Letter of Solidarity from the Chair

The following letter was sent by email from the Chair to the department on June 5, 2020.

Dear all,

This is a time of immense sadness and heartbreak. For months, we have been living in the midst of a major health crisis that has led to over 100,000 deaths in the US alone, and almost four times that many across the world. We have been thinking about people dying without the comfort of their family, relatives being unable to mourn in the traditional ways, communities being deprived of some of their beloved members. We have also been grieving many other losses – loss of jobs, loss of mental health, loss of opportunities, loss of the things that keep us going. And we have been shocked to see how this pandemic affects different groups differently, taking a much bigger toll on underprivileged communities, who suffer a disproportionate percentage of losses – of life, health and jobs.

The acts of police brutality of the last few weeks have brought this disparity to the fore even more, in a way that hits every single one of us at the core – even those of us who do not experience the effects of racism in our daily lives. The killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery are such glaring demonstrations of injustice toward the African American community that we are deeply shaken and cannot stop thinking about the causes that lead to such killings and the inequities in the society in which we live. We also cannot stop asking ourselves what we can do, as individuals, to alleviate the suffering and to change the situation.

There is no simple answer, of course. But there are things that we can do to alleviate our despair and even turn it into hope. First, by sharing our feelings and our thoughts with one another and expressing solidarity with those who experience injustice, we create a sense of community. We can all find comfort in knowing that we are part of a group that shares common goals — which include fighting racism, inequality and injustice. Second, we can commit to having conversations about these difficult topics not only at times like these, when they are unavoidable, but also at other times, when we are immersed in other preoccupations. Third, we can reach a better understanding of the systems that perpetuate inequality and share that understanding, humbly, in our daily life, in our roles as students, teachers, friends, parents, children and citizens of our local community and of the world. Moreover, as linguists, we have the responsibility and the opportunity to educate others about how language can be used to empower or to marginalize members of different communities. Finally, within our department and our institution, we can work to break down the barriers that prevent members of underprivileged communities, and African Americans in particular, from having the same opportunity as others to learn, create and disseminate knowledge, and shape the future of our society.

Let us plan on doing this and more, together, in the months and years to come. For now, let us express our solidarity with those who are suffering and protesting, and with the people of color, especially black people, in our community.


Raffaella Zanuttini,
Professor and Chair