The Black Lives Matter movement is a result of hundreds of years of inequalities well-documented by academics and activists. The BLM movement has resurged in 2020 with high-profile murder cases of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery. The movement continues to represent other murder cases that resulted from systematically driven police violence, including Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Philando Castile, Trayvon Martin, Pamela Turner, along with lack of protections for Black trans women, who experience the highest rates of violence and threat of harm than any other demographic. High profile cases that highlight violence against Black trans women include those of Jazzaline Ware, Ashanti Carmon, Claire Legato, Muhlaysia Booker, Michelle ‘Tamika’ Washington, Paris Cameron and Dana Martin.
It is evident from decades of scholarship and aggregated narratives that the criminal justice system, including codified laws on the federal and state level and the incarceration/sentencing processes in the United States, is built of and results in discrimination along racial lines. This discrimination is multiplied and heightened along the intersections of race, sexuality, disability, and gender identity.
Instructors in criminal justice and legal studies programs across colleges have a responsibility to examine their educational practices and curriculums in the wake of this evidence and in response to the principles of justice and equality that have clearly been corrupted and slighted in these discriminatory ways for too many years. I call upon all college instructors to continue to re-examine their materials and declare their support for their students during a variety of crises that affect their lives. It is important now, more than ever, that instructors utilize tools at their disposal to create change in the academy and help to systemically make change in the world. These are actionable steps:
1) Evaluate Universities & Colleges
Departments of criminal justice/legal studies and sociology, political science, etc. should formally evaluate their university policies and legal codes and confront potential biases within them and suggest revisions. Disparate treatment and disparate impact should be addressed.
2) Advocate for Change
Departments and instructors should lobby for universities to defund police partnerships and intertwined systems of discipline, particularly since there are great divides between campus security and city/county police departments. At minimum, departments should examine these partnerships and advocate for change with university leaders.
3) Provide Research & Evidence
Departments across disciplines, but particularly those related to criminal justice/legal studies and social sciences, should help to provide research and information relevant to the advocacy of change, given the clear systemic dangers and abuses of the criminal justice/legal systems. At minimum, departments should provide analyses of inequality across racial, gender, sexuality and class lines. Incarceration and policing information should be made available publicly and for free.
4) Highlight Black Scholarship — #CiteBlackWomen and #BlackintheIvory
Departments and instructors should offer events that highlight scholars of color to address to ongoing #BlackintheIvory and #CiteBlackWomen movement that corresponds with systemic racial injustice in the U.S. This does not mean that white scholars should talk about Black scholars. It means paying Black scholars to give presentations, talks, recorded videos, etc. in order to advocate for their scholarship as essential to changes in academia and for changes to our universities.
5) Increase Instructional Support & Recommendations
Recognizing that academia is part of the system of inequality, instructors require tools to incorporate in their teaching, their syllabi, etc. Departments have a responsibility in holding instructors accountable in making these changes. Instructors should review their syllabi or engage in peer review of each other’s course plans and make recommendations in order to highlight Black scholars in addition to women, people of color, disabled scholars, LGBTQIA scholars. There is a glaring absence of oppressed groups in criminology and legal studies curriculums, in part because of long-term support of white male scholarship on the issue. Critical race scholarship and feminist legal scholarship should no longer be considered marginal topics, but integral ones.
If you do not already include race and gender in your program, it is long overdue. Multiple courses must address intersectional identities in the criminal justice and legal system in the United States. Individual courses should focus on these topics in greater depth.
6) Support Students
Instructors and departments must declare their support and be transparent in the work they are doing to actively make change. Undergraduate and graduate students are certainly experiencing these events (and have been for quite some time) and authority acknowledgement of their experiences is essential and helpful (although acknowledgement is not enough…see items 1-5). Offer listening sessions, anonymous suggestion boxes, etc. to listen to the students in your particular area and at your university. They know and experience the racism at your workplace better than you.
7) Support Instructors & Staff
Look at your faculty website pages and be honest with the representation you see there. Remember that students see these pages too. What can your department and university be doing to welcome faculty of color to your ranks? This is not a “diversity hire” argument — leave that at the door. Recognize structural and life-long inequalities and the realities that your department is (in most cases) dominated in power and income by white academics. What can you personally, you as a department and you as a university be doing to be a welcoming space and not a chilly climate for more identities than whiteness, able-bodiedness, male-ness to be accepted at your place of work.
How have you supported current colleagues who are tokenized in your department? How have you considered staff who work within your departments and colleges? What kinds of experiences do scholars of color face that white scholars do not? How can you personally take charge of making change?
8) Report Retaliation
If students. staff, faculty have been retaliated against for their advocacy on behalf of racism and current (or prior) events related to Black Lives Matter, make formal reports. University and/or department backlash for people fighting for their lives has happened at all university levels for many years — don’t allow it to continue. If you know a student, staff member or faculty member has been denied promotion or treated poorly in retaliation, write letters of support for them, be at their side, advocate publicly, show up to hearings, make noise — do not leave them to their own defenses. If we’ve learned anything from sexual assault cases at universities, it is that universities are not designed to protect victims of hostile behaviors, even physical ones.
Teaching Resources, Anti-Racism References
There is a wealth of teaching resources available to you, please consider using any/all of them and making sincere changes to your courses, department meetings, social media use, publications, editorships, leadership boards, review processes, admissions procedures, websites, college policies, university partnerships.