In recent years, there has been a concerted effort to diversify curriculum. These efforts have served as a reckoning with the original sin of racism in American culture. Whether at the elementary, high school or college level, institutions of education have worked on uplifting Black voices and centering social justice and equity.
These initiatives are crucial to fulfilling America’s promise of equality and justice for all. But, yet, these steps often lead to simple performative steps that do little to change change American culture. There is work that must be done that extends beyond overhauling curriculum or hosting diversity, equity and inclusion workshops.
A core tenet of a liberal arts education — like the one provided by the School of Arts and Sciences at Rutgers — is that students have a solid foundation in the humanities and can think critically about culture.
The liberal arts might, in fact, be the opposite of performative: They demand you sink into difficult moments and make sense of contradictions. Skills that are needed more in moments of reckoning than ever.
One of the most important projects to diversify the canon and solidify the importance of Black writers is happening under the direction of a Rutgers professor. Meredith McGill, associate professor in the English Department, began working on the Black Bibliography Project (BBP) with Yale professor Jacqueline Goldsby.
The English Department at Rutgers–New Brunswick is already a strong program, with especially high rankings in African American literature. This program will solidify that reputation and ensure that questions about the canon are filtered through Rutgers.
For too long the humanities have been dominated by wealthy, white writers who are often inaccessible and difficult to relate to for many students. This is not a bug but a feature of the system: The higher education community has been controlled by mostly wealthy, white men who (willfully) did not see the importance of a diverse cannon.
Thankfully, McGill and the team at the BBP are beginning to uproot those trends and, in so doing, are making sure that the canon reflects a more diverse — and authentic — range of writers. The project is also investigating how Black writers, namely, abolitionists of the 19th century, were able to transmit their writing: In this approach to materiality and publication history, we will have a fuller and more comprehensive understanding of critical texts.
As The Daily Targum previously reported, “the mission of the BBP is to develop a centralized source of information that can be readily available to scholars and students to study literature, history, Black diaspora studies and more.”
While it is important to give attention to Black writers, it is also important for students and scholars to have access to these resources. Without a centralized database, it is hard to do research, to teach and to learn about these critical voices.
To that end, sometimes academic projects can feel abstract and removed from undergraduate students or the general public. This project should be made as accessible as possible to students at Rutgers — it should be implemented in core courses, especially those that fall under Our Common Future or Diversity and Social Inequities requirements.
While the BBP is a crucial project, it also reminds us of the necessity of funding cultural studies and projects that look into the disparate American experience. The BBP is an incredible opportunity for Rutgers students and researchers, but it also underscores the continued need and importance of funding cultural studies departments.
As Rutgers currently operates, funding depends on how many students departments have and how many courses they can run. Some departments are too vital to not fund — Rutgers must continue funding departments that would use the BBP most commonly, regardless of student enrollment.
These departments are important to foster an inclusive environment that confronts the country's difficult history. The BBP is a great addition to Rutgers and we all should take advantage of it.
As we continue grappling with the sometimes difficult and jarring history of our country, it is important that we continue to engage with sometimes difficult texts and have difficult conversations.
The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 154th editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.