A Statement on Anti-Racist Action

June 9, 2020

For immediate release

Students, Faculty, and Friends of DCC,

We are a program that prides itself on nurturing young adults who are eager to imagine new worlds. Our students, past and present, believe in the power of design—whether through art, architecture, computing, programming, communication, theater, storytelling, healthcare, public policy, business practices, and more—and its limitless capacity for building better futures. Perhaps it is this undeniable vigor and promise embodied by our students that has kept us focused on what’s ahead instead of what’s right here in front of us.

As a staff, DCC has not yet fully grappled with the impacts of racism, white supremacy, and anti-Blackness in our own program. We are especially compelled to confront this reality now, in the wake of the most recent wave of fatal police brutality and white supremacist violence against Black people: David “Yaya” McAtee, murdered on June 1, 2020, in Louisville, KY; Tony McDade, murdered on May 27, 2020, in Tallahassee, FL; George Floyd, murdered on May 25, 2020, in Minneapolis, MN; Maurice Gordon, murdered on May 23, 2020, in New Brunswick, NJ; Sean Reed, murdered on May 6, 2020, in Indianapolis, IN; Nina Pop, murdered on May 3, 2020, in Sikeston, MO; Breonna Taylor, murdered on March 13, 2020, in Louisville, KY; and Ahmaud Arbery, murdered on February 23, 2020, in Brunswick, GA. We say their names in recognition and remembrance of the countless other Black lives taken before theirs. The staggering number of their friends, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, daughters, sons, aunts, uncles, cousins, family, chosen family, neighbors, and colleagues that preceded them affirm that this statement—and the commitments contained herein—are long overdue.

So long as our society is buttressed by laws, policies, and systems that uphold the value of white lives, white contributions, and white voices over all others, all institutions conspire to maintain white supremacy. The University of Maryland, the Honors College, and DCC are not exempt. Though the University of Maryland, College Park, has yet to formally acknowledge this, we recognize that DCC staff and students learn, work, and live in Prince Frederick Hall, on stolen land previously inhabited, protected, and cultivated by the Nacotchtank and Piscataway peoples. The university itself, the construction of which relied on enslaved Black people’s labor, was not integrated to allow for Black and African American students to seek and receive education until 1951—a decision that was vehemently opposed by high-ranking administrators, including former university president Harry Clifton “Curley” Byrd. To this day, Black and African American students frequently endure racism and racist violence enacted by their peers, their faculty, and their administrators. In the past several years alone, UMD students have terrorized their Black and African American peers by displaying nooses in campus buildings and spaces; administrators have excused the death of 19-year-old Black student-athlete Jordan McNair, who died of heat stroke after exhibiting signs of extreme exhaustion during football workouts; and a UMD student viciously murdered Second Lieutenant Richard Collins III, fatally stabbing him at a UMD shuttle bus stop where Black and African American students still protect a makeshift memorial today. These incidents and atrocities are occurring on a campus furnished by the industry arm of Maryland’s prison system, which exploits the labor of overwhelmingly Black and brown incarcerated people, and surveilled by a police force that is increasingly militarized.[1,2]

Against the backdrop of this history, DCC appears to flourish as a program that is both diverse and safe for Black and African Americans. Over the past six years, DCC has aimed to create a space where Black and African American students can find a living-learning home, see themselves reflected in the foundational curriculum, and feel confident that their voices are solicited and heard. When our current director, Jason Farman, assumed leadership of DCC in 2014, he entered at a time when there had been a precipitous drop-off in Black students’ enrollment in the program over previous years. The first priorities for DCC at that time were: to at least double and retain the number of Black and African American students enrolled in DCC; redesign its entry-level course to include readings and lectures on anti-racist design and the impact of technology and surveillance on Black communities in America; and work with majority-Black middle schools in Prince George’s County to connect them with DCC students and exemplify pathways to UMD, the Honors College, and DCC. Largely due to these efforts, we have the distinct pleasure of mentoring and learning alongside an extraordinary group of students from a wide range of backgrounds, experiences, and majors. Our most recent student survey indicates that 62% of our students identify as non-white, which paints a slightly better picture than general university demographics; the 2019-2020 academic year reportedly brought 30,511 total students to the university, with 51.6% identifying as non-white.

However, as this righteous uprising energizes cities across the United States and the globe, we are reminded that our efforts toward anti-racism must be continually renewed, made transparent, and explicitly declared so that we can be held accountable for both our successes and our failures. It is in this spirit that we must publicly reckon with the fact that only 13% of current DCC students are Black or African American (compared to 11.5% Black and African American students among the broader university population). It’s important to consider these numbers alongside census data estimates that record 31% of Maryland’s population (from which the university draws 74% of its students) and 64% of the population of Prince George’s County (where the university is located) as Black or African American.

Most pressing, however, is the egregious lack of Black people among DCC’s faculty and staff. Over the past five years, DCC has had 17 instructors teach in the program. Among these 17 faculty and graduate students, there have not been any Black or African American instructors. Most recently, we failed to bring in a single Black or African American faculty member during the 2019-2020 academic year. This inexcusable pattern will unfortunately continue in the Fall 2020 semester, during which DCC will offer seven courses, taught by seven instructors. Of those seven instructors (3 tenured faculty, 2 professional-track faculty, and 2 advanced graduate students), six are white and one is Asian. That same Asian instructor is also the only non-white person on our small program staff of four.

With no other context, these numbers are already cause for concern. But in a time where Black and African Americans are seeing themselves most often represented in images, video, and news coverage of brutality, violence, death and dying, this is especially unacceptable. Black and African American students should be able to walk into a classroom, a workshop, and a community event and see leaders who look like them; teachers who think, argue, and converse like them; and mentors whose experiences and futures are bound to theirs. Black students deserve to learn from Black teachers who are invested in Black lives.

Admittedly, there are relevant factors that impact these numbers, including persistent racial discrimination in: access to resources and support in secondary education; college recruiting and admissions in higher education; and hiring, staffing, promotion, and retention in the academy. These realities matter; DCC is subject to the racism at work in the wider Honors College, the University of Maryland, and higher education as a whole. However, as a program that trumpets the power of design to fundamentally change human experience, we can and must take creative action to build a community and culture that may serve as a model for a better, more inclusive, and equitable world—rather than one that simply settles to mimic or match the status quo.

Moreover, we remain skeptical of the use of mere demographics to signal virtue or diversity. It is not enough to bring Black and African American students and faculty into the program if we are not actively, vigilantly fostering an anti-racist, anti-white supremacist environment that supports, protects, and affirms Black people’s lives, learning, and futures. With shame, regret, and humility, we acknowledge that we have failed to consistently and explicitly do so.

As a staff and as a program, we therefore commit to taking the following actions as a renewed starting point in cultivating a program that is tenaciously anti-racist.

  • We will revise the introductory DCC seminar to study the role of design in perpetuating and confronting racism. Each fall, all first-year DCC students are required to enroll in our foundational seminar, HDCC105 Introduction to Design Cultures and Creativity, taught by Director Jason Farman. While this course already asks students to reflect on the interdependence of these three core concepts, we can do more to prompt students to discuss and act upon how racist, white supremacist, and anti-Black cultures are deeply embedded in everyday design and making. We will therefore amend an existing “Cultures of Equity and Social Justice” module to further expand and extend investigation of the role of design in perpetuating anti-Blackness and white supremacy and its potential for confronting racism.
  • We will hire and retain Black staff. Budgetary considerations are in flux in the coming fiscal year due to the ramifications of COVID-19 on the university and the state of Maryland, more broadly; at this time and for the foreseeable future, we are subject to a university-wide hiring freeze. However, when DCC is once again able to hire new and additional staff (for positions such as graduate assistants and student lab managers), we will actively solicit applications from, interview, and hire Black or African American people to join our team and retain them in positions of leadership and influence, with the power to integrally shape the program and its future. In the meantime, we will use this hiring freeze period to work actively and self-reflexively to ensure that our team’s values, communication, workflows, and overall culture ensure a safe and empowering environment for incoming Black staff.
  • We will identify, create, and pursue opportunities for Black faculty to join the DCC program. Within the institutional matrix of the Honors College, the College of Arts of Humanities, and the University of Maryland, DCC does not have the power to autonomously hire and retain our own faculty. Most often, academic departments on campus “contribute” available faculty to our program in order to help us meet our instructional needs. In many ways, then, who can teach in the DCC program depends on how many Black faculty are hired to teach in departments across the broader university and, once hired, how those Black faculty members are undervalued, overworked, and marginalized. We are further bound by the university-wide hiring freeze in effect for fiscal year 2020-2021 that will subject all new hires to administrative approval; in our case, that means that any additional instructors we wish to bring into the program must be approved by Dean Bonnie Thornton Dill, of the College of Arts and Humanities. Still, we will request and seek approval for an additional instructor for the Spring 2021 semester, so that we may invite a Black or African American faculty member to teach HDCC106 Introduction to Design and Creativity II, a required course for all first-year students in the DCC curriculum. Whether or not we are successful, we will maintain this commitment as we turn our attention to the 2021-2022 academic year. We commit to doing everything within our power to invite at least one Black or African American instructor to join the program in 2021-2022 and to henceforth maintain Black representation on our faculty. In addition, we will advocate loudly for change in the broader hiring policies and structure of living-learning programs, the Honors College, and the College of Arts and Humanities, with the hopes that DCC will one day be able to freely welcome Black and African American faculty and instructors in alignment with our values. 
  • We will draft and publish a DCC Statement of Values. We are committed to integrating these anti-racist actions into the broader system of values and principles that shapes our relationships with one another each and every day, and further recognize that anti-racism must be accompanied by other pursuits to truly envision a community and culture that protects and supports us all. It is not enough to pursue anti-racism if we are not working with an intersectional lens. A framework created and developed by Black feminists, an intersectional approach to anti-racism recognizes the interlocking dimensions of oppression and equity, as individual and collective experiences of race are inextricably linked to ability, age, class, ethnicity, gender, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, and so on. To that end, we will draft a comprehensive Statement of Values that outlines our understanding of how all DCC students, staff, faculty, and partners can and must work together with shared purpose, intention, and hope. We will publish this Statement of Values on the DCC website this Summer 2020 as a guidepost for future action, so that all community members—past, present, and future—will know where we stand and can hold us accountable. 
  • We will draft and publish a DCC Teaching Philosophy. We are further committed to ensuring that all DCC faculty embrace pedagogical practices that pursue and uphold anti-racism in their instruction. We will draft a DCC Teaching Philosophy that will outline our expectations for faculty, including but not limited to: thoughtful and extended discussion of design’s role in perpetuating and confronting racism, white supremacy, and anti-Blackness in all of their courses; equitable representation and citation of Black writers, thinkers, researchers, activists, artists, and designers in all DCC curricula and syllabi; and accessible assignment and assessment procedures that account for racial disparities in medical care, mental health, educational resources, and wealth. Our staff will provide pedagogical resources, support, and mentorship to help all faculty meet these goals. In addition to publishing our Teaching Philosophy on the DCC website this Summer 2020, we will ask all incoming DCC faculty to review and affirm it before beginning instruction in the program. Not only will this transparency work toward an intellectual culture that is anti-racist by design, not by happenstance or individual discretion, but it will also work to relieve Black students, staff, and faculty of the often traumautizing burden of educating their peers and others about race and racism. 
  • We will recognize and materially reward extraordinary student work that engages anti-racism. Each spring, second-year DCC students complete a Capstone Project of their own conception, design, and execution. These projects always demonstrate an impressive range of interests, skills, goals, and values, and our staff has a tremendously difficult time each fall selecting 4-5 students to receive the distinguished Capstone Award—a $500 monetary prize that recognizes extraordinary projects from the year prior. Beginning with the Spring 2021/Fall 2021 award cycle, we will reserve one Capstone Award each year to honor the student(s) whose project most meaningfully engages the power of creative design to pursue anti-racist making, thinking, and/or activism. 
  • We will maintain open-door hours to welcome students, staff, and faculty who wish to critique our policies and practices. As a staff, we are increasingly prioritizing shared community time, whether in the form of small- and large-group meals, wellness events, or social activities. We will additionally reserve staff and office time for open-door hours; each week, we will dedicate a minimum of 5 office hours (shared among our staff) for community support and engagement. While these open-door hours can be used for any purpose (seeking academic advising, personal support, professional mentorship, etc.), we hope to also hold space for collaborative learning about anti-racism, white supremacy, and anti-Blackness, as well as frank critique of our policies and practices. We recognize that it will not always be easy to come to us with your concerns and your questions, but we will do everything in our power to assuage your fears and earn your trust. We are hopeful and eager to hear from you.
  • We will commit to public self-assessment and ongoing change. The work of anti-racism must be diligent, steadfast, and enduring. These actions alone do not provide solutions; they are starting points for meaningful change. At the end of each academic year, we will solicit both direct and anonymous feedback from our students to assess our progress on these actions, as well as our overall efforts toward building a safer, more inclusive, anti-racist community. In dialogue with our students, we will provide and publish a report each summer that will provide an honest accounting of our progress and chart new or revised action items for the year ahead.

We will begin today. We will continue tomorrow. We will revisit these commitments again and again. We will undoubtedly falter, but we will not relent. 

In many ways, authoring this statement is the very least we can do. Even as we carefully consider these words and sign our names to this document, there is nothing that legally compels us to uphold these tenets in our work ahead. We acknowledge that we write this statement from the safety of our homes while Black and African American people are dying—whether from state-sanctioned or citizen violence, strategic under-resourcing of their communities, or the disproportionate impacts of COVID-19 and other illnesses on Black physical health, mental health, and overall wellbeing. At the same time, we recognize this as an “all hands on deck,” “show up with what you have,” “join in where you fit in” moment. As academics and educators, this is what we have to offer: our ability to admit what we do not know, a commitment to seeking out information and humbling ourselves in the face of new knowledge and understanding, and our unwavering support in your learning and in your future.

As we undertake this work, we hope to simultaneously re-make our program as one that is truly committed to the safe embrace and nurturing of all students who choose to join DCC and allow us to share in their experience at the University of Maryland. We hope our legacy is one that disrupts what it means to be the “design program” on campus. When others see that DCC logo on your shirt, on your sleeve, and on your water bottles, we hope they will come to recognize it as the mark of a program that believes that design can disrupt and change the world; that cultural practices, values, and commitments are embedded in everything we make; and that creativity can both unearth novel solutions and inspire love, care, and joy where no solutions exist. But, wishing will not make it so. We have to do the work. We have to build the community we want.

To our past students and faculty, we wholeheartedly apologize for the ways in which we surely failed you. We know that our apology alone is not enough. We are not entitled to your forgiveness, your reassurance, or your support, and we will not insult you by asking for it here. We ask only for the opportunity to earn your respect through our actions from this point forward.

To our present and future DCC students and faculty, please hear us when we say we are committed to building a safe, kind, supportive, open, and anti-racist community and culture. And, to do that, we need you just as much as you need us. We are hopeful, determined, and energized by your passion. Let’s do this together. 

To everyone who considers themselves a part of our DCC community, we ask that you hold us accountable. In this fight, we will be imperfect, just as this document—despite its many revisions—will inevitably be imperfect. We accept that we will fail often but we will always try again, with the hopes that you can trust our efforts to be genuine and full-hearted. When we fail, please ask us why. Compel us to explain and to tell you how, specifically, we will do better next time. Here at DCC, we care about design thinking and the principles of iterative design—the ones that say we must ideate, prototype, critique, revise, and again and again and again. We hope to learn from these lessons and translate them to the most important work of all: designing a better, safer, anti-racist, anti-white supremacist world together. 

Signed,

Jessica H. Lu, Ph.D., Associate Director

Jason Farman, Ph.D., Director and Professor

Eva Peskin, Graduate Assistant

DB Bauer, Graduate Assistant