Letter to the Editor: Call to action for CMU faculty

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

Dear Carnegie Mellon University faculty,

We, as a group of concerned students of color at the university, are disappointed. We’re not disappointed because your office hours aren’t long enough or your lectures lack a certain depth and clarity; we’re disappointed because many of you have failed to take on the role of a faculty member in its entirety. As faculty members of the university, we expect you to be leaders, role models, and mentors. Many of you, however, have limited yourselves to having a strictly academic influence. To be frank, as students of color, we need more. We’re hurting, and we’re looking to you as our leaders to extend compassion, and acknowledge the real world issues occurring outside of your syllabi.

We understand it would not be fair to express our disappointment without explicitly stating why we feel let down or without sharing our expectations for the future. As race-related tragedies transpire across the nation and we are bombarded with imagery of heartbreaking loss, an undue burden is placed on our minds and on our hearts. When after four+ years of recurring injustice, we can only thankfully acknowledge Dr. Peter Cooke in the School of Drama and Dr. Jelena Kovačevićof Electric and Computer Engineering — we hear your silence. When we constantly face microaggressions in the classroom such as being excluded from peer study groups, we feel isolated. When we are calling out for minority representation amongst your colleagues while seeing little representation amongst our peers, we feel alone. We don’t look to the faculty and see allies, we see enablers. This needs to change. We expect that you, as faculty members, open your ears to hear our struggles — that you actively seek dialogue surrounding issues faced by students of color (e.g “You Unedited,” “Why Take a Knee”). It may seem gratifying to see students, faculty and staff create these important venues for dialogue, until you realize that only 2-3 faculty actually attend these events. The administration and faculty cannot pride themselves in events that they are absent from. We expect faculty to use your positions of power and influence to challenge the ideas of systemic racism at all levels: amongst our peers, amongst your colleagues, and within the administration.

We must create a culture at Carnegie Mellon where discussions about racial issues and injustices, both domestic and abroad, are just as paramount to learning as your seminars, workshops, and lecture series. To the professors who have sought out discourse and are active proponents of change, we acknowledge and wholly appreciate you. But to those that have chosen to abstain and consider these initiatives as outside of the scope of your work, we ask that you reflect on what it truly means to be a professor and shape young minds. If you are not aware of issues surrounding injustices on campus and worldwide, we implore you to acknowledge your privilege/ignorance, ask questions, and seek these venues in which students are sharing their stories. And if you are aware and sit idly by, we demand that you step up and champion our voices, and openly challenge the privilege you witness and experience every day. We’re not asking you to be psychiatrists; we’re not asking you to be best friends. We simply need empathy and support — allies. Lastly, we understand many of you may find this level of engagement daunting, and we acknowledge its difficulty; at times it is simply uncomfortable. We cannot forget however that embracing this very discomfort is what will catalyze growth amongst the student body and administration alike. We entrust you with this responsibility, and believe you are just as capable of fulfilling it as you are academically enriching us every day.

Concerned students of color

*It is important to recognize that these feelings are not limited to the group of students that have written this letter — that there are those of varying identities (LGBTQ+, students with disabilities, women, etc.) or allies that share the sentiment that this letter embodies. This letter will circulate electronically and those that wish to cosign as allies, or the directly affected will be able to. We invite you to view this running list of signatures accessible by viewing The Tartan online. If you wish to cosign as an ally, or the directly affected please do so at the following link: Signature Form