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In Defense of Black Studies

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Phil Semas
Publisher and Editor-in-Chief
Chronicle of Higher Education

Friday May 4th, 2012

To the Chronicle Editors,

Black academics are unfortunately quite familiar with attacks on their/our presence as scholars, teachers and researchers in higher education. But it is still disheartening to encounter such an attack in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Naomi Schaefer Riley’s uninformed hatchet job on doctoral dissertations in Northwestern University’s new African American Studies Ph.D. program (Brainstorm Blog, April 30th) ought not to have seen print anywhere outside a right-wing disinformation website. The title of her blog post invites us to “just read the dissertations” by these upcoming scholars: but she has not herself read them. Instead, she has caricatured them based on descriptions provided on a subscription-only page of the Chronicle’s website. Thus, her uninformed proposal for the elimination of an entire field circulates on the open web, while the dissertation descriptions she disparages (without actually critiquing, as critique would require her to have read them) are unavailable for possible contrast with her invective against them. In her response to her critics, Riley employs multiple logical fallacies instead of engaging the actual content of these criticisms, and laughably defends her right to an uninformed and un-researched opinion. She thus underscores her status as a provocateur, and not a journalist or a scholar, begging the question why the Chronicle employs her in any capacity.

This has become a teachable moment that has galvanized a range of scholars and editors. We understand this as part of a pattern of attacks on the legitimacy of racial and ethnic studies programs more broadly, as in the State of Arizona. Fortunately, Riley has done a service to scholars in these fields by making visible the intense rancor of our critics, who persist in recycling meritless, anti-intellectual criticisms from the 1990s culture wars long after they have ceased to pertain. Meanwhile, black studies continues “swaggering into the future.”


Tavia Nyong’o
New York University

Christina Sharpe
Associate Professor, English and Director of American Studies
Tufts University

Shanté Paradigm Smalls
Davidson College

andré m. carrington
New York University

madison moore
Yale University

Eng-Beng Lim
Brown University

Barrak Alzaid
Northwestern University B.S., NYU M.A.
Artistic Director, ArteEast

Sarah Jane Cervenak
University of North Carolina-Greensboro

Duchess Harris
Macalester College

Françoise N. Hamlin
Hans Rothfels Assistant Professor of History and Africana Studies
Brown University

Leigh Raiford
Associate Professor, African American Studies
University of California Berkeley

James C. Eslinger
OISE/University of Toronto

Naoko Shibusawa
Brown University

Courtney Baker
Connecticut College

Jayna Brown
Associate Professor, Director of Graduate Studies, Ethnic Studies
University of California, Riverside

David Leonard
Washington State University

Susana Loza
Assistant Professor of Media Culture
Hampshire College

Patrick Anderson
Director, Critical Gender Studies
Associate Professor, Ethnic Studies and Communication
University of California, San Diego

Andre E. Johnson
Memphis Theological Seminary

Phillip Lamarr Cunningham
Visiting Assistant Professor, Media Studies
Quinnipiac University

Laurie Essig
Middlebury College
Brainstorm Contributor

Erica Edwards
UC Riverside

Darryl Dickson-Carr
Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies in English
Southern Methodist University

Richard W. Morrison
Editorial Director
University of Minnesota Press

Mary Bloodsworth-Lugo
Washington State University

Theresa Runstedtler
Assistant Professor of American studies and affiliated faculty with African & African American studies
University at Buffalo (SUNY)

Ken Wissoker
Editorial Director
Duke University Press

Emery Petchauer
Assistant Professor of Urban Education
Oakland University

Deb Vargas
Associate Professor Chicano/Latino Studies
University of California, Irvine

Nicholas Sammond
Associate Professor of Cinema Studies
University of Toronto

Kristal Moore Clemons
Assistant Professor of History
Tallahassee Community College

Kimberly Eison Simmons
Associate Professor of Anthropology and African American Studies
Director of Latin American Studies
University of South Carolina

Elaine Richardson
Professor of Literacy Studies
College of Education and Human Ecology
School of Teaching and Learning
The Ohio State University

Heidi R. Lewis, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Feminist & Gender Studies
Colorado College

Sylvia Chan-Malik
Postdoctoral Fellow, UC Santa Cruz
Assistant Professor (incoming July 2012), Rutgers University-New Brunswick

Keith P. Feldman
Assistant Professor of Ethnic Studies
University of California, Berkeley
Barry Shank
Department of Comparative Studies
The Ohio State University

David Palumbo-Liu
Professor and Director of Comparative Literature

Sara Clarke Kaplan
Ethnic Studies/Critical Gender Studies
UC San Diego

Lisa Lowe
Professor of Comparative Literature
Ethnic Studies, and Critical Gender Studies
UC San Diego

Alexandro José Gradilla, Ph.D.
Chair and Associate Professor
Chicana and Chicano Studies Department
African American Studies
CSU Fullerton

Juana María Rodríguez
Associate Professor
Gender and Women’s Studies
UC Berkeley

Christopher J. Lebron
Assistant Professor
University of Virginia

Priya Kandaswamy
Assistant Professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies
Mills College

Minkah Makalani
African & African Diaspora Studies Department
University of Texas at Austin

David Huyssen
Schwartz Postdoctoral Fellow
New-York Historical Society and the New School’s Eugene Lang College

K. Wayne Yang
Assistant Professor
Department of Ethnic Studies
University of California, San Diego

Rana A. Emerson
City University of New York

Moon-Ho Jung
University of Washington

Randal Maurice Jelks
University of Kansas Associate Professor of American Studies/African and African American Studies

Michael Calderón-Zaks
Lecturer of Ethnic Studies
University of California at Berkeley

LaCharles Ward
Graduate Student in the Department of Speech Communication
Southern Illinois University, Carbondale

Grace Kyungwon Hong
Associate Professor
Department of Women’s Studies/Department of Asian American Studies

Oneka LaBennett
Assistant Professor, African and African American Studies, Women’s Studies
Fordham University
Research Director, Bronx African American History Project
Bronx, NY

Niels Hooper
History Editor
University of California Press

Rani Neutill
Mellon Fellow
Johns Hopkins University

Aisha Durham
Assistant Professor of Communication and Africana Studies
Texas A&M University

Ernesto Chávez
Associate Professor of History
University of Texas, El Paso

Myrna García
Visiting Instructor
Department of Anthropology
Northwestern University

Keguro Macharia
Assistant Professor
Department of English
University of Maryland, College Park

Sophia Azeb
Department of American Studies & Ethnicity
University of Southern California

Aaron Bady
University of California, Berkeley

Davarian Baldwin
Paul E. Raether Distinguished Professor of American Studies
Trinity College (CT)

Dylan Rodriguez
Chair of Department of Ethnic Studies
University of California, Riverside

Wayne Marshall
Music Department
Harvard University
AfriMusic Department

William Anthony Nericcio
Professor, Department of English and Comparative Literature
Director, MALAS, The Master of Arts in Liberal Arts and Sciences
San Diego State University

Lisa Guerrero
Associate Professor, Department of Critical Culture, Gender, and Race Studies
Washington State University

Diana Williams
Assistant Professor of History and Law
University of Southern California


Tavia Nyong’o New York University Christina Sharpe Tufts University


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