Dear colleagues, family, friends, and alumni,
The Williams Graduate Program in the History of Art vehemently denounces the ongoing, systemic violence against Black people in the United States. We stand firm in our conviction that Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Tony McDade, and countless others should be alive today, and that the police officers and vigilantes that took their lives should be held accountable for murder. We acknowledge that racism against Black and Indigenous people and people of color (BIPOC) is systemic. We stand in solidarity with our own community members who have been affected by racist acts.
What is at stake in the urgent calls for justice now echoing across the US and around the globe, voiced in the throes of a pandemic that has placed yet another spotlight on the brutal inequities of health and economics caused by the long history of white supremacy in the US, is a matter of life and death. In moments like the present, our shared professional calling as art historians necessarily subsumes itself in our more fundamental calling to strive to act as moral persons, and to recognize our pressing duties to mobilize in support of Black lives—privately, publicly, and politically.
Last week, the Class of 2020 made the decision to postpone the release of their Graduate Lecture Series for a week until June 12th. We asked that you—colleagues, alumni, faculty, and friends of Grad Art—took time with us both to reflect inwards and to act outwards by joining your voice with protest, learning through educational resources, signing petitions, and lending financial support as you are able to organizations working directly to respond to ongoing issues of institutional racism, police brutality, and anti-Blackness. We as a community are committed to ongoing work to fight for racial justice, and we recognize that those efforts must necessarily reach beyond the circumscribed spheres of academia, museums, and art history.
Simultaneously, we have a specific role to play as art historians. We are stewards and students of an MA program with a venerable but imperfect history. We possess a wealth of resources and an alumni community that has included many leading voices in the field of art history. Our program was founded in 1972, in the year this nation saw its first Black female candidate for a major party’s nomination for the U.S. presidency, and right in the wake of the landmark decade of the Civil Rights Movement. As we approach our fiftieth anniversary, we must ensure that the next fifty years and beyond in the life of the Program more fully affirm that legacy, and emphatically prioritize the equality that still has yet to be achieved in this nation’s critical infrastructures and justice system, let alone its educational and cultural institutions.
We have not done enough to acknowledge and combat the Eurocentric framework that dominates our field and shapes the discourses of knowledge into the present day. The field of art history was built upon the circulation of objects and ideas that are inscribed in racist systems of colonialism, settler colonialism, imperialism, and white supremacy. From early museums that put Black bodies on display and the widespread theft and trafficking of African artifacts to the immense amount of literature written from a white viewpoint, the white Western gaze has afflicted our field. As students and scholars, we are committed to understanding the historical and discursive forces that create and reinforce inequality. A recent analysis concluded that only 15% of the artists featured in major US art museum collections are artists of color. This disparity of representation is likewise expressed in other areas of the museum and educational landscape, including our own program. We have not done enough to address the ways in which institutional inequities disproportionately affect the Program’s BIPOC colleagues and students. The experiences of our BIPOC students and faculty can differ vastly from white peers, and barriers to access for our BIPOC students and alumni persist in museums and academia.
The students and leadership of the Graduate Program feel an urgent imperative in this moment to work together to make meaningful, lasting change. We will work to dismantle institutional racism in our classrooms, within the Program’s community, and in collaboration with our partner institutions. Our mission is to help train new generations of scholars, critics, curators, educators, museum trustees, directors, gallerists, public intellectuals and other cultural workers to be thought-leaders in building an art history that will transcend the exclusionary origins of the field’s institutions and intellectual traditions.
Administrators and students at Grad Art are working in collaboration on a series of actions that the Program will take to begin the long-term process of anti-racist work. This work is necessarily complicated and must be ongoing, and includes hiring more faculty of color, recruiting and financially supporting more students of color, and expanding support for programs for scholars of color at Williams and the Clark, as well as other important initiatives. Further, we are working to establish a committee of students, administrators, and alumni dedicated to issues of diversity and inclusion. We look forward to receiving feedback from our community and alumni network on how we can better realize our goals.
We are heartened by the positive response in support of our efforts thus far. However, there is still much to be done. These are just the first few steps toward a continued commitment to hold space for these conversations and to dismantle the culture of white supremacy in which our field has participated.
Nidhi Gandhi, Andrew Kensett, Cole Gruber, Eliza Woods Harrison, Elyse Dianne Mack, Emily Perlmutter Kamen, Emily Madrigal, Emma Nell Jacobs, Helman Alejandro Sosa Templos, Isabel Casso, John Damstra, Jonathan Odden, Mallory Cohen, Savannah Marquardt, Sinclair Spratley, Nolan Jimbo, Oliver Ruhl, Diane Ahn, Troy Sherman, Alice Matthews, Charles Keiffer, Natasha Coleman, Yubai Shi, Gabriel Almeida Baroja, Selin Ozulkulu, Elisama Llera, Mariana Fernandez, Zoe Dobuler, Jessie Alperin, Emmelyn Butterfield-Rosen, Marc Gotlieb