Chair’s Message

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September 1, 2017

Dear colleagues, co-workers, students, and friends,

Close to a year ago, in the aftermath of the 2016 national election, our then-Chair Michelle Stephens wrote an open letter that was posted on our webpage.  Michelle wrote, in part:

“I write as Chair of the Department of English at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, to assert firmly and unequivocally that our institutional commitment to diversity and inclusion in our department—and we believe in the university—remains unchanged.  Such commitment to free inquiry, civility, and a violence- and intimidation-free campus does not shift with the winds of politics.  Even more pragmatically, such a commitment is still upheld by the laws of our land.  The department as a whole, and each of us as individual faculty, oppose racism, xenophobia, and misogyny; threats to immigrants, Muslims, and the free press; and the violation of international treaties and foundational constitutional principles.  In line with these principles, we call on all members of our community to continue to treat each other with respect, thoughtfulness, and care, even as we engage in difficult conversation that reflect our racial, gendered, sexual, religious, cultural, and political differences.”

Later in the Fall of 2016, the Rutgers English Department unanimously passed a resolution expressing solidarity with the national Sanctuary Campus movement and urging President Barchi to support or establish a series of initiatives designed to protect undocumented immigrants in our community.  Both of these documents—the letter from Michelle Stephens and the faculty resolution—are linked below.

Now, at the beginning of a new school year, I am proud to re-affirm both of these documents.  The Rutgers English Department continues to stand “firmly and unequivocally” on the side of diversity and inclusion, and on the side of sanctuary.  By the same token, we stand firmly and unequivocally against racism, xenophobia, and misogyny.  And we believe that we, and the university as whole, are called to exemplify the kind of thoughtful and welcoming—even if not always harmonious—community that is a hallmark of meaningful education.

Unfortunately, the foundations of such a community remain under threat.  The Trump Administration’s continuing threat to DACA, which shields many in our community from possible deportation, contributes to the uncertainty and fear of an already-vulnerable population.  Again, we stand resolutely with all students, administrators, faculty, and staff affected by this uncertainty or threatened by a changing legal landscape.  Meanwhile, the recent events in Charlottesville, some of them on the campus of the University of Virginia, suggest that we cannot simply take for granted the violence- and intimidation-free spaces that are the condition of education, democracy and indeed of any kind of tolerable life together. In our roles as scholars, teachers, and intellectuals, there are often moments when we are called upon to assume a studious neutrality and to ensure that all sides in a debate can be heard.  But the Charlottesville event—and similar instances around the country during the past year—is not such a moment.  There is no moral equivalence between white supremacists and those opposing them.  There are times, in other words, when the work of scholarship and teaching involves making distinctions and taking sides.  

As a department comprised of teachers, scholars, and students who read, think, argue, and analyze, we look forward to continued discussions of these pressing issues.   

Colin Jager
Professor and Interim Chair
Department of English
Rutgers University

English Department Resolution Supporting Sanctuary, December 2016

Statement from President and Chancellors after Charlottesville