When there is good news, I’m the first to call for the champagne. So where di bottles dem deh! Yes, hiring faculty of color happens so rarely ’round yah that this is in fact a Merry Christmas moment. Word is that Charles W. Mills is on his way. His CV exceeded the hiring tests, and he is now packing up his belongings at Northwestern University. He should arrive in our Philosophy department in January 2016. In addition to considering his distinguished academic profile, I’m elated because Mills is Jamaican. Certainly, there are a handful of scholars at the Graduate Center who are experts on the Caribbean, but when one comes from the region, one has an intimate perspective to add to the corpus of knowledge. Additionally, I take account of trending fashions that conceptualize the Caribbean as merely a minority population in America’s backyard—viewpoints that ignore the region’s ethnic, linguistic, geographical, and political diversities.
These misreadings circulate with ease because many who claim Caribbean-scholar status within and outside CUNY, while knowledgeable about the region, lack the passion needed to protest prevailing misconceptions, which consequently multiply. Such academics engage the Caribbean as a bread-and-butter gig—a means to an end—because the Caribbean is not home. But the Caribbean is home to more than 39 million people. It is therefore important that more of us continue to agitate popular consciousness with reminders that imaginations of the Caribbean should indeed draw from and yet exceed the boundaries of discourse around popular writers such as V.S. Naipaul, Edwidge Danticat, Aimé Césaire, Franz Fanon, Junot Diaz, Jean Rhys, Audre Lorde, and Stuart Hall. There is no word yet as to whether Mills will be teaching anything on the Caribbean. And we also have to be careful not to lock up Mills in a Caribbean box and throw away the American key, given the geographical range and interdisciplinary methodologies grounding his scholarship. But to speculate based on the body of his research, he could be resourceful in mentoring students focusing on African, American, and indeed Caribbean geographies.
While we say a healthy Howdy doo to Mills, the tune changes when we turn to the departed Jerry Watts. Christine Pinnock’s article, “The Enduring Legacy of Dr. Jerry Gafio Watts,” records Watt’s accomplishments as a professor, mentor, and past director of the Institute for Research in the African Diaspora and Caribbean (IRADAC). Beyond Pinnock’s article, exclamations and sweet memories flooded the listserv of the Africana Studies Group (ASG) Lists-serv—a group committed to affirming Afro-diasporic scholarships and solidarities engaged by students, scholars, and wider communities. At an event hosted by the English Department, testimonies recalled moments of Watt’s brilliance, collegiality, and humanness. IRADAC had an afternoon in which persons hugged and wept with the weight of conviction that a giant had gone too soon.
As our own editorial team acknowledge Watt’s gift to the Graduate Center community, we thought it important to republish a powerful letter he wrote to “My Students and Anyone Else” and sent out on the ASG listserv in 2009. The Advocate published this letter in December 2010; but the letter’s tone and soul remain so fierce with love and life that it must again be granted another long space. The letter is a must-read for students struggling to graduate, write, and obtain the confidence needed to define and position themselves as brilliant scholars. The letter, but more so, my own interactions with Watts, reminded me that students of color need to understand their gifts; their tongues and body codes; their blessings in baggages of history; their luxurious imaginations birthed from their marginal positions; and their discontent that agitates and animates American consciousness of its moral borderlines. Indeed Watts reminds many of us that, to be successful in spaces controlled by dominant cultural politics, institutional poli-tricks, and poisoned sensibilities of the intelligentsia, we must decode our own privilege and use it as leverage, inspiration, affirmation, mobilization, and revolutionary self-care.
Not to be reductionist—but one faculty is gone and another is on the way. We are therefore right where we were a month ago. The Graduate Center still suffers from a gender and racial diversity disease—an institution trying to heal the world’s problems when it needs to fix itself first. Though medically undiagnosed, the Graduate Center remains afflicted with an ole-White boys disease; for what indeed is “normal” about a postcolonial institution that, despite housing some of the most brilliant minds in the world, still utilizes neo-colonial, sexist and racialized faculty hiring practices? The statistics on this issue’s cover highlight the extent of this epidemic: 61.7 percent male faculty and 38.3 percent female faculty. Outright disgraceful! How can anyone market this higher education institution with any moral integrity to prospective students that we are diverse? And from year to year, students and faculty have confronted this institutional disease, yet things remain the same.
One cannot deny hearing the administration’s echoes that so often claim to be pioneering strategies that will enable institutional diversification. How should we therefore respond to President Chase Robinson’s recent memorandum, which is also published in this paper? Titled, “Reaffirmation of Commitment to Diversity/Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action,” the President’s memo restated his commitment to diversity representation. A widely circulated response, “GC Diversity Initiative Response,” is published in this month’s issue. Having the support of more than 350 signatories, it raises concerns and makes recommendations. I will quote one of its concerns: “Last year the Graduate Center Diversity Task Force, chaired by Robert Reid-Pharr, submitted a final report to the President’s Office in January. To date, the full GC community has yet to receive and review that report.” If we were to make sense of this, we would assume that the GC invested some amount of money to put this task force together—even if it was just enough to buy the members a piece of bread while they were doing the research. And with a person like Reid-Pharr, who is very meticulous and dedicated with whatever he is working on, we can assume that a lot of passion and labor was expended into this project. But from January 2014 to now—almost two years later—money spent and energies invested—and nothing has been done!? Has this diversity report been buried—assassinated? Shouldn’t we know what is in this report?