Call for Concrete Acts of Racial Justice at The Catholic University of America
Call for Concrete Acts of Racial Justice at The Catholic University of America
Yesterday, June 30th, 2020, The Rome School of Music, Drama, & Art at the Catholic University of America released a statement entitled “Standing in Solidarity, A statement from the Leadership of the Rome School of Music, Drama, and Art.” As students, alumni, and faculty of Catholic University and the Rome School of Music it is our responsibility to hold the school and the larger university accountable for virtue signaling and inaction, and demand for them to implement real systemic change to undo racist practices and follow through with their commitment to the sacrament of penance and reconciliation. This process includes naming the ways in which their policies and practices have caused harm to students, alumni, faculty, and staff of color, and to provide an addendum to this statement that lays out what works and actions this institution will implement to make the Rome school, and Catholic University as a whole, a safe place for all people.
To the Administration and governing bodies of The Rome School of Music, Drama, & Art and of The Catholic University of America:
It is vital to address each section of your statement in order to outline why this message raises serious concerns about this institution's commitment to protecting and supporting the lives of CUA’s Black students, faculty, staff, and the wider DC community.
“Standing in Solidarity
A Statement from the Leadership of the
Rome School of Music, Drama, and Art"
Solidarity is defined as “Unity... a feeling or action among individuals with a common interest.” (Oxford Languages) Unfortunately the statement is careful not to clarify exactly who is being supported in its title. Who does your statement unite you with exactly? Who specifically are you standing in solidarity with? Board Members? The administration? CUA alumni? CUA students? Black people generally? We are glad you’ve decided to make a statement, but why now? Breonna Taylor was murdered on March 15th, George Floyd was murdered on May 25th. Protests have been happening for over a month all over the world. Why has the Rome school chosen this moment at this late hour to release a statement?
"Dear Rome School Community,
July 4th is swiftly approaching, and we, the Leaders of the Rome School of Music, Drama, and Art, join together to remember the ringing words of the Declaration of Independence, and its clarion call to the loftiest and most noble of aspirations—a society founded on the premise that all are equal, and given by God certain unalienable Rights, including Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
Starting a conversation about systemic oppression with a vague pledge of solidarity while referencing the Declaration of Independence is problematic at best. You cannot argue “Black Lives Matter” by relying on a 1500-word document that includes vehement support of slavery & the annihilation of native peoples. Attempting to do so raises suspicions about the Rome school's ability to comprehend the magnitude and gravity of the systemic racial violence we are struggling against in this country. Because we are all committed to higher education, let us take this moment to highlight why this text is a wildly inappropriate resource in any discussion about racial justice: the document states, “He [King George] has excited domestic insurrections amongst us” which argues that England is a threat in part because they supported enslaved peoples in the colonies who were attempting to attain their freedom. The authors go on to also name “the inhabitants of our frontiers”—Native Americans—as “the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes, and conditions.” (The Declaration of Independence) Any statement arguing against racist oppression and violence cannot do so by virtue of this document which explicitly perpetuates the violent dehumanization of Black and indigenous people and denies their inclusion, rights, and basic human dignity. Such an act reveals a disturbing cognitive dissonance that is dangerously blind to the systemic oppression and murder of people of color in America.
"We stand in solidarity with the many voices outraged at the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so many others. These voices draw us to acknowledge the horror of continued institutional racism and violence faced by many in our country."
I ask again, whose voices are you in solidarity with? Black voices? Protestors? The Police? You can’t stand in solidarity with anyone if you don’t clarify who you’re standing in solidarity with. Your empty words are not helping Black students, alumni, faculty, staff, the Black community your school is surrounded by, or even the Black Universities and communities in your own neighborhood!
"We are actors, artists, musicians, and scholars in the nation's capital, and we have zero tolerance for racism and violence in our nation and anywhere in the world."
From the fall of 2011 to the spring of 2013 I spent countless hours in the practice rooms working, learning, and performing at the Rome school, and this alumna has no memories whatsoever of Catholic University or the Rome School standing up to racism. I do have LOTS of memories of the Rome School’s racist policies that still include the policing of hair, clothing, and attitudes of Black students and students of color, attempts to physically mold & conform Black bodies to a “white” physicality & presentation under the guise of “marketability,” and the refusal to cast talented Black performers in leading roles. I have talked with staff and students of color on campus who have shared their personal experiences of the horrific systems of racism, homophobia, abuse, & oppression at work in Catholic University, and their experiences and suffering are neither named nor addressed in this statement.
"As artists and educators, we believe that all must participate vigorously in democracy and empower our community to make change. This must be achieved with far more than words. It will also require action from all of us, including the leaders and policy makers in our school. As supporters of the mission of The Catholic University of America, we believe that all life is sacred. Thus in response to the multigenerational discrimination in our city and nationwide, we specifically state Black lives matter. We say it again, and we ask you -- our students and colleagues -- to join us in affirming that Black lives matter!"
Once again: How specifically are you “empowering” our community? Beyond this statement, what are you actively doing to identify and correct the egregious racism at work inside and outside Catholic University? What changes are you implementing? What faculty, advisers, and staff of color are you hiring? What Black-centered curriculum are you planning? What are you doing to make sure that BIPOC applicants to your school are supported through the admissions and financial aid process? What curriculum in the Rome school specifically is available that credits Black music, authorship, and creative work in music, drama, and art? What courses include works by artists of color? What courses name and acknowledge the ways in which BIPOC have been excluded, discriminated against, and parodied in the arts? It is not enough to state that Black lives matter. Black lives must matter to you enough that you are moved to let the indelible mark of Black America be recognized in how, who, and what you teach.
"Asking for forgiveness and doing penance is a central tenet of the Catholic faith, and is bound up in the sacrament of reconciliation. In that spirit, we renew our commitment to listen to and engage with black voices in the arts, to examine our own biases and racist tendencies, and to endeavor to create an art that is more equitable towards all members of our community.
For the support of this declaration, we mutually pledge our commitment to building a more just society. We ask you to join us in this sacred cause."
What penance are you doing to acknowledge your institutional complicity in racist practices? Who, precisely, are you asking for forgiveness? And for what? Reconciliation cannot happen without acknowledging the ways in which you have sinned and the people you have harmed in the sinning. Penance requires both an “interior conversion” and “gestures and works of penance.” Without these mechanisms according to the catechism “such penances remain sterile and false.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church: Part Two, Section Two, Chapter Two, Article 4, 1430).
What exactly are you pledging? How are you building a more just society? This statement fails to outline the ways in which the school has failed BIPOC communities. It does not show any signs of “interior conversion” it includes no works or accountability. The Act of Contrition calls us to "do penance, to sin no more, and to avoid whatever leads...[us] to sin” If you truly wish to ask for forgiveness in accordance with the tenets of the Catholic faith than you MUST name the harm AND name the works you will do to insure these practices are removed and will never be reimplemented. Pennance can not exist without "the desire and resolution to change one's life." (Catechism of the Catholic Church: Part Two, Section Two, Chapter Two, Article 4, 1430)
You are right about one thing, this is a sacred cause: Black lives don’t just “matter,” Black lives are sacred. As brothers and sisters, as siblings in Christ, it is our responsibility to love our neighbor as ourself. If we are to truly love Black lives as we do our own then we must be moved not just to give lip-service to their humanity, but to name and interrupt the violence and oppression that seeks to end their very lives. We have a responsibility as students, faculty, staff, and alumni, to hold this institution to its mission. We are calling on all of the leaders of the Rome School of Music, Drama and Art included in this letter and the larger CUA community to move beyond virtue signaling and take real concrete action to undo racist practices, follow through with their commitment to the sacrament of penance and reconciliation, and share the concrete actions they are taking to make the Rome School an institution where BIPOC are valued and respected.
We address these dire concerns not only to the names below to which this statement has been attributed, but also to the larger institution and CUA leadership who continue to remain silent on these urgent issues of racial injustice both on and off CUA campuses.
Dean of the Rome School of Music, Drama and Art
Chairs of Music Chair of Drama Chair of Art
Jay Brock Eleanor Holdridge Nora Heimann