Department Statement on Racism, Anti-racism, Diversity, and Inclusion

The Department of Anthropology at Michigan State University denounces the systemic, institutionalized racism, violence, and oppression enacted against Black Americans in the United States. We abhor acts of police violence, and we mourn the senseless deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and the many others who died as a result of excessive police force. We condemn the institutions that have continued to turn a blind eye to the seemingly endless violence committed against Black communities over the course of U.S. history. We decry the criminalization of peaceful protests that seek to draw attention to institutional racism and bring about positive institutional change. We recognize that all of this has happened within a global pandemic which has disproportionately affected Black communities and has laid bare the underlying inequalities that pervade our society. We stand in solidarity with our Black students, faculty, staff, alumni, and community members and with the Black Lives Matter movement who are fighting to change these unjust systems.

As anthropologists, we understand how inequality emerges and how people, in the past and present, have resisted and undermined such structures. We understand our own disciplinary history as being rooted in European colonization and the oppression of Black, Brown, and Indigenous people. We call upon our students, alumni, and colleagues to draw upon their disciplinary training and join us in working towards identifying and dismantling the insidious structures of power that continue to enable such violence and racism.

While we have been working together as a department to identify and address inequities, we realize that work has not had the impact we envisioned. We recognize we cannot simply “do more,” but that we need to take a hard look at our own capacity to act and imagine new ways of challenging existing structures. In particular, we recognize the glaring lack of Black department faculty, staff, and graduate students, and a deficit in our graduate and undergraduate curricula regarding courses on Black experiences in the U.S. and in the African Diaspora, and on race and ethnicity more generally. We commit to pursuing avenues to recruit, support, and retain diverse faculty, staff, and students. Though our university faces significant budgetary constraints amid the COVID-19 pandemic and our department has limited control over new faculty lines, we will reach out to MSU administration and look externally as well to support our efforts. We recognize that MSU as an academic institution, anthropology’s history as a discipline, and academia more broadly undergird existing structural inequities. We will support faculty and students working to advocate for changes to these institutions. As a department, we will create opportunities for our faculty, staff, and students to reflect upon, critique, and change our disciplinary and sub-disciplinary cultures. Guided by this document the faculty will develop an action plan over the course of the upcoming year.

We realize that our words are not enough and we need to do things differently going forward.

We will build on our department’s strengths to take immediate, concrete actions, and, where possible, identify clear goals and metrics in our department to redouble our efforts to combat the structural, disciplinary, and institutional racism and violence that has pervaded our society since the European colonization of North America. In collaboration with the faculty we will develop a specific plan for positive change using this provisional list of actions as foundation:

  1. Asking every faculty member to do an equity audit of their syllabi to ensure scholars of color are represented in their assigned readings. The department will provide guidance and resources on the process of doing an equity audit, in addition to setting guidelines and expectations for these changes.
  2. Asking every faculty member to examine and, when appropriate, revise the content of their courses to examine the history of race as a concept and the ways in which anthropology, as a discipline, has contributed to this history.
  3. Continuing to hire paid outside facilitators at our annual faculty retreat every summer to train faculty in equity and inclusion and how it can be embedded in their research, teaching pedagogies, and mentoring.
  4. Providing the resources and mentorship to help strengthen retention of minority faculty members in the department, and advocate for increasing the number of underrepresented minority faculty members across the university overall. We will work toward creating an environment in which a free and open discussion of diverse perspectives can occur, with attention to power differentials that may work to silence differing opinions.
  5. Intensifying efforts to actively recruit and support BIPoC graduate students including providing a space for students to voice existing concerns within the department.
  6. Holding an annual Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR) workshop dedicated to issues of race and racial bias in social science research.
  7. Hosting listening sessions with our students in the coming academic year to identify how we can better address the needs of our diverse student body and to engage with the larger campus community. We will use an outside facilitator who is not affiliated with the department to protect the anonymity of our students and who will communicate this feedback to our faculty. 
  8. Committing to implementing training regarding how we engage with communities with whom we work. We will address and incorporate the research questions and interests of local communities into our research, and embed community members in our research when possible. We will focus on data dissemination and knowledge sharing beyond our narrowly defined scholarly communities.
  • Archaeological research in our department will be conducted with a recognition toward histories of ancestral, traditional, and contemporary land use. We strive to build ethically sound, authentic relationships with the communities linked to these places as we conduct fieldwork and in our long-term curation practices. Department of Anthropology archaeologists are having discussions during Fall Semester 2020 regarding recommendations for changes to collections policy and inclusivity in the classroom, and will be reaching out to Michigan Tribes. The MSU Campus Archaeology Program has outlined the changes it will seek to implement on their June 7, 2020 blog:
  • Sociocultural research within our department will acknowledge the history of the discipline and its role in the oppression of BIPoC communities. Our researchers recognize that they are guests within communities and will ensure that their work is designed according to the needs of and in collaboration with their hosts. We will work to make sure that human subjects protections are relevant and reasonable to the specific community with whom we work. Finally, we will amplify the voices of community members in their ongoing work for social and racial justice. 
  • Biological anthropology research within our department will be conducted with our knowledge that human biology, variation, and history shows that race does not have roots in biology but in policies and practices of colonialism and oppression.
  1. Developing pre-field training for our students and faculty in preventing and reporting harassment and discrimination in addition to the required Title IX training from MSU. This will include reading, reviewing, and discussing recent literature on the history of sexual harassment and discrimination in field school, study abroad, and fieldwork settings.

This statement was developed in consultation and collaboration with faculty and graduate students in the Department of Anthropology at Michigan State University. It is a living document and will be altered and updated as discussions and events develop.

Dr. Todd Fenton Chair

Dr. Stacey Camp Associate Chair

Dr. Mindy Morgan Graduate Program Director

Dr. Andrea Louie
Chair of Undergraduate Programs and Curriculum Committee

Department of Anthropology Graduate Student Letter to the Department of Anthropology Faculty

The process of crafting the above Department of Anthropology statement was partially driven by a letter sent by the department’s graduate students, calling on the department to commit to specific changes the department would take to create positive changes. In the spirit of transparency, equity, and respect, we have included the letter below (at the request of those who originally submitted the letter)

Dear Department of Anthropology,

We, the graduate students of this department, are writing to strongly encourage you to address the current state of our country by sharing your stance on equality, justice, and inclusivity, while also committing to specific actions the department will take to create positive change. We are saddened and deeply disappointed that a unique statement from you, the faculty, who hold power in our universities and academic communities is absent. As social scientists and experts in the field on human diversity in its many forms, we have the responsibility to use these credentials in support of social movements like Black Lives Matter. This recognizes not just the power that the department and faculty have in the academic realm, but also on the broader scale of society as experts and knowledge creators. When people in power are silent during social unrest, they are appearing to choose the side of the oppressor despite supporting the suppressed, and inadvertently become an actor in the systemic racism plaguing our country. We ask you to not only declare your position on these issues to the department and the university, but we ask you to provide a plan to use your power to implement change. Taking a stance and committing to improving the future of our field is imperative for other faculty at the university, graduate students, and, especially, our large student body of undergraduates.

We ask the department to collectively address the following three objectives:

First, we ask the department to make an official statement on the current state of our country. We ask you to consider the following in the statement: an explicit recognition that Black Lives Matter; that the department denounces racism and oppression in all forms; and the department does not condone acts of police violence. We urge your statement to be sent to all faculty, staff, graduate students, and undergraduate students, which will show the department’s support at all levels.  We also urge you to share the department’s statement with the deans of the College of Social Science.  We ask for your statement to be broadcast across social media to show our support to those outside the department. We recommend that you post this letter, or a portion of it, to our department website and/or social media to show incoming and existing students the strength and unity of our department and the intentions of our graduate base. In addition to reaching those already a part of MSU, this will allow prospective students to feel the inclusive nature of our department fostering a more open community, and we would welcome an ongoing dialogue on these issues together. 

Second, we urge faculty to use your professional and personal connections in the field to push for real change in professional anthropology associations. We urge you to speak to your colleagues and put pressure on executive and diversity-focused committees within professional organizations (e.g., AAA, AAPA, SAA, etc.), as well as the presidents of your academic associations to address the structural and institutionalized racism and exclusion of Black people and other POC in the field, rather than falling back on a blanket statement. Those organizations who have made statements available broadly address methods of support, but not all organizations have addressed the unique position of Anthropology in the construction and perpetuation of systematic racism and oppression in the United States and around the world. Use your insider status to open up discussion at your conference’s business meeting to ask them to provide a platform to give Black, Indigenous, & POC (BIPOC) individuals a voice. We encourage you to urge leadership to make clear their stance on increasing inclusivity and diversity at the undergraduate level to the tenure-track professorship level. This includes asking professors and administrators to contemplate their role in admissions, mentorship, and retention of students in Anthropology. We ask professors to seriously contemplate: who they mentor; how they help non- white students access opportunities in higher education; to what extent their research perpetuates or combats the problematic aspects of our discipline; understand how to be an ally to their mentees and advocate for first generation, low income students; and work toward making Anthropology, a discipline primarily grounded in fieldwork, financially accessible and safe for BIPOC students. These reflections must extend to graduate students, post-doctoral fellows, and early career academics.

Third, we need to recognize and address the shortcomings in our department and acknowledge that Anthropology, as a discipline, was founded on the systematic oppression and marginalization of BIPOC groups. This is necessary to move beyond performative allyship. One improvement we propose is for the department to invest in starting anti-racists workshops that are mandatory for all faculty. Second, we ask that leadership provide an anonymous department-wide platform for students to anonymously share experiences/stories/general feelings about their experience as a minority in our field. This platform can provide an opportunity to learn what good and bad experiences BIPOC have had in the department, specifically undergraduates first entering our field. In this way, we can listen and learn from the BIPOC experience. We ask you, does our department have a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) committee and are these individuals, especially if BIPOC, compensated for this work? What are the demographics of our undergraduate courses and how can we improve diversity at these entry levels? What is our department doing to diversify hiring practices? What are our policies on bringing awareness to all marginalized social issues, such as racial, cultural, religious, and political issues? What can our department do in order to make these spaces safe and inclusive for BIPOC? Many of the methods and theories that we use today in our scholarship were influenced by and are a direct result of colonization, which served to legitimize the inferiority of BIPOC. No branch of the discipline is innocent, and a statement recognizing this is not just performative.

Making active decisions to decolonize your course content and scholarship so that diverse voices are amplified in our teaching is essential. We compel you to look at your course goals and urge you to keep the following points in mind when teaching:

  • Aim for cultural understanding
  • Awareness of how diversity emerges within and across cultures
  • Reflect on experiences with diversity to demonstrate knowledge and sensitivity
  • Examine the connections between social institutions and underlying values and belief systems of a community different from one’s own

We look forward to learning and discussing how you all will work collaboratively to make a plan towards enacting positive change in our department.

Please find an attached list of all graduate students who stand with this letter (not included for the sake of privacy). We urge you to use your voice for the good of your community, your students, the field, and all humankind. Sincerely,

The Graduate Students of Anthropology

Resources and Departmental Information

Michigan State University occupies the ancestral, traditional, and contemporary Lands of the Anishinaabeg–Three Fires Confederacy of Ojibwe, Odawa, and Potawatomi peoples. The University resides on Land ceded in the 1819 Treaty of Saginaw. For a statement of our larger commitment and information about land acknowledgements see Land Acknowledgement

We encourage all of our community to become more aware of the issues, both historical and contemporary, that have contributed to the racial inequities in the U.S. and globally today. There is a vast amount of important scholarship and writing on these issues. The following are suggestions to begin and facilitate these conversations immediately:

Courses in Anthropology with Significant Material relating to Race and Racism:

ANP 236 The Anthropology of Peace and Justice
ANP 310 Archaeology of Human Migrations
ANP 320 Social and Cultural Theory
ANP 321 The Anthropology of Social Movements
ANP 325 Anthropology of Environment and Development
ANP 330 Race, Ethnicity, and Nation
ANP 364 Pseudoarchaeology
ANP 410 Anthropology of Latin America
ANP 417 Islam in Africa
ANP 419 Anthropology of the Middle East
ANP 420 Language and Culture
ANP 426 Urban Anthropology
ANP 436 Globalization and Justice
ANP 437 Asian Communities: A Global Perspective
ANP 439 Human Rights: Anthropological Perspectives
ANP 461 Method & Theory in Historical Archaeology
ANP 491 Heritage Tourism 

Resources on Racism and Inequalities in the United States

Resources to Support Protesters