We, the members of TCNJ’s Department of Art and Art History, are saddened and outraged by the recent killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. It is heartbreaking that yet more names must be added to the long list of black people unjustly killed by police officers and vigilantes in this country. At the same time, we are buoyed by the wave of anti-racist activism that has followed in the wake of these tragic events. This activism has taken the form of large public protests against systemic racism as well as individuals speaking up for more inclusive practices within institutions.
To that end, several students contacted us to ask that we address the department’s curricular focus on white American and European art, artists, designers, and theorists and the lack of discussion not only about artists and designers of color, but also about structural racism within the fields of art, design, art education, and art history. They are right to call us out. Both academia and the art world (museums, galleries, design firms) are institutional spaces built on the nineteenth-century belief in white, Western cultural superiority. If we do not directly confront this reality and actively work to dismantle that foundation, we are complicit in perpetuating it. In recent years we have taken important steps to make our department and curriculum more inclusive; however, we have not done enough, nor have we made it the urgent priority that we should have. This letter is our pledge to change that.
We pledge to:
- actively involve a diverse cadre of student voices in department planning.
This may involve creating a student advisory committee or having one or two student representatives on the Department Curriculum Committee. We are still working out the exact form this will take.
- focus this year’s extracurricular events on the theme of anti-racism and diversity within the visual arts.
Again, we are still working out the specifics—it may take the form of a brown-bag lecture series, a one-day teach-in, a series of stand-alone visiting lectures, or exhibitions in TCNJ’s Art Gallery—but we will ensure that the events are folded into coursework to allow for student participation. Because the global pandemic restricts our ability to meet in person, for this year, these events will likely be held online.
- change our curriculum to make it more inclusive, actively address structural racism within our disciplines, and overall provide more of a focus on social justice within the visual arts.
This change will happen through both the creation of new courses and modifying content within already-existing courses. Additionally, the seminar AAH 370 Decolonizing and Diversifying the Museum, which addresses the history of Eurocentrism, colonialism, and racism, will be offered again in the spring semester, so that more students have the opportunity to take it.
- stay committed to diversifying our faculty and hiring more colleagues from historically underrepresented groups in higher education.
We sincerely thank those of you who spoke out, and we encourage all of you to contact us directly with your ideas and concerns. It is an honor to work with such proactive and socially engaged students.
The Faculty and Staff of the Department of Art and Art History, The College of New Jersey