The English department at the University of Chicago believes that Black Lives Matter, and that the lives of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and Rayshard Brooks matter, as do thousands of others named and unnamed who have been subject to police violence. As literary scholars, we attend to the histories, atmospheres, and scenes of anti-Black racism and racial violence in the United States and across the world. We are committed to the struggle of Black and Indigenous people, and all racialized and dispossessed people, against inequality and brutality. As part of our commitment to funding and fostering scholarship in Black studies, in the coming academic year (2020-2021) we are prioritizing consideration of applicants who work in and with Black studies for admission to our PhD program.
The department is invested in the study of African American, African, and African diaspora literature and media, as well as in the histories of political struggle, collective action, and protest that Black, Indigenous and other racialized peoples have pursued, both here in the United States and in solidarity with international movements. Together with students, we attend both to literature’s capacity to normalize violence and derive pleasure from its aesthetic expression, and ways to use the representation of that violence to reorganize how we address making and breaking life. Our commitment is not just to ideas in the abstract, but also to activating histories of engaged art, debate, struggle, collective action, and counterrevolution as contexts for the emergence of ideas and narratives.
English as a discipline has a long history of providing aesthetic rationalizations for colonization, exploitation, extraction, and anti-Blackness. Our discipline is responsible for developing hierarchies of cultural production that have contributed directly to social and systemic determinations of whose lives matter and why. And while inroads have been made in terms of acknowledging the centrality of both individual literary works and collective histories of racialized and colonized people, there is still much to do as a discipline and as a department to build a more inclusive and equitable field for describing, studying, and teaching the relationship between aesthetics, representation, inequality, and power.
In light of this historical reality, we believe that undoing persistent, recalcitrant anti-Blackness in our discipline and in our institutions must be the collective responsibility of all faculty, here and elsewhere. In support of this aim, we have been expanding our range of research and teaching through recent hiring, mentorship, and admissions initiatives that have enriched our department with a number of Black scholars and scholars of color who are innovating in the study of the global contours of anti-Blackness and in the equally global project of Black freedom. Our collective enrichment is also a collective debt; this department reaffirms the urgency of ensuring institutional and intellectual support for colleagues and students working in the Black studies tradition, alongside whom we continue to deepen our intellectual commitments to this tradition. As such, we believe all scholars have a responsibility to know the literatures of African American, African diasporic, and colonized peoples, regardless of area of specialization, as a core competence of the profession.
We acknowledge the university's and our field's complicated history with the South Side. While we draw intellectual inspiration from the work of writers deeply connected to Chicago's south side, including Ida B. Wells, Gwendolyn Brooks, Lorraine Hansberry, and Richard Wright, we are also attuned to the way that the university has been a vehicle of intellectual and economic opportunity for some in the community, and a site of exclusion and violence for others. Part of our commitment to the struggle for Black lives entails vigorous participation in university-wide conversations and activism about the university's past and present role in the historically Black neighborhood that houses it.
Spring 2020 P/F Policy
1. All courses taken for a P/F grade in Spring 2020 will count toward English major requirements. All requests for P/F grade options in ENGL courses will be automatically approved. Students should contact their academic advisors should they wish to switch a class to P/F. All requests by students to take a course pass/fail must be made by Friday of Week 9 (June 5).
2. We are encouraging faculty to be as generous as possible in assessing student work this quarter, given the inevitable inequities in learning and teaching conditions.
3. Faculty will be expected to give students provisional grades by the end of Week 8 of the quarter (May 29) so that students can make informed decisions about whether to switch to a P/F grade.
4. Please note that some courses are cross-listed with English but taught by faculty from other departments. These courses may have different policies. Please ask the Student Affairs Administrator, Katie Kahal, if you have questions about what courses will follow English department policies and what courses are cross-listed.
On October 16, 2019, the Department voted in favor of a commitment to shifting our discourse in departmental and pedagogical contexts (e.g., course descriptions, hiring documents, curricular briefs, classroom discussions, mentoring activities) so that “Anglo-Saxon” is not used as an unmarked or neutral term for either language or historical period.
The Department of English sponsors many events, including events for Creative Writing. Please check the links below for information on the major departmental events and for a calendar of department lectures, workshops, and conferences. We also participate in a lively intellectual scene at the University of Chicago and have a separate set of links below for Humanities Division and University events.
Fall 2017 Open Letter
The recent online dispute concerning white-nationalist appropriation of medieval symbols, in particular the harassment, threats against, and demeaning of an untenured scholar of color during that dispute, serves as a stark reminder that our academic pursuits do not exist in isolation from the hate, racism, and violence that continue to play a powerful role in US politics and in the social and legal arrangements that endanger the safety and well-being of people of color throughout the country. We wish to reaffirm that our role as scholars and educators centrally includes the fostering of a culture of inclusiveness and mutual respect that prizes our diversity rather than seeing it as a threat. Such a culture depends on a willingness to listen carefully to other viewpoints, and to engage critically with them, in ways that respect norms of reasoned argument and the use of evidence. Particularly in the context of emotionally and politically charged issues, it is crucial to respect the right to freely express and argue for one’s views, especially when they are controversial or run counter to popular opinion. But when disagreement takes such forms as bullying, racially charged attacks, and the glorification of violence against those with whom one differs, then speech is no longer primarily a matter of the expression of ideas, viewpoints, or opinions, and an invocation of the right to free speech is a distraction from the real issue. There is a crucial difference between speech that makes claims and articulates ideas, and speech that demeans, intimidates, or harms others. Such hostility has no place in academic life. It is our responsibility as scholars not only to condemn and repudiate hatred expressed in speech and other forms of action, but to model forms of discussion that manage criticality in a spirit of open inquiry, committed to acknowledging and thinking through the difficult histories and difficult present in which we are all embedded.
Lauren Berlant, Adrienne Brown, Bill Brown, Timothy Campbell, James Chandler, Rachel Cohen, Rachel DeWoskin, Maud Ellmann, Frances Ferguson, Rachel Galvin, Edgar Garcia, Elaine Hadley, Baird Harper, Timothy Harrison, Heather Keenleyside, Janice Knight, Loren Kruger, Ellen MacKay, Mark Miller, W.J.T. Mitchell, Benjamin Morgan, John H. Muse, Deborah Nelson, Sianne Ngai, Julie Orlemanski, Srikanth Reddy, Lawrence Rothfield, Lisa Ruddick, Benjamin Saltzman, Zachary Samalin, Jennifer Scappettone, Joshua Scodel, David Simon, Eric Slauter, Christopher Taylor, Sonali Thakkar, Vu Tran, Kenneth Warren, John Wilkinson, Lynn Xu
Humanities Division and University Calendars
Humanities Division Calendar of Events (lists division-wide events)
University of Chicago Calendar of Events (lists university-wide events)