Sociology Department's Response to the Death of George Floyd

 

The Department of Sociology at the University of Pittsburgh stands in solidarity with Black Lives Matter and those who are protesting around the world for an end to anti-Blackness and police brutality. We break the collective silence; acknowledge the pain and suffering of Black members of our department and the broader community; and provide an avenue for those who want to learn more or discuss things further.

 

Acknowledgment of Recent Events

We acknowledge the disproportionate number of Black and Indigenous Americans suffering and dying from COVID-19. We acknowledge the racist verbal and physical violence against Asian Americans. We acknowledge the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Tony McDade, and the lesser known, but equally precious lives that have been tragically lost while interacting with police or protesting for their right to be seen as human.

We mourn for their lost lives, for their families, and for recurring trauma their murders inflict on Black people across our country. We mourn for our Asian students, faculty, neighbors, and friends who have been targets of racist xenophobia. We mourn for all those lost to the virus and those lacking food or shelter in its wake.

We acknowledge these occurrences are not random nor simply the actions of a few bad actors. We acknowledge that they are a product of structural anti-Blackness and White supremacy that permeate our culture, our city, our discipline, our university, our department, and even our own thoughts. We acknowledge they are inseparable from our country's Indigenous genocide and transatlantic chattel slavery; our current laws that continue to support White supremacy; and our own university's history and current practices that privilege Whiteness.

 

Our Role at the University of Pittsburgh

As a sociology department with expertise in the study of social movements, we understand that the events of the last week of May are not an exceptional episode in American history. Rather, the police killings and other murders of Black people are symptoms of structural racism manifesting partially in the institution of policing. An intersectional lens informs our understanding of the ways in which overlapping identities create unique experiences of marginalization, particularly for Black women, trans, and non-binary people as exhibited in the brutal beating of Iyanna Dior in Minneapolis just last week, and further shows how the perpetuation of systemic racism has a negative reach that extends across communities.

The University of Pittsburgh is not immune to the institution of White supremacy. In fact, it was founded  on it, and continues to trade in and benefit from oppressive systems that cultivate police violence. It is not just some departments that must engage in anti-racism and fighting anti-Blackness: It is all of them. We must move beyond mere lip service to doing this hard work at the institutional, departmental, and individual levels.  This is not work to only be done outside the doors of our departments; our department is also not immune to the implicit and explicit ways in which anti-Blackness and racism is embedded in our institutions and our discipline. 

Academia and sociology as a discipline are not exempt from the structural racism that continues to affect the United States. Institutions of higher education play an instrumental role in maintaining White supremacy in the communities that they claim to serve and educate. We recognize, for instance, that Antwon Rose was killed by a former Pitt police officer, and that the policing practices on the Pitt campus are part of the ongoing legacy of institutionalized racism. Complacency in this moment is dangerous, and we join students and faculty around the nation that are calling on their universities to defund, disarm, and disband university police departments. As scholars we will strive to use our work to serve a more just future.

We acknowledge further that the police backlash and incendiary posturing by President Trump are neither normal nor inevitable. Decisions at the federal, state, and local levels have caused tremendous physical and psychological suffering to Americans of all races who seek to exercise their rights to express legitimate grievances. 

We stand with those who refuse complicity with state-sanctioned violence against Black and Brown people. We will continue to resist racist institutions that demonize resistance to injustice. We also express a commitment to anti-racist pedagogy at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. We believe that a fundamental understanding of race is essential to providing a well-rounded education that can prepare students to enter the world in this tumultuous time. 

 

Collective Next Steps for the Department of Sociology

We will have instructors for undergraduate and graduate sociological theory courses meet to re-imagine syllabi and pedagogy to center Black theorists (including Black women, queer, trans, and femme theorists), anti-racism, and critiques of White supremacy.

We will rework both syllabi for Fall semester online courses: Classical Sociological Theory (for undergraduate students) and Stratification (for graduate students), to center work by Black scholars, especially queer and feminist work.

We commit to centering anti-racist, queer, feminist, and anti-carceral critiques of policing, courts, and law in the trial incorporation of the Law, Criminal Justice, and Society program into the undergraduate Sociology major.

We commit to centering anti-carceral, anti-racist scholarship, projects, and perspectives in research on anti-violence programs for youth and in the work of the Chancellor’s new task force confronting sexual harassment and violence on campus.

We commit to forging collective efforts regarding: Diversity, Inclusion, & Equity, conflict resolution, and building institutional-cultural mechanisms for community accountability and transformative justice are ongoing. 

We will develop departmental and campus-wide programming centering anti-racism/racial justice, human rights, and transformative approaches to today’s local and global crises. This may include outside speakers, panel discussions that engage people from across the Pitt campus as well as community leaders. 

Finally we join the call to demand that the University of Pittsburgh to defund, disarm, and disband the university police department.

 

Resources

Selection of Organizations standing against anti-Blackness and White supremacy that could use your support:

Pittsburgh's 1Hood

Pittsburgh’s The Wellness Collective

Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh

Black Visions Collective

Reclaim the Block

North Star Health Collective

PUMP

Minnesota Freedom Fund

Urban League Twin Cities

Organizations Collecting Bail Funds by City

Bukit Bail Fund of Pittsburgh 

Defund 12

 

Resources to learn and share with others:

A list of anti-racism resources

A piece on 'Supporting our Black Colleagues’

A piece on ‘10 Ways for non-Black Academics to Value Black Lives’ 

An Op-Ed entitled ‘Racism Didn't Kill George Floyd. Anti-Blackness Did’

Professor João Helion Costa Vargas’s  (open access) book, The Denial of Antiblackness

A Feminist and Queer Syllabus for Black Liberation

A piece on why ‘The Pandemic Is the Right Time to Defund the Police’

Coverage of where and why ‘Students Demand Campuses Cut Ties With Police’

Ruth Wilson Gilmore’s “Is Prison Necessary”

Coverage of Mpls. proposal to cut contract with MPD

A resource on abolitionist transformative justice

Mental Health Resources for Pittsburgh

Black Lives Matter syllabus

Professor Waverly Duck's new book, Tacit Racism

 

For more University resources surrounding diversity and inclusion, please visit the Office of Diversity and Inclusion.