On 4 June, 2020, our department chair informed graduate students that two of the officers charged in George Floyd’s murder “appear to have ties to our department, college, and university.” After expressing sadness and outrage, we were asked to “direct any media inquiries to CLA, UMN (College of Liberal Arts).” As graduate students in the department, we feel disbelief, anger, and disappointment at the handling and communication of this news and believe that it is our responsibility to address this conversation ourselves.
The murder of George Floyd has brought to light our department’s complicity in systemic racism and anti-Blackness. An overwhelming portion of the undergraduate curriculum in the sociology department is courses geared towards the law, crime, and deviance or LCD major. This major is explicitly promoted to undergraduate students who are interested in pursuing a career in law enforcement and other roles in the criminal legal system. There are also many students in this major who are interested in non-profit, activism, and other fields for criminal legal reform and transformation. As graduate students in a highly-ranked sociology program at a major research university, we recognize that working within an institution that perpetuates racial violence and inequities and wanting institutional transformation to address these harms are not mutually exclusive. However, in many ways our LCD curriculum — and the fact that this undergraduate program is a direct pipeline for careers in law enforcement — furthers racist ideas and actions that lead to state-sanctioned murder of George Floyd and countless other Black lives. We believe our department — and other sociology or criminology departments like it — can do much more to commit to research and teaching that divests and dismantles from undergraduate courses and career pathways that are rooted in anti-Blackness and systemic racism.
For too long, Black and/or other racially marginalized students in our department have unfairly shouldered the burden of shining a light on our complicity. We stand by them, and support them. As sociologists, we know better. We expect an honest acknowledgement of complicity and not defensiveness, we expect accountability, and we expect a genuine conversation about how to dismantle anti-Blackness and systemic racism within and outside our institution.
Graduate Students in the Department of Sociology, University of Minnesota