Temple University announced an initiative to combat racism today in an email to students after growing demand for anti-racist education among students and two open letters from the Department of Africology and African American studies demanding increased funding and greater academic and creative autonomy in June.
The initiative will include a $1 million commitment to anti-racist work, including greater funding for the Africology and African American studies department, required diversity training for faculty search committees, curriculum changes for the race and diversity general education classes, a scholarship-based summer bridge program for high school students in the neighborhoods surrounding Main Campus and the establishment of a center for anti-racist research at Temple.
Temple will also evaluate its police practices against the Barack Obama administration’s 2015 Task Force on 21st Century Policing report, which identifies best practices for police departments to reduce crime and build trust with the public. Temple believes it is the “gold standard for modern policing,” according to the announcement.
The initiative’s goals are to raise awareness of existing anti-racist programs and opportunities Temple offers in addition to launching the set of new programs, said Valerie Harrison, senior advisor to President Richard Englert for diversity, equity and inclusion.
“It’s not anyone’s fault if they don’t know what we do because we haven’t done the best job of letting folks know, and we’re gonna commit to do better,” said Harrison, who oversaw the development of the initiative.
The department and the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity, Advocacy and Leadership received an overwhelming number of requests for education that “provides people with a foundational understanding of racism and how to engage in anti-racist work” in the months following the death of George Floyd on May 25, who died after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on Floyd’s neck for more than seven minutes, Harrison said.
Floyd’s death set off demonstrations protesting anti-Black police violence spanning across the nation, with more than 21 million attending protests by mid-June, CNN reported. The Black Lives Matter movement, which may be the largest movement in United States history, continued demonstrations throughout the summer with protests recently reigniting after the shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Blake was shot seven times in the back by a Kenosha police officer after walking away from police on Aug. 23, the New York Times reported.
“Many people have a general awareness of racism, but what the events of this summer revealed for many people is that a lot of folks don’t have an understanding of how racism operates in the lives of Black people today,” said Harrison, a 2015 Africology and African American studies alumna. “Therefore, it is a challenge to come up with effective solutions if you can’t really identify or understand the operation of the problem.”
Protests on Main Campus occurred throughout June and into July, with some students voicing concerns regarding how Temple handles racist incidents on campus and others calling for the university to defund the Temple University Police Department. Demonstrations occurred across Philadelphia throughout the summer, with some specifically related to Blake’s recent shooting.
On May 31, Temple addressed Floyd’s death and expressed solidarity with those fighting for racial equity in a statement written by Englert and Provost JoAnne Epps. On June 7, Temple addressed a series of racist posts written by Temple students and said it would not cut ties with the PPD. The university later announced it was divesting from the Philadelphia Police Foundation and promised to reallocate funds to social justice programs at the university.
On June 10, Molefi Kete Asante, chair of the Africology and African American studies department, wrote an open letter to Englert following Floyd’s death to express his discontent with Temple’s unwillingness to provide adequate resources and faculty to the department, he said.
“There should be no reasons for administrators to ignore the endless demands of Africology and African American studies for resources, especially when at one time the department had 14 full time faculty members but has been reduced systematically to half that number over the past few years,” Asante wrote in the letter. “This should never have been allowed to happen on your watch.”
Two days later, 19 graduate students in the Department of Africology and African American studies penned a second letter to Englert, adding a separate list of demands, specifying these changes be made before the start of the fall semester.
The students’ nine demands included increased funding and faculty, more teaching and research apprenticeship positions, ability to teach courses on African languages, control over how the department teaches its GenEd classes and the removal of the phrase “African American studies” from the department’s name.
In response to the letter, Englert applauded the department’s contributions to the discipline, particularly its offering the first doctorate program in the field, and Asante’s impressive record of scholarship, and expressed desire to work with Asante on exploring “ideas for the future,” he said in a statement emailed to The Temple News in June.
Increasing departmental faculty is the most vital demand from the letter, said Tarik Richardson, a second-year Africology and African American studies PhD student and spokesperson for Temple’s Organization of Africology/African-American Studies Graduate Students.
The current size of the faculty results in professors who are teaching a large number of entry-level and general education courses, which means less upper-level classes are available to students, he added.
“With more faculty, we can teach more classes, we can have more students, and when we have more students, we’re increasing the presence of Temple University within the field, within the academic discourse,” Richardson said. “So not having the faculty in the building to teach more classes severely limits what we can do.”
For many graduate students in the department, it is common to have to take courses in other disciplines or conduct independent study because there is not enough faculty to teach some upper-level classes, Richardson said. Many professors are teaching GenEd classes outside of their content specialization, instead of the university making full use of their skillset, he added.
Temple’s anti-racist initiative will provide funds for the department to hire four additional full-time faculty members and “support for scholarship, research and education,” according to the announcement.
Temple will also change its race and diversity GenEd courses to “more directly address issues of racism,” and will ask schools and colleges to review curricula to assess whether they’re preparing students for life in “an increasingly diverse world,” according to the announcement.
The initiative also aims to recruit and retain more faculty and employees of color, particularly in fields that have “high minority availability but low representation,” according to the announcement.
The majority of Temple faculty members are white, making up 66 percent of Temple’s Fall 2019 faculty and nearly 70 percent of all tenured professors at the university, according to the university’s 2019-20 fact book. Black faculty members represented only seven percent of all faculty and five percent of all tenured professors during that same semester.
“Representation of African American faculty at Temple is considerably lower than what you would expect given their representation in the general population,” Harrison said.
Because individuals tend to hire those who look like them, “meaningful diversity” is rarely achieved without “an intentional plan to do something different,” she added.
The initiative will also establish a center for anti-racist research, led by the Department of Africology and African American studies, as a site for collaboration throughout Temple and with other universities on “impactful evidence-based and solutions-focused research,” according to the announcement.
Temple will also institute a summer bridge program for students in neighborhoring North Philadelphia zip codes, which will provide scholarships and “a new pipeline for academic enrichment,” according to the announcement.
Temple’s initiative will invest additional resources in existing anti-racist programs and assets like IDEAL, the Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection, the Pan-African Studies Community Education Program, the Lenfest North Philadelphia Workforce Initiative and Temple Health, according to the announcement.
Recommitting to the intellectual resources already present at Temple is critical because Asante and the Department of Africology and African American studies have been “engaged in this important work” for 40 years, Harrison said.
“It’s part of our DNA, it’s part of what we’ve done,” Harrison said. “We don’t want it to be merely symbolic in response to the events of this summer, but we want it to be substantive, to continue to be substantive.”
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