UNL's African and African American Studies Program Pushes for Change

June 12, 2020, 5:45 p.m. ·

Black Lives Matter activists kneel during a rally at the Monroe Community Center last week. (Photo by Allison Mollenkamp, NET News)

Professors in the African and African American Studies program at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln say University leadership has been receptive so far to feedback about race and policing at the university.

Faculty in the program released a statement last week in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. The document demanded evaluation of police procedures around deadly force, a review of UNL’s partnerships with police, protection for protests by students and faculty, and improved student access to legal and medical services.

The demands were developed through meetings between faculty.

Dr. Kwakiutl Dreher is an associate professor of English and Ethnic Studies at UNL. She said the recent movement has helped her students better understand white supremacy and white privilege. She worked on the statement for their sake.

"I want students to … know that there is an entity on campus that is responsive and … expedient in its response to them; that … it’s not just [the case of] “we’re here for them” [but] we are responding to the times and we are certainly sending out a message that there is a comfort zone in all of this chaos."

Dreher and other faculty emphasized the emotional and physical burden black faculty and students carry in their activism, especially in the midst of a global pandemic.

Dr. Lory Dance is an associate professor of sociology and Ethnic Studies and associate director of the institute for ethnic studies. She said the program often puts out statements on current issues.

"This moment would be no different where we, given our expertise, all have overlap in areas that have to do with African or African American studies, so given our expertise academically we all had something to say," Dance said. "But even more importantly, most if not all of us are also activists — we work on the ground."

Faculty say they’re in a process working with the administration and say there are signs that the university wants to make change, but it’s too early to tell if meaningful change will happen.