that WGST will undertake to more fully engage in anti-racist action and support for Black lives:
WGST faculty and leadership are comprised almost entirely of White people. WGST will continue to advocate for the authorization and resources to hire, promote, and elevate to leadership BIPOC faculty. Faculty making hiring decisions on behalf of WGST need to make hiring decisions that will provide greater representation and inclusion of BIPOC among our faculty. Once hired, WGST must provide adequate mentorship, support, and leadership opportunities for BIPOC faculty to ensure their tenure, promotion, and elevation to leadership roles within WGST. WGST must also ensure that BIPOC faculty are fairly compensated and not burdened with disproportionate shares of service labor.
WGST course syllabi are not consistently intersectional or inclusive enough in terms of the scholarship and scholars featured. WGST course syllabi do not always adequately reflect the need to consider how systemic racism and anti-Blackness shape (both historically and today) nearly all of the course topics that we teach. This means that our curriculum must not simply include specific courses focused on BIPOC individuals and communities, but that our core and required courses must incorporate consideration of BIPOC individuals and communities as well as attention to how systemic racism and anti-Blackness impact the subject matter at hand. To this end, WGST will systematically review core course syllabi, content, and instruction to ensure that they include and highlight: the work of Black scholars; scholarship on the lives, experiences, contributions, and perspectives of Black people and communities; and impacts of anti-Blackness and systemic racism on the subject at hand.
Some Black students, faculty, and staff in WGST have expressed that they do not always feel that their lives, contributions, perspectives, and experiences are valued and centered. To this end, WGST will commit to providing a mechanism whereby students, faculty, and staff may anonymously report instances of racism, anti-Blackness, and failure to include Black lives, contributions, and perspectives in our instruction, courses, activities, and events. WGST will also convene a standing committee to review such reports and recommend actions to be undertaken by WGST leadership to intervene, correct, and engage in restorative justice around instances of racism, anti-Blackness, and failure to incorporate Black lives, contributions, and perspectives into our instruction, courses, activities, and events. WGST will also engage in more direct outreach to organizations of BIPOC students, faculty, and staff through recruitment, retention, and community-building events. We will also engage in enhanced efforts to make BIPOC students, faculty, and student and faculty organizations aware of WGST fellowship, award, mentorship, faculty hiring, and GTA opportunities.
WGST course titles and descriptions sometimes incorporate outdated language that may further marginalize BIPOC. To this end, WGST will engage in a systematic review of course titles and descriptions and work with crosslisting unit liaisons to ensure that course titles and descriptions are updated and align with the aims of anti-racism and fighting against anti-Blackness within our educational systems.
While these are our assessments and some of our plans for next steps that we need to take to engage in anti-racist action and support for Black lives in the WGST Program, we encourage and welcome your feedback to help identify additional areas to target for necessary change. If you would like to make a suggestion, please offer your anonymous feedback, below. WGST will be convening a committee to review and address your feedback and suggestions on an ongoing basis.
Please submit your feedback and suggestions here: https://forms.gle/Jpdn1pRw2U6GxQXPA