Statement from the UI Center For The Book on Police Violence, Student Protests, and Systemic Racism

The UI Center for the Book remembers the lives of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless, nameable others killed by law enforcement or extra-legal violence, based on the color of their skin. As we all know, they died at the hands of a police force and legal system intended to serve and protect. We stand by their families and loved ones as these survivors grieve, aware that the impossible loss is coupled by an often hostile justice system permitting no peace. We stand up for them as citizens who sought a better life for themselves and their communities, citizens always—always—shadowed by the threat of official or officially-tolerated aggression. “Black lives matter” means many things, but one set of meanings is this conjunction of justice, visibility, accountability, and human flourishing.

And the UI Center for the Book stands with the protestors and activists seeking reform by taking to the streets locally, nationally, and internationally. Locally, we learn from and support the Undergraduate Student Government’s demands to the administration, as we do the Graduate and Professional Student Government in condemning the use of tear gas on protesters in Iowa City on Wednesday, June 4, 2020. One goal of the protests is to overhaul the networked system of officers, arrest records, D.A.s, grand juries, judges, and carceral penalties that enable ongoing violence against fellow citizens. As a sign at the rallies has memorably put it, “We aren’t trying to start a race war. We are trying to end one.” But reform of systemic racism must cover multiple institutional settings, including higher education.

To that end, the UICB recognizes the work it needs to do locally to serve the reform movement. The recognition begins with humility—not out of passivity or quiescence. Humility is the first step in learning what we do not know and unlearning the kinds of knowledge that do damage. We also recognize that words like these are words, feeling generic the minute they are conjured and feeling inadequate from the start. We commit, then, to the following areas of focus: 1) to revise our curriculum to foreground artists, makers, and historical actors of color; 2) to seek hiring lines that correct for the whiteness of the department and the field, lobbying the UI administration to hold to this principle; and 3) to recruit and enroll students of color to ensure opportunity and advancement by under-represented minorities in higher education. In the spirit of learning, we equally vow to listen to and work with our communities to understand how we can best move forward.

Do we think education is far removed from events in Minneapolis, Louisville, and Glynn County? One of the compounding horrors of the lead officer’s murderous behavior was that he was assigned to train the three officers with him as he knelt on George Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Or consider the powerful stretches during the rallies, when protestors lie in silence for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, educating participants and observers about time, suffering, and human connection. We are always learning and we can always do better. The UICB pledges that its educational mission will do its best to honor the lives of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery.

--The UI Center for the Book

African-Americans, Indigenous peoples, and people of color may be experiencing real trauma and ongoing mental health challenges in the light of current events. If you, your family, your friends, or members of your community face such challenges, there are resources that may help. See the National Alliance on Mental Health webpage for these options, as well as resources at the University of Iowa.

UICB alumni Ian Huebert and Candida Pagan created and supplied the artwork for this statement.