Statement on Racism

Dear colleagues,

From the Executive Committee of the Medieval Studies program:

The public murder of George Floyd by an officer of the law was but one in a long line of injustices imposed on Black lives by a system that has for centuries refused to recognize them as human equals. The Program in Medieval Studies supports the calls for justice of those who have risked health and life to protest, and joins them in calling for an end to the power structures that perpetuate white supremacy in America and elsewhere.

It is necessary for us to speak out on this point, not only because of the historic whiteness of Medieval Studies as a discipline—an exclusionary imbalance shared with much of the American academy—but because the European Middle Ages have long figured as a site of origin for racist theories of history, ethnicity, and nationhood, and have been used to naturalize and justify racist power structures. But no appeal to the past can justify what is unjust. We in Medieval Studies reject all forms of racism and racialized oppression.

As a discipline, Medieval Studies is already shifting beyond a narrowly Eurocentric view. But we cannot wait for broader change. The Program in Medieval Studies recognizes the need specifically and actively to oppose anti-Black bias, and commits itself to the following forms of immediate action:

1. A plan to ensure and increase diversity in the graduate program, established prior to the next admissions cycle. This is to include outreach, as well as safeguards in review.

2. An ongoing series of teaching discussions on how to acknowledge and productively discuss anti-Blackness in medieval scholarship and thought.

3. Incorporation of medieval Africa into the Program’s scope. In the near term, this will take the form of a yearly lecture on a medieval African topic each Spring.

These actions are intended as a beginning, and as part of an ongoing process of change in the Program, university, and field at large.