Having encountered the indigenous inhabitants of what we now call the Caribbean, Christopher Columbus wrote in his diary that one of his initial acts was to “take six of them from here . . . in order that they may learn to speak (deprendan fablar).” The Department of Romance Languages & Literatures seeks to emulate and build on the thinking of previous generations of scholars and political actors who have recognized that the global presence of the languages we teach, as well as the concomitant erasure of indigenous languages, are bound up with the histories of colonial and imperial domination, slavery, and genocide operative in this foundational act. These histories are ongoing and continue to shape the world in which we live and work.
This means not only promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion but also acknowledging the limits of the language of diversity and the ways in which this language has at times been used as a substitute for the struggle for justice. In addition, we are committed to studying, questioning, and challenging these histories and their afterlives in our teaching and research; creating an environment that promotes multilingualism as a means to disrupt the hegemony of English in academia; encouraging a multiplicity of experiences and identities in the classroom; addressing the evolving needs of our gender-diverse community; and, in small ways, contributing to the dismantling of white supremacy, racial capitalism, and heteropatriarchy.
During the 2020-2021 academic year, we are currently engaged in the following activities:
- Organizing brownbag discussions/department-wide conversations on anti-racist pedagogy
- Planning a series of events and workshops with scholars and activists whose work focuses on race, policing, and the university
- Producing and publicizing resources about abolition and transformative justice to start putting these ideas into practice at the department level
- Facilitating a collaborative process aimed at centering antiracism in the department
RLL statement regarding gender identity and diversity
In RLL, we recognize that personal self-identification should not be subject to debate. We also acknowledge that students are most successful at learning when they feel represented in an inclusive environment that is respectful of diversity. As cultural contexts evolve, so do language systems and how they adapt to these contexts. Therefore, we share the idea that encouraging a multiplicity of experiences and identities in the classroom is essential to an effective educational environment.At the same time, we realize that language textbooks and language-teaching practices may take time to catch up in acknowledging the many identities that students hold. To make our courses more inclusive, the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures is taking the following steps to understand and address the evolving needs of our gender-diverse community:
- hereby elaborating a statement to recognize and support a gender-diverse community in RLL;
- identifying present limitations and perceived barriers to inclusivity in the foreign-language teaching/learning context;
- collectively sharing a list of best teaching practices, such as incorporating options for students to pick non-binary pronouns, when available, in the RLL courses they take;
- designing workshops and discussion events to evaluate how RLL can further emphasize inclusion, in the case that Romance languages cannot offer non-binary alternatives;
- collaborating with gender-diverse students to ensure that curricula are designed to best respect their identities and have appropriate discussions surrounding the evolving use of gender in language.
Current RLL Efforts Towards Building And Maintaining An Inclusive Environment Include:
Rising 2nd year PhD Student Dayanira Moya Shares Her Experience on Working with the 2019 Rackham MICHHERS Summer Program
During this summer I worked as a GSA for the 2019 Michigan Humanities Emerging Research Scholars Program ( MICHHERS ) along with Jessica Flores. Two years ago I was part of MICHHERS 2017 cohort, so I already anticipated what the process would be like for the students. The objective of the program is that students have the experience of what it is to be a graduate student, specifically, they have the opportunity to develop professional networks with graduate students and faculty. Moreover, during the program they have the opportunity to develop or edit a research paper with the support of their RLL faculty mentors. At the end of the program the Romance Languages and Literature department organizes a roundtable for the students to briefly present what they worked on during their stay in Ann Arbor. I remember how nervous I felt about the roundtable. In my case, the idea of presenting my research paper to several professors made me feel extremely anxious. But in the end I realized that it was a very informal presentation and the mentors were there to recommend and offer their feedback. Taking this experience into account, Jessica and I were determined to calm the students from the beginning by assuring them that the roundtable was informal and that there was nothing to worry about. And I think that helped them a lot not to worry too much.
There are encounters that promote cultural, professional and community topics. I think our role in the program was in a certain way to be peer mentors for these students and to present an academic and individual experience of what it means to study in this program and live in this city. We organized lunches and dinners with the help of Desiree Laurencelle, RLL Graduate Student Coordinator, and we shared enjoyable conversations with them. It was very nice to listen to their doubts and how they are coping with this process of "now what?", that part of academic life in which we have to decide where we will continue our graduate studies. Recently I was in their place and I still remember all my anxieties and fears. It was really nice that they felt that we were there as a support group for this very challenging part of their lives.
Moreover, some of them are part of the first generation that are going to continue graduate studies and they come from Latin backgrounds, so we shared differences perspectives and I sympathized very quickly with all of them. In fact, we made a small informal panel of questions and answers and they asked us a lot of questions about the graduate program and asked us to honestly tell our experiences. I think that an atmosphere of trust and solidarity was created between us, we even discussed our insecurities about the writing and publishing process. Jessica and I really enjoyed sharing with them and I'm sure they also had a great time. Finally, my experience collaborating with this program led me to reflect on my first year as a graduate student in the RLL department. Their questions make me think about the difficulties, challenges and the good times I have experienced as I get used to living in Ann Arbor and to academic life.