WiG Leadership Statement on addressing racism in WiG and building anti-racist and decolonizing initiatives

As a follow-up to our WiG Leadership statement at the end of May 2020 in support of Black Lives Matter, we would like to notify the membership of some initiatives we are undertaking and also to remind you that anti-racist activities involve hard work and difficult, yet necessary, self reflection. This involves addressing the ways in which white supremacy is perpetuated at WiG, in our meetings and communications, as well as by WiG members in our everyday personal and professional lives. As an organization that desires to address its own systemic racism, we know that we can and must do better. 

There is a long history of instances of racism at the WiG conference and perpetrated by WiG members. In the past, we have met to discuss these issues as a group during our conferences, but they continue to persist. With this violent and disappointing history in mind, the question becomes: what can we do to make lasting change in our organization? How can we shift the culture of WiG to open up space and provide a sense of community for diverse voices and to dismantle the structural racism that protects white privilege?

At a time when there are a number of events on race, on white fragility, on anti-racist interventions––on our campuses, in our professional lives, and in our home communities––we ask that we, and especially the white members of WiG, take time to educate ourselves, to explore ways to decolonize German Studies curricula, to confront German Studies as a field of research by interrogating the practice of knowledge creation and knowledge transfer within it, to discuss antiracist intersectional feminism in an informed way, to read and listen to experiences of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, and to support, thank, and show our appreciation of WiG members who have been doing this important work for a long time. We acknowledge that as an organization, we are collectively behind where we need to be in terms of knowledge and education on these topics and we encourage everyone in our organization to renew their commitment to the learning that needs to take place before proper and effective action can occur. Well-intentioned but ill-informed intervention can be very damaging.

Moving forward, we would like to build an anti-racist feminist agenda within WiG, one that is centered as a critical priority within our organization. As a next step of what will be an ongoing process, we will be offering a session titled “Visioning Transformative and Antiracist Futures: A Call for Principled Solidarities” as our Thursday Night coalitional feminism-in-action event during the 2020 Virtual WiG conference. We are thrilled that Dr. Xhercis Méndez, Associate Professor in Women and Gender Studies and Queer Studies at California State University Fullerton and transformative justice consultant, will be facilitating this event. Our vision is that this session, as well as a series of optional follow-up workshops, will help us reflect on how anti-Black and other forms of racism have and continue to operate within WiG and explore strategies for dismantling the white supremacy that pervades our organization. Only once we have addressed these injustices within WiG will we be prepared to build the skills needed to effectively and impactfully intervene in and dismantle systems of racism and other interlocking forms of inequity and oppression on our own campuses and in our communities. We recognize that WiG needs to change before we can serve as a model for change in our broader communities. We realize that one session and the follow-up workshop series will neither result in structural change, nor will it dramatically shift the power structures within WiG. However, we hope it will lead us on a path towards a more equitable, inclusive, and anti-racist organization. As an outcome of the session and resulting workshops, we plan to jointly develop ways in which each of us can become more engaged in this process. All WiG members are encouraged to participate in these efforts for the betterment of our organization and the communities we serve in our professional and personal lives.

This will not be easy work. These types of discussions expose vulnerabilities, anxieties, and weaknesses. Yet they are necessary and critical conversations that we believe will help us aspire to become the organization we would like to be: one that has anti-racist feminism at its very core. The time is now to work for a culture of change.

In appreciation and defense of international students in German Studies and beyond

A promise of solidarity from DDGC, WiG, the GSA, BGHRA, and the CAUTG Social Justice Committee, 

15 July 2020

Today we, teachers and researchers in German Studies, share the relief our students and friends feel at seeing the new restrictions on the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), issued by the United States Department of State and ICE on July 6, 2020, rescinded without further delay. We recognize that this rescindment would not have been forthcoming from the federal government, were it not for a timely and expensive suit supported by over 200 colleges and universities across the country. We are grateful for everyone—aides, researchers, lawyers, plaintiffs, food delivery workers, officers of the court, and family members—who unexpectedly sacrificed a week of summer, during this pandemic, to head off a punitive policy that ought never have been conceived in the first place. 

We further recognize that such punitive policies will likely continue to be introduced and implemented, damaging our schools’, students’, and communities’ well-being over the coming months, and that we will soon need to rely again on these colleagues’ unflinching and courageous work to defeat the next such policy. We see clearly that the federal government is engaged in a chaotic shock strategy, designed to distract and divide us in a moment already marred by fear, pain, impoverishment, and hopelessness. We will not fall for it, if you won’t. We will never leave our students and friends defenseless and isolated, whether or not they hold US citizenship, permanent resident status, one kind of visa versus another, or documentation of any kind. We will stand by them today and permanently—in our institutional actions, teaching, and public work. 

The Diversity, Decolonization and the German Curriculum collective, the Coalition of Women in German, the German Studies Association Committee for the Initiative on Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion, the Black German Heritage and Research Association, and the Social Justice Committee of the Canadian Association of University Teachers of German join with one another in rejecting the spirit of punishment and intimidation that these recent policies represented. We also endorse the statement issued by our colleagues at the Modern Language Association, the statement by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, and the letter by the American Historical Association outlining the damage and harm that these types of proposed restrictions cause.

We will learn from this moment, and we will not forget it, even as it brings us and our fellows, friends, and students momentary relief. We know that more and more judges are currently being confirmed by the US Senate who would gladly support policies that instill fear in students and sow enmity for generations to come. The intent and effect of the attempted SEVP restrictions (together with the recent restrictions on J and HB-1 visas) were always a xenophobic exclusion of international students from college and university life in the United States, as well as increased coercive strategy to force our colleges and universities into in-person courses despite the public health train wreck this would ensure. 

Despite the rescindment, many of the schools in which we teach are already feeling the devastating effects of these clustered and disruptive decisions, as our international students make the difficult choice to defer or cancel their participation in our programs, given the uncertainty they face both in terms of visas and in terms of US responses to Covid-19. Our international scholars and students play central, courageous roles as teachers and researchers in our communities. They provide integral contributions to intellectual life at all levels and in all areas of our academic communities. As a consequence of recent visa restrictions, institutions of higher education face significant barriers to fulfilling their research and teaching missions. Meanwhile, students in locations with insecure internet access or who are in insecure living conditions find themselves excluded from participation in college and university courses if they cannot travel to the US. Furthermore, any action that potentially leads to spikes in Covid-19 (such as in-person classes held when it is unsafe to do so) will disproportionately affect Black, Indigenous, and Latinx communities in the United States. The evidence continues to pile up showing the ways in which Black, Indigenous, and Latinx people are more severely affected by the spread of the virus (recently summarized in this New York Times article) – Black and Latinx people are three times more likely to become infected and twice as likely to die.

In other words, these visa restrictions and other recent changes in immigration policy mobilize bald-faced xenophobic ideas about who legitimately belongs in our intellectual and research communities, and perpetuate racist inequities that once again target the lives of Black, Indigenous, and Latinx people. They impugn the invaluable contributions made to our research (and, of course, overall society) by international scholars and students. They threaten to decimate the standing of US colleges and universities in the world. 

In the coming weeks and months, we call on all of our institutions of learning to reject such restrictions as these outright, and instead to work to honor and defend the vital international intellectual exchange which our institutions have fostered over the decades to uplift research, teaching, innovation, and transnational collaboration.

WiG Leadership Statement: Black Lives Matter

We, the leadership of the Coalition of Women in German, condemn the recent murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery amidst numerous other heinous acts of racist, white supremacist violence. We would like to express our condolences to their loved ones and affirm our support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

We want to express our solidarity with the protesters demanding justice and with our Black colleagues, students, and community members. The global pandemic was already setting into greater relief the inequities faced by People of Color, from horrific anti-Asian and anti-immigrant violence to stark racial inequalities with regard to access to medical care. These events further remind us of the work all of us, and especially white people, have to do in order to create a truly equitable society. 

To our non-Black members: If you are standing by, thinking that this situation does not apply to you, you are allowing structural inequalities to persist. It is never enough to simply not participate in overtly racist acts; it is about giving up your privilege and working to dismantle systems of oppression. As demonstrated most recently by Amy Cooper’s false report to the police, the racist anxieties of white women have long been central to the enabling of white supremacy. Thus, as members of a feminist organization with a majority white membership, we must commit ourselves to anti-racist action. 

Both as an organization and as individuals affecting our own spheres of influence, we must fight against all behavior that works to uphold systemic oppression and normalize injustice. Below is a list of resources to educate ourselves and take action.

Act Now: Call for Justice for George Floyd

Minnesota Freedom Fund

Critical Resistance’s Abolition Organizing Toolkit

Anti-racism resources for white people

An Anti-Racist Reading List

Resources collected by Dr. Robin DiAngelo, author of White Fragility

Anti-Oppression LibGuide – New York Institute of Technology

Information for white parents having “the talk” about race with their children

WiG Leadership Statement after Hanau

In recognition of the intertwined histories and present manifestations of antisemitism, anti-Muslim and anti-Black racism, xenophobia, heteropatriarchy and white supremacy and as feminist scholars within German studies committed to intersectional understandings of social justice, we condemn the violence that has again come to a head in the last week. We are sorrowed by the attacks at two Shisha bars in Hanau and the resulting deaths.

Once again, a violent attack has made painfully visible the ways in which white supremacy and heteropatriarchy continue to wield power in our society. These attacks demonstrate the entanglements of gendered anti-immigrant racism and misogyny. The nine victims of this rampage were part of Turkish, Kurdish, and Roma communities in Hanau.

We express our solidarity with the families of those murdered and with immigrant communities in Germany. We note that our solidarity with the targets of xenophobic racism must include a commitment to fighting racism in all its forms as well as a refusal to normalize racist ideology, misinformation, and far-right radicalization on social media and in our societies. 

Many are asking how this could happen in a country with fairly strict gun regulations. While we affirm our support for the proper regulation of firearms, it is clear that such actions are not enough. Ending the violence of white supremacist heteropatriarchy is a task that requires our broad interventions through our daily actions and interactions; through education; through the speech and discourse we normalize in our culture, whether through art, literature, social media, news media; and through our organized activism.

As a feminist organization, we are committed to teaching and scholarship that challenges interlocking systems of oppression and power. Feminist goals must include the end of racism and white supremacy. The systems that promote and rely on racism; sexism; homophobia; transphobia; ableism; colonialism; and other forms of exploitation, hatred, and exclusion are interlinked and often support one another. We express our solidarity with all groups who fight these systems of oppression.

This continues to be a painful time for our members, students, and colleagues who are targeted directly, often daily, by racist, Islamophobic, antisemitic, xenophobic, and misogynist violence – whether as physical threat or verbal aggression. We express our solidarity with all of you. 

Individual acts respond to a social context, one in which hate speech enables and promotes violent actions. We call on our members, as teachers, scholars, and leaders, to name and challenge white supremacy and heteropatriarchy wherever it is manifest, whether in everyday speech, social media, political discourse, or elsewhere. We cannot allow violent speech to seem “normal.” We cannot allow an atmosphere that enables and normalizes such horrific violence to continue.

Nominations for Women in German Vice President/President-Elect

We are sad to announce that for health reasons, Elizabeth Bridges has had to step down as our President of WiG. We are grateful for and inspired by her committed and energetic leadership over the last years. Sad as we are to see her step down early, we support her in taking any necessary steps to focus on her health and well-being. 

In accordance with our bylaws, the steering committee has appointed our VP/President Elect, Helga Thorson, to move on to her position as President early; we are grateful for her willingness to take this step. We will thus hold an early election for a new VP/President Elect, for a term to run from October 2019 – 2021 as VP, and 2021-2023 as President. Please consider nominating someone for this position or indicating your own willingness to be a candidate. Requirements for the office are listed below:

1) Current membership in WiG, with history of active participation in the organization (for example, as Steering Committee member, member of Newsletter or Yearbook staff, prize committee member, regular and involved conference participant, etc.) and attendance of the annual WiG conference within the last seven years.

2) Tenure at their institution with senior rank (at least associate professor).

3) Institutional support (for travel to conferences, secretarial support).

4) A commitment to supporting WiG’s mission as expressed in its mission statement.

Duties include:

•        The Vice President serves for two years in preparation for assuming a two-year term as President.

•        As VP they support and advise the President and shares responsibilities for organizing/conducting searches (Treasurer, Yearbook coeditors, NL editor, Web Coeditor etc.); the VP shares other responsibilities as needed, such as facilitating communication between annual conferences and reviewing applications for the Zantop Graduate Travel Award.

•        The Vice President is expected to attend the virtual May WiG leadership meeting, the pre-conference WiG leadership meeting as well as the entire conference each year of tenure as VP and President.

•        Once President, the candidate will guide WiG in the development of its vision and mission for the future,  facilitate  long-range planning and effective use of resources, develop and implement new initiatives as needed (e.g. specific fundraising or website projects), ensure communication between all organs of the organization, represent WiG, and network and collaborate with other relevant organizations (attendance at professional conferences of these organizations is strongly encouraged), maintain a calendar of events and record of WiG committees and projects, all in consultation with the Vice President and other WiG officers, particularly the steering committee.

Procedure:

If you wish to nominate someone, you MUST first contact that person to make sure that she/he will accept the nomination, is in a position to fulfill the requisite responsibilities, and is willing and able to attend the requisite WiG leadership meetings and conferences.

Once all candidates have been nominated to the Steering Committee, candidates will be asked to prepare a Candidate Statement which will be distributed to the Membership before on-line voting opens on August 25th..

Please send names and institutional affiliation for nominees by August 10th to the WiG steering committee at steering@womeningerman.org .

We expect elections for VP/President Elect to begin on September 1st. In order to vote, you must be a current WiG member by the end of August. If you haven’t renewed your membership for 2019, we therefore encourage you to do so at https://womeningerman.roundtablelive.org .

All best, 

The WiG Steering Committee