Dear President Donald Christian and Interim Provost Stella Deen,
We hope this letter finds you in good health. At the beginning of this fall semester, we received an email about the state of the department of Black Studies that has concerned us greatly. As alumni of SUNY New Paltz who majored, minored, or showed interest in Black Studies classes and programs, it is of utmost importance for us to show our support of the department and faculty in this critical moment.
On the SUNY New Paltz campus, Black Studies not only serves as a place that encourages thinking outside of the mainstream and inspires activism, it also provides a place for students of color to come together. Through the content of the classes and extracurricular programming as well as the faculty members, the Black Studies department validates students of color and lets them know they are a valued part of the New Paltz community. Having one’s self-worth recognized and valued can be life-changing, especially for Black students who are continuing to comprise a smaller and smaller portion of the student body every year.
Much of the cultural programming that happens on the New Paltz campus is done by organizations of color that are supported by the Black Studies faculty. Whether serving as faculty advisors directly or providing mentoring to individual students, faculty members go above and beyond the call of duty to connect to students of color. Without a department of Black Studies that hires faculty members of color who are dedicated to improving the lives of students of color, the New Paltz campus would look vastly different. In fact, the department played such a strong role in shaping students over the years that at its hour of need, the concern and response of alumni could be seen to span several decades.
Through the writing of this letter, we show our unwavering support for the Department of Black Studies. We would also like to share with you our expectations of how the administration will help the department:
1. By the beginning of Fall 2016 semester: Hire at least four tenure-track faculty members of color, with a priority on women, who have diverse areas of research, including but not limited to, feminist approaches to Black Studies, LGBTQ/Queer Studies, Ancient and Contemporary Africa, and Black-centered politics;
2. Hire faculty of color in all other departments.
3. Provide adequate support for faculty members so they are able to not only teach but also pursue their scholarship and research.
4. Increase recruitment of students of color, with special emphasis on Black students, as we have seen these numbers steadily declining over the past few years. The state university campus needs to look like the State of New York, of which 13 percent is African-American.
5. Permit students and alumni to hold voting seats on the faculty search committee.
As alumni of SUNY New Paltz, we are confident that our concerns will be taken into consideration as the administration moves forward. We thank you for your time and your continued support in this matter.
Sankofa Justice League
The author of this letter is a SUNY New Paltz alumni network in support of students to resist oppression and the fight for social justice.