Message from the Executive Council
June 7, 2020
The AAIS condemns the continued racist violence enacted on black lives, in the US as elsewhere. We stand in solidarity with protest at the recent murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade and so many others. We stand in solidarity with the resistance to the everyday racial injustices that Christian Cooper’s Central Park experience exemplifies.
As an association of scholars based in fields within the humanities, we strive to act upon humanist beliefs “which stress the potential value and goodness of human beings, emphasize common human needs, and seek [….] ways of solving human problems” (OED). It is clear that we are still facing grave human problems surrounding racial justice. Now, more than ever, we must examine our roles as scholars and educators in a broader community of learning, and consider the ways in which our work advances necessary conversations about justice and equality, while also lifting up voices, experiences, and texts that have too often been kept at the margins.
As the American Association of Italian Studies, we negotiate the intercultural dynamics between those identities—American and Italian—and try to draw meaningful correspondences between what we study and teach, and where. We do this for our students and we do it for ourselves. In recent years the Association has sought to host roundtables, workshops, and plenaries at our annual conference raising and addressing questions of diversity and inclusion in Italian Studies. We recognize that we can do more, and we want to. It is time to critically examine our own participation in deeply rooted expressions of structural racism, and to actively work toward institutional change reflecting anti-racist and decolonial principles.
With this in mind, we are taking these preliminary actions:
--- Convening a task force to not only work toward greater attention to diversity and inclusion in the field of Italian Studies, but to assess how we might best incorporate and promote principles of anti-racism and de-coloniality into our organizational structure. We invite you to reach out if you are willing to serve.
--- Creating additional space for dialogue and exchange on the AAIS website, through the under-utilized “Forum” feature. While we no longer have a listserv, we do have a dedicated space for asynchronous exchange and we encourage you to use it. You will see here https://aais.wildapricot.org/forum a new tab entitled “Confronting Structural Racism in Italian Studies,” with subfolders for sharing ideas, questions and materials such as syllabi. Change will come from exchange and, in addition to the focused work of the task force, we need more generative discussion from a broad base of membership.
In order to arrive at ideas for concrete programming and policies that can address what one member has called “the unbearable whiteness of Italian Studies,” we must work actively, and collectively, toward change. The EC is committed to directing time, energy, and effort into development and implementation, but for programming to succeed, it must have input from members.
We want to register a clear condemnation of the racial injustices that happen around us every day. We want to (re)commit to the humanistic principles that undergird our intersecting and related fields. We invite you to join us.
AAIS Executive Council
Ellen Nerenberg, Monica Seger, Eva Del Soldato & Cosetta Gaudenzi
Previous messages from the Executive Council:
October 8, 2017
Dear President Stanley, Provost Bernstein, and Dean Kopp:
We write as the Executive Council of the American Association for Italian Studies (AAIS) to express our deep concern over cuts to the Humanities at Stony Brook University. In particular, we are gravely troubled by the recent non-renewal of three tenure-track faculty members in the College of Arts and Sciences.
As tenured professors who work at diverse public universities (Northern Arizona University, The Ohio State University, the College of William & Mary, and Wayne State University), and who serve as deans, chairs, associate chairs, and faculty members, we are well aware of the kinds of budgetary pressures and other institutional challenges that Stony Brook University faces. We also feel very strongly that these pressures require us all to defend the integrity of humanities programs with more vigor than ever, and indeed to work to strengthen studies of comparative literature and culture, of migration, gender, race and ethnicity. In a year marked by xenophobic violence on the national stage and the recension of the DACA program, it is our responsibility as university faculty to bolster cross-cultural communication, innovative reasoning, and a deep awareness of cultural history. Some of the programs Stony Brook plans to cut are those best positioned to do this kind of critical work.
Most urgently, in the face of financial constraints, it is imperative to protect the institution of tenure, along with the academic freedom and professional stability that it affords. Only faculty with such freedom and stability can develop and sustain programs of innovative research. Failing to follow the recommendation of a department, and its chair, to renew these three contracts risks weakening the tenure process across the university, and threatens it beyond Stony Brook as well. Although budgetary pressures are common at state institutions, austerity measures must not undermine the integrity of academic programs. We feel strongly that, at a university, the kinds of difficult choices made under financial pressures must still respect the intellectual priorities of the institution.
At an institution whose diversity plan celebrates cultural awareness, and where a Global Studies program promises to teach students about the values of interconnectedness, the work being conducted by the tenure-track scholars being dismissed seems, ironically, to be precisely the kind of work that helps the university realize its mission.
The three faculty being dismissed are pursuing critical research in areas that will be increasingly important as globalization continues to spur migration. They specialize, respectively, in works by Southeast Asian American authors and refugee artists, Middle Eastern women writers in French and Arabic, and Italian migrant writers and authors from
the Horn of Africa. In Italian studies, we can affirm that research in migration studies is cutting-edge, and is positioned to become increasingly important as Italy continues to be on the frontlines of wave after wave of migration to Europe. Indeed, each of these faculty members was pursuing—and achieving—precisely the innovative and productive scholarship that we expect from faculty in tenure-track positions.
We urge you to reconsider your decision to dismiss these three outstanding scholars, and hope that you will consider the alarming precedent set when tenure-track faculty can no longer rely on being evaluated on the merits of their scholarship.
Valerio Ferme, President
February 1, 2017
We write as members of the executive of the American Association of Italian Studies to express our deep concern about the decision by our newly elected president to place restrictions and holds on the entry into the United States of many immigrants and visitors who have dutifully obtained permission to come live in or visit the country.
- The AAIS Executive Council