The University of Chicago announced that for the 2020-2021 academic year, their English department will only be admitting graduate students with an intent to work in and with Black Studies.
“The English department at the University of Chicago believes that Black Lives Matter,” reads the faculty statement released in July, “and that the lives of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and Rayshard Brooks matter, as do thousands of others named and unnamed who have ben subject to police violence.”
Then came their announcement: “For the 2020-2021 graduate admissions cycle, the University of Chicago English Department is accepting only applicants interested in working in and with Black Studies.”
The department cited the “aesthetic rationalizations for colonization, exploitation, extraction, and anti-Blackness” of the English discipline in their decision, shouldering the responsibility “for developing hierarchies of cultural production that have contributed directly to social and systemic determinations of whose lives matter and why.”
“…we believe that undoing persistent, recalcitrant anti-Blackness in our discipline and in our institutions must be the collective responsibility of all faculty…”
On the school website, Black Studies is described as working within the study of “African American, African, and African diaspora literature and media, as well as in the stories of political struggle, collective action, and protest that Black, Indigenous and other radicalized peoples have pursued…”
The Black Studies program boasts many courses and workshops, including a course on author Toni Morrison, a course on “Black Shakespeare” (studying how the works of Shakespeare shaped “Western ideas about blackness”), and a workshop in partnership with the Race and Capitalism Project (whose mission is to study “how processes of radicalization within the U.S. shaped capitalist society and economy and how capitalism has simultaneously shaped processes of racialization”).
“Our commitment is not just to ideas in the abstract,” states the school on its Black Studies page, “but also to activating histories of engaged art, debate, struggle, collective action, and counterrevolution as contexts for the emergence of ideas and narratives.”
The school has been receiving negative attention by many media outlets and personalities for this decision.
Sohrab Ahmadi, op-ed editor for the New York Post, called the University’s move “grotesque philistinism” and asked, “What if an African-American grad student wants to study Chaucer? Or Thackery? Or Austen?”
This is such grotesque philistinism. What if an African-American grad student wants to study Chaucer? Or Thackeray? Or Austen? Or etc. https://t.co/2UU91qG91P
— Sohrab Ahmari (@SohrabAhmari) September 14, 2020
Likewise, popular YouTube personality Dave Rubin lamented the loss “one of the last places defending free thought and free speech in the academic world.”
The University of Chicago was one of the last places defending free thought and free speech in the academic world.
Emphasis on “was.” pic.twitter.com/owZSk0WpJP
— Dave Rubin (@RubinReport) September 14, 2020
In a statement to Fox News, spokesperson for the school Gerald McSwiggan said, “The English department faculty saw a need for additional scholarship in Black studies, and decided to focus doctoral admissions this year on prospective PhD students with an interest working in and with Black Studies. As with other departments in the University, the department’s faculty will decide which areas of scholarship they wish to focus on for PhD admissions in future years.”