Note: This statement was originally written by Drs. Natasha Jones and Denise Troutman and shared with the listserv of the Department of Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures at Michigan State University. We share this statement widely with the ATTW community in support of our colleagues and to also encourage departments across the country to take action to redress anti-Black racism in their classrooms, institutions, and communities. We urge all teachers of technical writing to read and share the actionable steps presented below, and to take direct action in supporting our Black students, colleagues, and community members, now and always.
More Mourning: On Patrick Lyoya, Co-Conspiratorship, and Support for Black Faculty, Staff, and Students
We write this note with heavy hearts. Again, we see in the news the unnecessary and heartbreaking state-sanctioned murder of a Black man at the hands of the police. As many of us learn of and mourn the murder of Patrick Lyoya, a first-generation international student, we are faced again with conversations and debates about the usefulness of police versus the harm and terror experienced by marginalized communities at the hands of law enforcement. This brings up a number of concerns that seem to be debated endlessly, including: the role of police presence on our campus and in our communities; the role of surveillance of Black and Brown communities; and the way we talk about and engage in liberatory pedagogies in our classrooms.
Moreover, Lyoya’s murder happened in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a stone’s throw away from Michigan State University’s own campus. Many of our students (as well as staff and faculty) are directly or indirectly impacted by yet another example of violence and oppression inflicted upon our communities. Many of our students are also already overwhelmed by the end of the semester and the continuing impact of the pandemic (which is STILL disproportionately impacting Black and Brown communities, with Black communities disproportionately represented in hospitalizations and mortality. Black communities are currently experiencing 14.3% of all deaths and experiencing hospitalization rates at 3.8 times that of white communities). The continued cycle of endless violence against marginalized communities and police violence and extrajudicial punishments meted out by police takes a serious toll.
As two Black women scholars, we are tired and emotionally drained from seeing our community targeted over and over again. While we don’t have the capacity and can’t address all the times and the myriad ways that Black folx and other marginalized communities are continually impacted by anti-Black racism and police violence, we can’t stay silent either. We are all impacted! When we travel, we do so carefully. We check our tags and our registration. We use our signals when we change lanes. When we send our family members out, we pray, and wish, and hope that they return. When we send our children to campus (yes, including Michigan State University’s campus) or other public places, we hope that police and security officers don’t look too hard in their direction. Yet, we still show up and do our work in an institution that does not fully value us. As scholars, we work hard to do our work. We also work hard to support our students. It is important that all members of our faculty join in and do the same. Our students need us RIGHT NOW. They need to hear you care. They need you to reach out. They need you to show up.
There are a number of organizations across this campus, and across the country, doing work to take care of our students. If you are at a loss for how to support your students, here are a few suggestions that we’d like to make:
- Send your classes a note to check in and let them know you are aware of what is going on.
- Be gracious with due dates and deadlines (yes, even at the end of the semester).
- Assume your students ARE impacted in some way by the repeated police violence that they witness (on social media, news channels, in their communities, and families).
- Make yourself available to chat with your students.
- Familiarize yourself with resources offered to students on and off campus.
- Do your homework about how injustice and oppression (specifically regarding police violence) takes a mental and physical toll on marginalized communities.
- Be a co-conspirator, as defined by Dr. Bettina Love in her book, We Want to Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and The Pursuit of Educational Freedom (Love, 2019). That means you don’t just offer verbal support; you use your privilege [in various ways that it manifests] to take risks on behalf of the marginalized.
“Allyship is focused on having knowledge and inclusion—it’s more of a theoretical commitment to equity and antiracism. Co-conspiracy, on the other hand, shares the burden of active antiracism work—it’s a commitment to take action towards abolition, to working with folks from marginalized communities and backgrounds in ways that take on some of the risk of fighting for equity against powerful and sometimes ambiguous agents.” (https://dept.writing.wisc.edu/blog/allyship/).
We need co-conspirators. Our students need co-conspirators.
This semester, in Natasha’s WRA 441: Social Justice as Rhetorical Practice Course, her students studied and learned about abolition, mass incarceration, and the prison industrial system. Students came to understand that what they were learning in class is not theoretical. It has impacts on people’s DAILY lives (including Drs. Jones and Troutman’s daily lives). The WRA 441 students had conversations that were about the freedom of ALL communities in this nation (and across the globe) to not just survive, but thrive–without fear of harm from those that “protect and serve.” In our courses and in our work as faculty members, we understand that institutions don’t recognize our wholeness (our humanness and our humane/ness). We raise questions about human-centeredness, anti-racist, (anti)(de)colonial commitments of our institutions as we are intensely aware of the impact of institutional expectations on us as scholars. We work toward, seek, and ask questions about social justice and equity in all aspects of our faculty life and in how we interact with our students. The reason that we approach our work in this way is emphasized in times like these, when we see systems and institutions consistently harm, marginalize, and oppress. We need co-conspirators.
We urge you all to contribute to and continue the conversations that we have been having in classrooms and research and service work in order to TAKE ACTION to progress toward the liberation of all even in (and especially in) our work as researchers and teachers.
Love, B. (2019). We Want to Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and The Pursuit of Educational Freedom. Beacon Press.