Letter to the Editor: DEI leaders respond to CFAC criticism, call for ‘more trusting dialogue’

Dear Community:

We write to you from the land of the Ojibe, Odawa, Potawatomi and other Tribes that are part of The Council of the Three Fires, and the Navajo Nation.

Although we have reflected on our experience as Co-directors of Academic DEI in compiling this letter to you, it represents a personal communication about our experience in our work to uphold the values of the college’s DEI mission and our keen awareness of how white supremacy and structures of power and privilege are playing out at our college. The views in this letter represent ours and ours alone, and do not necessarily express the views of the college.

As the country is celebrating Black History Month, we reflect that when Martin Luther King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, he had come to Memphis to support striking African American sanitation workers. Perhaps his bigger threat was that he wanted to bring together all poor and marginalized peoples to counter racism and other isms that would have us divided.

Some of you may have recently screened the new Shaka King film on HBO, Judas and the Black Messiah, that portrayed another freedom fighter–Chicago’s own Fred Hampton, the young Chairman of the Black Panther Party, who also founded the Rainbow Coalition in 1969. He too, was a serious threat to the structure of White supremacy and power. As was dramatized, he sought to bring together other disenfranchised groups in Chicago. The Black Panthers, although working to feed children in their Free Breakfast program and organize other support services for Black communities, were often portrayed as violent thugs. Hampton saw the longer game and sought to bring the Panthers together with Chicago gangs like the Young Patriots and the Young Lords, Indigenous groups and others, along with poor disenfranchised Whites who collectively were like-victims of intersecting systems of oppression.

Structural tactics to infiltrate, fracture and drive wedges between this coalition were successful and even fatal for Hampton who was assassinated on December 4,1969, and like Breonna Taylor, while he was sleeping in his bed. What can we learn from these histories and events?

Recently, we have been called out by the CFAC union that represents our part-time faculty members. Their leadership has alleged we have not wanted to include them in DEI initiatives we are leading as administrative representatives of the college, and have circumvented processes established in their collective bargaining agreement (CBA) in the formation of the new Antiracism Transformation Team (ArTT) and other standing DEI committees. This is far from the truth. We can, and are prepared to be fully transparent by documenting otherwise.

More importantly though, we prefer not to engage in throwing around accusations between us and rather find ways to work together cooperatively in a more trusting dialogue. We are not their enemy, but for some reason they have chosen to keep coming after us. Our social justice work flows in a circle, not in some binary “us against them, we and they” dichotomy.

We want to say publicly to the CFAC leadership that,  “…you cannot dismantle the master’s house with the master’s tools,” quoting the brilliant Audrey Lorde.  Using tactics to fracture and divide us, alleging unsubstantiated claims and untruths, and continually moving the goal post, does you and the faculty you represent no service. It is not going to take us where we need to go. These tactics actually thwart progress towards the equity you so seek.  If we worked together we all could get a lot further. To constantly have to defend ourselves against these unwarranted accusations, takes away from the work at hand, as this labor is hard enough on its own.

We stand firm in our commitment to dismantle structures of power and privilege and to hold Columbia College to a greater level of accountability. This is hard work and takes radical collaboration, as well as a radical imagination. We are riding the bike as we build it and stepping into the uncomfortable position of trusting a process that we are inventing as we do it, and requires letting go of old ideas of what power looks like. We have enlisted, with the College’s support and resources, organizations like the People’s Institute and CROAR to help us organize to dismantle systems of power and privilege.  We want to work amicably with the part-time faculty and we humbly ask the CFAC leadership to change their tactics in working with us to reach these goals.

We invite the CFAC leadership to walk this path in a spirit of love as a practice of freedom. As the radical Black feminist bell hooks states, “Without an ethic of love shaping the direction of our political vision and our radical aspirations, we are often seduced, in one way or the other, into continued allegiance to systems of domination—imperialism, sexism, racism, classism.” We are not going to get anywhere, always in attack mode, constantly being unyielding and spreading unsubstantiated accusations against us, Dr. Kim, or anyone else. Dr. Kim is not our daddy. We all are adults and it is not just on him. We all need to step up to work together to get this work done. We may not always agree with every decision on how to do it, but with a little faith in a process of change, we can work together to realize our goal to make Columbia College more accountable and horizontal – a place where students, full-time and part-time faculty, staff, administration as well as a community of alumnus, can thrive and be effective contributors to our culture and city as one body. 

This may be happening way too slow for some of us who wanted change yesterday, or for students that only spend a limited time here. Keep in mind that while we do have a ways to go, in the three short years we have worked to build on the foundations laid by our former colleagues Onye Ozuzu and Matthew Shenoda, some progress has indeed been made as the college has invested resources and we have been intentional about our DEI mission. At the very least, we can enjoy working with each other as we are doing this hard work. 

We ask the CFAC union not to be our adversaries if in theory we are supposed to be working towards the same thing. We ask you to please work with us going forward in a spirit of love, with cooperation, generosity, and with kindness to make measurable change at this college.


 Raquel Monroe & Folayemi Wilson