To the Editor:
We write first and foremost as an expression of solidarity with survivors who have shared their stories, those who have not yet come forward, and those who never will. We are a collective of women, gender nonconforming, and trans faculty of color at different ranks and disciplines in academia. Our intention is to encourage our colleagues, mentors, students, and our communities, as well as the larger media, to more carefully consider how survivors are impacted by narratives that center perpetrators of misogyny and those that support them. We feel compelled to respond to the “Open Letter Against Media Treatment of Junot Díaz,” (Letters, May 14) and the climate of suppression, silence, and potential punishment of survivors it has fostered.
While the letter claims that the signatories “do not intend to dismiss current or future accusations of misconduct by Díaz or any other person,” by publishing their letter, these prominent and institutionally powerful scholars — many of whom are held in high regard by undergraduate, graduate students, and junior faculty within academia — have in fact sent the very message they claim they do not want to convey. As BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) academics and as members of the communities to which both our colleagues and Díaz belong, we must work to build a culture in which all survivors feel that they will be protected by us even if their stories make us uncomfortable. We are concerned that the open letter published last week has sent the message that these highly respected members of the academic community prefer silence when the accused belongs to our communities. The structures of institutional power and access are central to what enables Díaz and so many others to perpetrate abuse, and ignoring these questions of power is to the detriment of the most vulnerable in our communities.
Among the claims in the open letter by these scholars is that social media users — including those whom Díaz assaulted and harassed — have “created what amounts to a full-blown media harassment campaign.” We dispute such claims, especially when we know that women of color who come forward about their experiences with misogyny and gendered violence are often targeted by hate, doxxing, and other forms of online and offline violence and retribution. We instead echo many of the points in Camille Goodison’s letter: Díaz has been protected by the literary and academic world for decades. It is these institutions which have facilitated his abuse. The sensitive nature of survivors’ stories mandates that we not rush to pillory survivors as vengeful social-media users eager to castigate a fellow writer of color.
By insinuating that survivors and other social media users have hijacked the #MeToo movement, the open letter implies that the academic signatories have a more legitimate claim to these debates than nonacademics. While scholars have contributed immensely to feminist theory and debate, much of this work comes as a result of the labor of nonacademics. In fact, many of the political debates that have most influenced American culture over the last decade were started largely by nonacademic women of color online: #BlackLivesMatter, #YesAllWomen, #WhyIStayed, #SurvivorPrivilege, #YouOkSis, #GirlsLikeUs, #SayHerName, and #MeToo (Rodino-Colocino, 2014; Williams, 2016; Jimenez, 2016; Jackson, Bailey, & Foucault Welles, 2017). Academics do not hold the copyright on #MeToo. Survivors sounding the alarm about Díaz are in line with the purpose of the #MeToo movement founded by social activist and nonacademic, Tarana Burke. “Empowerment through empathy,” a phrase coined by Burke, calls on nonsurvivors to provide “aftercare” in the wake of the healing process. We ask the signatories, the media, and others invested in this debate to consider what care they are offering survivors.
It seems that the signatories would like for us to move past the reckoning stage of transformative justice. We reject this. This moment can be a transformative one only if Díaz speaks for himself on these issues, addresses the needs of his accusers, and works to demonstrate that he will not repeat these actions again. Transformative politics embraces the possibility that Díaz can be a different person than before, but not automatically and not without centering the needs of those whom he has abused. We are concerned that in an effort to protect Díaz, a man who has undoubtedly faced colonial legacies of racism and endured victimization as a child himself, the signatories of the original letter imply that those enduring similar systemic violence, but who currently hold far less power than Díaz, not air the dirty laundry of our communities.
In this spirit, we implore Díaz to fully reckon with the harm he has caused. We stand with all survivors who have been victimized, bullied, abused and assaulted, and are asking us now to consider their truth. We stand with those who have come forward: Zinzi Clemmons, Marianella Belliard, Karina Maria Cabreja, Carmen Maria Machado, Shreerekha, Alex Espinoza, Alisa Rivera, and Monica Byrne. We stand with the abused eight-year-old Díaz. We wish the same validation and consideration for other survivors.
Sanjam Ahluwalia, Professor of Women’s Gender Studies and History, Northern Arizona University
Marie Agui Carter, Assistant Professor of Visual and Media Arts, Emerson College
Nicole Carr, Assistant Professor of Black Studies, SUNY New Paltz
Seo-Young Jennie Chu, Associate Professor 0f English, Queens College CUNY
Daniel Coleman Chavez, Assistant Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies, UNC Greensboro
Carolina De Robertis, Assistant Professor of Fiction and Literary Translation, San Francisco State University
Reshmi Dutt-Ballerstadt, Professor of English, Linfield College
Nirmala Erevelles, Professor of Social and Cultural Studies in Education, University of Alabama
Isabel Espinal, Librarian for Afro American Studies, Latin American, Caribbean & Latinx Studies, Native American & Indigenous Studies, Spanish & Portuguese, Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies, University of Massachusetts Amherst
Eve L. Ewing, Provost’s Postdoctoral Scholar, University of Chicago
Claudia Sofía Garriga-López, Assistant Professor of Multicultural and Gender Studies, California State University Chico
Juli Grigsby, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Haverford College
Saida Grundy, Assistant Professor of Sociology & African-American Studies, Boston University
Beverly Guy-Sheftall, Professor, Spelman College
Akua Gyamerah, Postdoctoral Scholar, University of California San Francisco
Sherine Hamdy, Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of California Irvine
Sarah J. Jackson, Assistant Professor of Communication; Faculty Affiliate Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies and Department of Cultures Societies and Global Studies, Northeastern University
Jameelah Jones, Independent Scholar, University of Kansas
Dorothy Kim, Assistant Professor of English, Vassar College
Jessica Krug, Assistant Professor of History and Africana Studies, George Washington University
Shirley Leyro, Assistant Professor of Social Science, Human Services, and Criminal Justice, Borough of Manhattan Community College
Elisha Miranda-Ramirez, Associate Professor of Film and Theatre, San Jose University
Mary Phillips, Assistant Professor of Africana Studies, Lehman College, CUNY
Sofia Quintero, Writer, Activist
Danielle Roper, Postdoctoral Scholar; Romance Languages and Literature and Center for Study of Race, Politics, and Culture, University of Chicago
Susan Sánchez Casal, Director, Tufts University in Madrid
Robyn C. Spencer, Associate Professor of History, Lehman College, CUNY
Rosie Jayde Uyola, Rutgers University
Blanca E. Vega, Assistant Professor, Montclair State University
Sujey Vega, Associate Professor of Women & Gender Studies, Arizona State University
Terri N. Watson, Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership, CUNY
Karsonya Wise Whitehead, Associate Professor of Communication and African and African American Studies, Loyola University Maryland