Guest Viewpoint

(Maisie Plew/Emerald)

This piece reflects the views of Charise Cheney, and not those of Emerald Media Group. The Emerald has lightly edited this piece for grammar, clarity and style. Send letters, op-eds or pieces about campus issues or our reporting to editor@dailyemerald.com.

A recent editorial penned by the Black Student Task Force indicted my department, the Department of Indigenous, Race and Ethnic Studies, and individual faculty within my department. The letter implicitly and explicitly accused IRES of anti-blackness and of actively blocking efforts to build a Black Studies program. I want to respond to those charges.

Black Studies has existed in Ethnic Studies at the UO for over 20 years. Eight out of ten current IRES faculty are Black Studies scholars or Black Studies conversant. IRES has more black faculty, more black Black Studies faculty and more non-black Black Studies faculty than any other department on campus. As such, IRES is the logical administrative home for an independent Black Studies program. 

My department began to mobilize around the formalization of a Black Studies program in response to revised BSTF demands, although it is a conversation we had been having internally since the 2013-14 school year. During fall 2016, College of Arts and Sciences deans asked our former chair Dan HoSang and I to wait for the university’s new black faculty hires to arrive on campus before formally proposing a minor. We obliged. In the meantime, ES hosted a speaker series on the past, present and future of Black Studies which culminated in a brainstorming session with specialists from across campus spring 2017. 

Black Studies at the UO is well-positioned to stage multiple interventions in the field. The collective work of the over 20 Black Studies and Black Studies-adjacent UO faculty is multidisciplinary, intersectional, transnational, comparative, relational, feminist and queer. So, I drafted a minor proposal, got feedback from Black Studies faculty in ES and prepared to host another interdepartmental meeting of faculty trained in Black Studies. Once again, CAS deans intervened. That was in 2017. It is 2020. So why, you may ask, has a Black Studies program yet to materialize?

There are multiple factors that have stalled an emergent Black Studies program at the UO. Persistent and aggressive interventions by President Schill and CAS deans have been significant. However, BSTF leadership has also played a considerable role. Due to personal vendettas, two of its male leaders have consistently undermined our unit’s efforts to effect systemic change on behalf of black students. In 2016, members of IRES faculty actively supported BSTF women whose voices were diminished and whose contributions to the organization were marginalized by its male leadership. Despite the fact that a former female member filed a formal complaint with the Office of Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity, their misogynoir continued unabated. Since then, these two male BSTF leaders persistently undermined and aggressed black female students, faculty and staff. Their repeated public attacks against two queer Latinx faculty suggest that sexism isn’t the only dynamic at play.

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These two aspiring black patriarchs have been able to get away with their anti-black, anti-feminist politics by strategically exploiting white liberalism. The administration is well aware of the problem but has been unwilling to expose them and their machinations for fear of being accused of racism. I get it. My department has been conflicted about publicly exposing them because we are hesitant to delegitimize or derail a campus movement against anti-blackness andbecause students have the right to determine their own political agendas without outside intervention. But enough is enough. 

I refuse to submit to narrow nationalism. Black macho is so retro. And not in a cool, mid-century modern way. In fact, using this particular moment in American history to simultaneously bash IRES and support President Schill reads a little like Ben Carson...or perhaps even William O’Neal-ish. 

For Daily Emerald readers who would like to learn more about the field of Black Studies, gender politics in black liberation movements or the state’s use of agent provocateurs, IRES provides a number of classes, including but not limited to:  ES 250 Introduction to African-American Studies, ES 330 Women of Color Feminisms, ES 356 Race and Social Movements, ES 310 Race and Sex in Hip-Hop, ES 399 Black Sexual Politics and ES 440/540 Black and Brown Power.

Signed,

Charise Cheney 

Charise Cheney is an IRES/Black Studies Associate Professor and author of Brothers Gonna Work it Out: Sexual Politics in the Golden Age of Rap Nationalism and Blacks against Brown: The Black Anti-Integration Movement in Topeka, Kansas, 1941-1954 (forthcoming)