A faculty statement on the department’s website from July announced its commitment “to the struggle of Black and Indigenous people, and all racialized and dispossessed people, against inequality and brutality.”
“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 statement said. “We understand Black studies to be a capacious intellectual project that spans a variety of methodological approaches, fields, geographical areas, languages and time periods.”
The department said English has a “long history of providing aesthetic rationalizations for colonization, exploitation, extraction and anti-Blackness.”
“In light of this historical reality, we believe that undoing persistent, recalcitrant anti-Blackness in our discipline and in our institutions must be the collective responsibility of all faculty, here and elsewhere,” the statement said.
The statement came at the zenith of summer protests over the police custody death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and against racial injustice in general.
Gerald McSwiggan, a spokesman for the university, said that the school has had to accept a specific number of graduate students and offer limited employment occupations during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"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 in working in and with Black Studies," McSwiggan said. "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."
The announcement comes amid a wider push by universities to include race studies in curriculum, hiring practices and general fields of study. For example, earlier on last week, dozens of Cornell University faculty, staff, students and alumni signed onto a letter attacking "colorblind" practices, insisting that the university institute racial allotments and add groups of non-White individuals.
“I am obviously interested in black literature. But being strong armed into studying it?? The English department of the University of Chicago has just decided that this year it will only be accepting graduate students committed to working in Black Studies” Thomas Chatterton Williams, a cultural critic and author, wrote in his personal Twitter account.
Just a few weeks ago Marshall School of Business professor Greg Patton was giving a Zoom lesson, and he said a word in Chinese that sounded similar to the N word. This word offended some of the students and they sent a letter to the School’s Dean which led to dismissal of the prof. from the class and an apology letter from the school.
It is important for educational frames to be sensitive to the subject, and learn about it.