Calling for Indigenous Justice in Lincoln
May 4, 2022
In solidarity with the Indigenous Studies program and the Native American community in Lincoln, NE, the Institute for Ethnic Studies supports Indigenous people defending their religious freedoms and their homeland at the Niskithe Prayer Camp near Wilderness Park.
The Prayer Camp is named Niskíthe, the salt water, after the UMÓⁿHOⁿ name for the Salt Creek Basin where Indigenous nations including the Oto-Missouria, Ponca, Pawnee, and UMÓⁿHOⁿ once dwelt and worshipped. Members of the Indigenous community here in Lincoln erected the prayer camp because they feel silenced and displaced by local officials, businesses, and the Catholic Church, who are moving forward with plans to develop land adjacent to Wilderness Park that actively threatens an inipi or sweat lodge site.
The place we call Lincoln has long been a cultural and economic gathering place for Indigenous nations, including those mentioned above. It remains a gathering place for Indigenous people from many nations to this day, despite more than 150 years of settler-colonialist efforts to erase Native people. As scholars and students living and learning on the past, present, and future homelands of these Indigenous, we must take responsibility for learning their histories and listening to their voices and experiences in the present.
The land in question is not “barren” or “abandoned,” and thus fit for a straitjacket of asphalt and concrete. On spring mornings, migrant Vesper Sparrows and Savannah Sparrows sing their delicious buzzes and trills from those fields. Across the road in Wilderness Park, a Wood Thrush yodels, and a family of Wild Turkeys waddles shyly along the bank of a creek. This is where environmentalism and Native religiosity meet, in a real, felt sense of kinship with other animals that is not possible in an urban or a suburban jungle devoted to one ambitious and enterprising species. As Native philosopher Vine Deloria, Jr., reminds us, Native “spirituality” is just such a deep regard for place; it is “for this land.”
The Indigenous community in Lincoln has consecrated the site known as the Fish Farm since the 1970s, when they began holding an inipi or sweat lodge in their ancestral territory. The land sale, approved by the City of Lincoln without considering the spiritual needs and objections of the Indigenous community, not only threatens the sacredness of the space but also perpetuates the same kind of elimination that has forced Indigenous people from their homelands and sacred relationships in Nebraska since the nineteenth century.
We refuse the erasure of Indigenous people in both the past and the present, and we stand with those who want their voices to be heard and their constitutional and human rights protected to work toward a better, more just future for all of Lincoln’s residents.
On Moïse Mugenyi
February 4, 2021
The Institute for Ethnic Studies condemns the senseless killing of Moïse Mugenyi, a 24-year-old Congolese refugee who was brutally murdered in the city of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Monday January 24th. We condemn global systemic racism and xenophobia. With refugee and Congolese communities all over the world, including those in Nebraska, we say the name of Moïse Mugenyi. In the face of the unjust and tragic loss of yet another Black life, we stand in solidarity with Mugenyi's family and friends, the larger Congolese community, and all those who work for justice and peace.
On Teaching Critical Race Theory
July 23, 2021
The Institute for Ethnic Studies at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln is proud to endorse and support our colleague Dr. Jeannette Eileen Jones, and we are grateful for her eloquent and measured response about the teaching of critical race theory, as reported in the Lincoln Journal Star.
This issue requires intellectual integrity, clarity, boldness, and the courage to speak publicly. We will continue the Institute's nearly five decades of solid, thoughtful, groundbreaking scholarship and teaching about race, ethnicity, and social justice, educating our students and positively transforming the racial climate of the state of Nebraska.
Across the United States, legislation has been recently passed to prohibit the teaching of ethnic studies and critical race theory in K-12 schools.
We invite the public to take our courses and read the literature in the field. The intellectual work we do involves investigating and teaching the documented centuries of abuse, struggle, resistance, cultures, beauty, and joy of Indigenous, Black, Latinx, and Asian and Pacific Islander Americans and other racial and ethnic groups in the United States.
In addition to history, the examination of race also focuses on contemporary psychological issues such as the effects of racial stigma on cognitive processing. This psychological focus examines how the cognitive processing of all people is shaped by the racial classifications that form part of our historical past and current social structures. People process information based on perceived race: our views, judgments, and actions change based on our psychological identification with a racial group as well as our reliance on racialized stereotypes about others. These racial perceptions can result in different outcomes, and critical race theory allows us to investigate how perceptions of race influence these processes and to develop means of changing people’s reliance on unjust, inaccurate stereotypes when they assess others.
In considering the issue of what fields of inquiry public education should be allowed to include, we also invite the public to consider these crucial questions:
- Who gains by barring trained educators from teaching history, politics, and culture through the lens of critical race theory?
- How can we all benefit from being fully educated about the realities of our nation's past and present?
- What crucial questions are obscured by labeling something "un-American" and/or "divisive" without further exploration—and without providing accurate definitions of the terms under discussion? What goal is served by such erasures?
Being aware of these underlying issues can help us understand the true stakes of this discussion and plan carefully for the educational future we want.
With Dr. Jones, the members of the Institute for Ethnic Studies believe that critical race theory is “not dividing us…It’s actually meant to heal us,” and we invite all Nebraskans to participate in building a more just world for us all.
In Support of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders during a Wave of Racist Violence
March 18, 2021
In response to the most recent and intensifying wave of murderous and violent attacks against Asian Americans, which points to a long history of anti-Asian American prejudice and racism in the United States, the Institute for Ethnic Studies decries all violence against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI). Consistent with the University of Nebraska’s Grand Challenges commitment to anti-racism and racial equity and President Biden’s “Memorandum Condemning and Combating Racism, Xenophobia, and Intolerance Against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States,” we resist and condemn such brutality. We stand with our AAPI faculty, students, staff, and friends in the wider Nebraska community, which today includes nearly 50,000 Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
The University of Nebraska–Lincoln offers a strong minor in Asian Studies that includes courses in the history, cultures, and languages of various Asian nations. Yet our current curriculum does not systematically address the experiences of Asian American and Pacific Islanders in the United States—experiences laced with violence, objectification, and economic exploitation since their inception. For well over a decade, the institute has requested from the university the resources and permission to establish a program in Asian and Asian American Studies led by scholars with expertise in the field, comparable to our long-standing programs in African and African American Studies, Latina/o and Latin American Studies, and Native American Studies. The Institute for Ethnic Studies is dedicated to educating the students of Nebraska about racial justice, equity, and inclusion to foster a strong sense of welcome and belonging for everyone in our state.
Omitting education in AAPI culture, history, and politics is no longer a viable stance for a flagship, Research-1 institution of public higher learning. We call upon all supporters of the University of Nebraska–Lincoln to work with us in establishing an Asian and Asian American Studies interdisciplinary academic program for the benefit of us all.
Violence is never the answer. Education can be.
Institute's Support of Dr. Patrick Jones' Offering ETHN 198
August 26, 2020
The Institute for Ethnic Studies offers its unequivocal support for our valued faculty member Dr. Patrick Jones, who will teach ETHN 198: How to Be Anti-Racist at the University of Nebraska this fall, and we are very pleased and proud that he has developed and will be offering this new course.
In the Institute for Ethnic Studies, we believe that white people can and should do anti-racist work, that it is profoundly important for white anti-racist leaders to help shoulder the burden of that transformative cultural labor, and that they can be pivotal influences upon other white people. The extraordinary, groundbreaking work of white anti-racist diversity educators like Jane Elliott, Peggy McIntosh, and Tim Wise continues to have a powerful impact on our culture.
Two of our faculty members in the Institute are non-Hispanic white professors, and we see and value their contributions--of which Dr. Jones's ETHN 198 will now form an important part--as participating in this strong tradition of white anti-racist leadership.
Twenty of our tenure-line professors in the Institute are BIPOC scholars who teach and mentor BIPOC and white students, and they offer many Ethnic Studies courses every semester, as faculty of color have done for the nearly fifty years since the Institute's founding in 1972. Dr. Jones's development of our new course, ETHN 198: How to Be Anti-Racist, complements the long and steady work of the BIPOC professors on our faculty.
Dr. Jones has been a joint-appointed faculty member of the Institute for Ethnic Studies and a professor in our African and African American Studies program for 16 years. His academic training, published scholarship, and long teaching career have focused on anti-racist activism, and he is a committed anti-racist activist. In his classes, he transparently addresses his own various forms of privilege and acknowledges the ways in which they affect the power dynamic of the classroom. For well over a decade at the University of Nebraska, he has been a valued and effective educator of BIPOC and white students investigating issues of racial justice.
It is our hope that ETHN 198, an introductory 3-week course, might particularly appeal to white students who have been galvanized by the racist tragedies and subsequent protests of this year to pursue further the politically crucial issues of race, ethnicity, and social justice as part of their academic work. Dr. Jones can serve as not only an excellent educator of all students but also a role model for students seeking ways to make a positive difference in our troubled world.
We affirm our unequivocal support of Dr. Patrick Jones, this course, and the efforts of scholars everywhere who work for racial justice.
Statement in Response to the Current Racial Crisis
June 5, 2020
We, the faculty of the African and African-American Studies Program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, are compelled to speak out in condemnation of the most recent string of racist killings of black men and women in the U.S. and to express our firm support for and solidarity with the ensuing protest movement that has arisen across the country and around the world, including in Omaha, Lincoln and other Nebraska cities and towns.
The University of Nebraska President Ted Carter writes on May 30, 2020, “the ugliness of racism continues to plague our country, and too many of our own students, faculty and staff know its pain.” Chancellor Ronnie Green adds, “racism in any form is wrong and has no place in our lives, our communities, or institutions.” Further, Chancellor Green states, “Those of us entrusted to leading institutions must stay committed to truly listening, truly learning and to understanding our own bias” and to “address deeply embedded histories of exclusion.” UNL’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion states that as the land-grant university for Nebraska, “diversity and inclusion are central to our mission and pursuit of excellence. Each person has something to gain from and offer to our community of learning, discovery and outreach. All are welcome here.”
UNL’s N2025 Strategic Plan states, “Every person and interaction matters”. However, this cannot be realized until black lives matter on and off campus.
In particular, at this time, we immediately demand:
- An overhaul of current police procedures that embolden law enforcement officers to use deadly force and escalation tactics. Key elements must include, more robust community oversight of the police; the right of civilians to record police; mandatory body cameras; de-militarization of local and state police departments; legal limits on the use of force; investment in rigorous and on-going training, including implicit bias, procedural justice, relationship-based policing, community interaction, crisis intervention, mediation, conflict resolution, and rumor control; negotiation of fair contracts with police unions that remove barriers to effective misconduct investigations and civilian oversight, keep officers' disciplinary records accessible to police departments and the public, and ensure accountability for officers and departments that kill or seriously injure civilians; true community representation in police forces and administration; and appropriate engagement with black peoples as well as all minoritized groups.
- A formal review and reconsideration of any institutional relationships and partnerships with local and state police forces by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
- Guarantees to protect the democratic rights to free expression and peaceful protest by all UNL students, faculty and staff participating in the movement for racial justice.
- Improved student access to on-campus legal, medical, and other services. Specifically, a reduction in the bureaucratic complexity of applying for federal emergency funds. Students should be able to request an enrollment waiver, if necessary, to access these and other emergency services.
We are concerned by the heavy-handed reaction by law enforcement and certain political leaders in response to what have been, overall, largely peaceful protests in Lincoln and Omaha. Demonstrators, including UNL students, have been tear-gassed, body-slammed, yanked by the hair, rammed by cars, shot with rubber bullets and arrested for exercising their constitutional rights to protest. These reactions by local police and National Guard troops have unnecessarily escalated an already volatile situation and further eroded trust between community members and those sworn to protect them. Furthermore, local and state leaders have initiated a mandatory curfew, which raises new and significant questions about the constitutional rights of Nebraskans. We demand that all law enforcement maintain a protective posture with regard to demonstrators exercising their rights to peacefully assemble and protest and that police refrain from using any tools and techniques that might harm community members in the exercise of those rights. We call for a non-partisan investigation into the state’s response to the demonstrations and its use of excessive force, as well as a repeal of “state of emergency” declarations that criminalize peaceful protest. While these incidents happened off-campus, local, state, and national events affect UNL students on-campus, in the classroom, and their feeling of belonging at the university.
On February 23, 2020, father and son, Travis and Gregory McMichael, hunted and then gunned down 25-year old Ahmaud Arbery as he innocently jogged in Glynn County, Georgia. A third co-conspirator, William Bryan, filmed the murder from a second vehicle. It was not until May 5, that a video of the killing emerged and went viral. On March 13, 2020, Louisville police shot and killed 26-year-old Breonna Taylor in her apartment during a raid targeting two men who law enforcement believed were selling drugs out of a house more than 10 miles away. On May 25, 2020, white Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, killed 46-year-old George Floyd after kneeling on his neck for more than eight and a half minutes while Floyd repeatedly plead, “I can’t breathe” and called out for his mother. Two other officers, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane helped Chauvin restrain Floyd, while a fourth officer, Tou Thao prevented onlookers from intervening. Multiple videos of the Floyd killing quickly appeared online, sparking the largest wave of urban unrest in U.S. history since the rebellions that rocked more than 100 cities after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968.
In recent days, students and community members in Lincoln, Omaha, and beyond have organized and participated in protests against police brutality and systemic racism and for justice. We stand in solidarity with these actions, particularly those of UNL students, who have been at the forefront of demanding accountability from law enforcement and state authorities, as well as articulating a new agenda for meaningful transformational change and justice. As faculty members in the African and African American Studies Program, we feel a special responsibility to support and protect the free expression of conscience by our students in the name of racial justice.
During demonstrations on Saturday, May 30, an unarmed 22-year old African American man, James “Ju Ju” Scurlock, was shot and killed in Omaha’s Old Market by a white business-owner, Jake Gardner, with a history of racism and transphobia. We join thousands of others across our state and nation in demanding justice for James Scurlock and the establishment of an unbiased grand jury to determine if charges should be brought against Gardner.
The Institute for Ethnic Studies, which will be celebrating its fiftieth anniversary at UNL in 2022, has a unique and historic responsibility to marshal the scholarly expertise of its faculty in pursuit of social justice and community uplift. We take that mandate seriously.
As a collective of interdisciplinary scholars with expertise in African Studies, African American Studies, comparative Black history and critical race and ethnic studies, we understand the historical roots and contemporary manifestations of white supremacy and anti-blackness here in the U.S. and as a global phenomenon. In many ways, there is nothing new about the tragic killings of these three African Americans at the hands of law enforcement and white vigilantes. Sadly, they are a part of an unbroken and on-going history of racist violence against black people across U.S. history. They speak to the entrenched normalcy of racism and anti-black violence in American society and the failure of this nation’s institutions and leadership to address them. The pain and rage being expressed by millions of people in demonstrations across the country and around the world are the result of those failures. The declaration that “Black Lives Matter” echoes across more than four centuries of African American struggle in North America to assert the basic rights and human dignity of people of African descent, as well as protect black bodies in the face of constant degradation, assault and destruction.
As scholars of race and society, we understand that after the media spotlight on George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and James Scurlock has faded away and protests quelled, the underlying issues to these events – white supremacy, anti-blackness, police brutality and the militarization of law enforcement, as well as the broader range of racial inequality that plagues our society - will remain until the next terrible incident. We have seen this cycle repeat itself time and again, year after year, decade after decade. We have heard the promises of political, economic, education, social and civic leaders to respond, yet repeatedly they have failed to live up to those pledges. We are well past the time to take dramatic, transformational, systemic actions across a range of issues, including but not limited to police brutality, to finally ensure the basic human dignity, full democratic rights, and bodily integrity of African Americans and all people of color in the United States. To this end, our university, local, state, and national leaders need to more seriously listen to, include and be responsive to our students, faculty and the Black Lives Matter movement, more generally, in a systematic and sustained manner. Those of us in the African and African American Studies Program stand ready to use our expertise to help develop and implement the kinds of policies necessary to address these core problems on our campus, in our state, across our society and beyond in order to build what Dr. King referred to as “the Beloved Community,” a truly just and equitable multi-cultural democracy.
Beyond these immediate demands, the faculty of the African and African American Studies Program remains in dialogue with each other and our campus and community allies to further articulate next steps in response to this on-going crisis. We will continue to be present and active, as we have throughout the five decades of our existence at UNL.
In solidarity with all of those working genuinely to create a more just, democratic and equitable society for all.
A luta continua! Black Lives Matter!
Dr. Dawne Curry
Dr. Lory Dance
Dr. Kwakiutl Dreher
Dr. Jeannette Eileen Jones
Dr. Patrick D. Jones, Program Liaison
Dr. Alice Kang
Faculty Letter on Campus Climate Survey
May 30, 2018
Dear President Bounds:
We write this letter in response to the Campus Climate Survey administered by Gallup. When the campus survey was administered in early April of 2018, it was not uncommon that faculty and staff would ask one another questions like “Did you see that survey? Did the wording and questions lead you to ask more questions about whether or not you could complete the survey?” Many colleagues in Ethnic Studies and in other academic units expressed discomfort in regard to completing the survey. Since then, some of us have completed the survey while others have not. However, we all have several concerns that include the following:
- Several of the questions were worded in ways that were vague, leading, and/or could have multiple meanings, and therefore multiple interpretations.
- Several of the questions were double or triple-barreled thereby covering multiple topics or issues but only allowing one answer or response option.
- In addition to double-barreled questions, there were response options that were double-barreled, such as the answers or response options regarding whether certain groups of students are free to express themselves. In these cases the double-barreled answer was something like “does not apply/too few persons on campus”. “Does not apply” and “Too few persons on campus” should be two separate response options. But even these choices are problematic as they fail to adequately capture those who are “too few” and the variability in what respondents may consider “too few”. Furthermore, those who are the “many” answering the surveys could obscure or silence the survey responses of those who are in the minority.
- Several of the questions contained binary “yes or no”, “good place or not a good place”, “support or oppose” options with a third “don’t know” option tacked on. Instead of such binary logic, more gradational options as well as “cannot respond” and/or “unable to answer” and/or “does not apply” options would have afforded a broader range of choices.
- There were several questions designed to capture attitudinal information related to students, staff, and faculty but few questions designed to capture attitudinal information related to senior leadership at the level of colleges, NU campuses, or the NU system.
- There were occasions where space for open-ended responses could have given those taking the survey more space to comment. At the very least, there should have been a question at the end that allowed for an open-ended response.
Here are a few more specific examples of the concepts/words/phrases that were vague, leading, and/or could have multiple meanings:
- The word/concept “violent” needs further definition. Does “violent” mean symbolic violence via words, flags, emblems, symbols? Or physical, bodily violence?
- “Shouting down speakers” is unclear. It depends upon what the speaker is saying and whether the group targeted by the speaker is dehumanized by the speaker.
- Like the word/concept “violent”, the word/concept “violence” is not defined. Perceptions of violence might determine whether one should use “violence” to stop a speech or protest, and what is perceived as “violence” can differ from person to person. Furthermore, one could answer “Never Acceptable” to the question of whether one should use violence to impede a speech/protest/rally, but this could also assume that the speech/protest/rally is non-violent in regard to causing physical harm to others. If the speech/protest/rally is an incitement to hate crimes and hateful, violent actions, then those targeted have the right to self-defense.
- The question about “attention to protests making college campuses seem less embracing of diversity than is the case” is also confusing. Attention by whom? In other words, who is calling attention to the protests? The person, group, organization, entity, etc., calling attention to the protest(s) could impact how people respond to news about the protests.
The points above are just a few of the concerns raised about the Campus Climate Survey. We respectfully request that someone from the President’s Office address our concerns.
In addition to our concerns about the survey questions, we would like more transparency about and answers to the following questions:
- Were any focus groups conducted to provide substance for the survey?
- Who worded and formatted the survey questions?
- What methodological approaches or strategies were employed to increase the reliability and validity of survey findings?
- Who will be interpreting the results?
- What is the ultimate purpose of the survey?
While we support the potential utility of a Campus Climate Survey, the current survey appears to have too many conceptual and methodological flaws to yield viable results.
Faculty of the Institute for Ethnic Studies
In addition to the general signature of the Faculty of the Institute for Ethnic Studies, the persons below have signed as individual faculty and/or staff. Signatures are listed in alphabetical order.
Professor of English and Film Studies
Christina E Brantner
Associate Professor of German
Stephen M. Buhler
Aaron Douglas Professor of English
Professor, English and Ethnic Studies
Associate Professor, Department of English
Jennine Capó Crucet
Associate Professor of English and Ethnic Studies
Lory J. Dance
Associate Professor of Sociology and Ethnic Studies
Associate Director of the Institute for Ethnic Studies
Dr. Kwame Dawes
Chancellors Professor of English
Glenna Luschei Editor of Prairie Schooner
Department of English
Kwakiutl L. Dreher
Associate Professor of English and Ethnic Studies
Associate Professor of Sociology
Associate Professor, Department of English
Thomas C. Gannon
Associate Professor of English & Ethnic Studies
Jose Eduardo Gonzalez
Assoc. Prof of Modern Languages and Ethnic Studies
Professor of English
Women’s and Gender Studies Affiliate
Jeannette E. Jones
Associate Professor of History and Ethnic Studies
Patrick D. Jones
Associate Professor of History and Ethnic Studies
Alice J. Kang
Department of Political Science and Institute for Ethnic Studies
Frances W. Kaye
Professor, Department of English
Affiliate Professor, Institute for Ethnic Studies
Dept. of English
Department of English
Amelia M.L. Montes
Associate Professor, English and Ethnic Studies
2017/2018 Fulbright Scholar
Helen A. Moore
Emerita Professor of Sociology
Affiliate: Women's and Gender Studies, Ethnic Studies
Dr. Guy Reynolds
Department of English. Director, Cather Project
Associate Professor, Department of English
Associate Professor, Department of English
Professor of English
Associate Professor of Psychology and Ethnic Studies
Statement on White Supremacy on Campus
Recently, controversy has grown on our campus over the presence of a student who is an active, avowed white supremacist. This student maintains an active presence in a variety of online white supremacist networks and was photographed as a participant in the recent Charlottesville, Virginia, neo-Nazi rally that resulted in the killing of one anti-racist counter-demonstrator and the beatings of several others.
In the context of this campus controversy, the faculty of the Institute for Ethnic Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln affirms its historic and on-going commitment to academic freedom, diversity and social justice, as well as its staunch opposition to ideologies of ignorance, discrimination and hate, particularly as those ideologies manifest in a culture of fear and intimidation on our campus and in the broader community, or encourage, threaten or elicit violent behavior.
Our scholarly work uniquely situates us to understand and mark the dynamic tensions between first amendment rights, disparate power and the real, historic and on-going threat posed by white nationalism and white supremacy on our campus, in our state, across the country and globally. The historical well of white supremacy in the United States is deep, as is the intimate connection between hateful ideas and tragic outbursts of racist violence. Faculty research in each of our sub-programs - the African and African American Studies Program, the Native American Studies Program and the Latino and Latin American Studies Program – testifies to the particular ways white supremacy has played out against African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans and other people of color throughout U.S. history. Our current predicament is not in isolation from this much longer, tragic story of the American experience.
We also know that many students, particularly students of color, feel frustrated, angry and scared as a result of threatening rhetoric deployed by this student in a recent video. These are all understandable and legitimate responses to the presence of white supremacy in our academic community and society-at-large. The faculty at the Institute for Ethnic Studies remains committed to providing a safe and inclusive environment for our students and stands in solidarity with those feeling vulnerable as a result of the current racial climate on our campus.
We will continue to work with the university administration, students and community members to create an academic community that not only fosters the free flow of competing ideas, but also a community that protects the well-being and safety of all of its members, particularly students of color and those from other historically marginalized and underrepresented communities. We stand with them against the tangible, imminent consequences resulting from white supremacy and white nationalism.
The Institute for Ethnic Studies is proud to stand with DACA students at this university and everywhere they may be. We support their dreams and affirm their beliefs and aspirations for a better life.