Letter to the editor

Last week, Peter Clavin’s office was vandalized with homophobic slurs. Clavin is a graduate student instructor, teaching courses in African American Studies, a program currently run by the Department of Transnational Studies. As faculty who teach and conduct research on the intersections of race, gender, and sexuality, we are concerned about the safety of our graduate student instructors, and we are concerned about the continued marginalization of Black Studies and Gender Studies at UB. As civil rights attorneys and legal theorists have noted, regardless of gender, race, or sexuality, students and faculty have the right to come to campus and “learn free from fear.”

How does UB create the kind of community that will promote not just diversity and inclusion, but also wellbeing and justice? What are the best ways to move forward from the homophobic vandalism that appeared on a Teaching Assistant’s door?

We appreciate that the university police department is taking this incident seriously, but increased policing is not the answer. We need more community accountability, not surveillance. This incident, which was directed at someone who teaches about race, occurred precisely because African American Studies, Global Gender Studies and American Studies programs and departments have been purposefully shrunk by the administration over the course of nearly a decade. We are now in one department called “Transnational Studies.” We are invisible, underfunded, perceived as small, unimportant, and – therefore – vulnerable.

We recommend the following steps toward community accountability:

  • UB needs a surge of financial resources devoted to providing safe spaces for students of color and for LGBTQ students on campus.
  • o This includes both undergraduate and graduate students.
  • We need increased student affairs programming on social justice.
  • We need a stronger commitment to growing and promoting the curriculum on race, indigeneity, gender, and sexuality.
  • Following the lead of other top universities, UB should make a public commitment to hiring more faculty, postdoctoral fellows, and fully funding graduate students teaching in these areas across the university.
  • UB should highlight the historic importance of Black Studies and Women’s Studies on this campus. Programs in these areas were some of the very first in the entire nation. They deserve recognition and space to thrive.
  • UB needs to put resources back into the study of race, gender, and sexuality. Rather than alienate faculty and graduate students working in these areas, the university must provide financial support for such research.
  • UB should highlight the historic importance of Native Studies on this campus. Additionally, the university should formally recognize that it operates on Haudenosaunee lands.

Now is the opportunity to strengthen UB’s community of learners and to show here is how we lead the charge toward a more just community.

LaKisha Simmons, Assistant Professor of Transnational Studies

Cynthia Wu, Associate Professor of Transnational Studies