We are all responsible for confronting racism and racist abuse wherever we find it, including in our union. We can’t build a wall-to-wall, diverse union without understanding and addressing the way racism challenges our progressive values. In the heat of the recent contract campaign, we failed to uphold these values.
We recently learned of racist and sexist abuse taking place several weeks ago on a private union Slack channel, run by some elected graduate leaders in our union. Several members participated in this racist bullying, attacking a Black woman leader in our union using well-worn racist language. None of the elected leaders or members participating in the discussion called out this racism or attempted to make clear that this abuse has no place in our union.
This racist abuse was brought to our attention, as the two top officers of the union, by two graduate union members of color who felt alienated from our union because of the racism they witnessed. While we have tried to build a union that supports all our members, especially those who are structurally disadvantaged by racism in our society and at our university, blatantly racist abuse, tolerated and encouraged by elected leaders in our union, harms all of us.
This is not the first instance of racism in our union, and it has not been limited to one section of the union. Elected union leaders, whether faculty, grad workers, counselors, or postdocs, have a responsibility to live our values of solidarity, respect, and anti-racism. Anyone unable to call out racism in union spaces has no place in leadership and should resign immediately. The individuals responsible must acknowledge the harm they have caused and take steps to repair this harm.
It is on all of us, but especially on white leadership in our union, to commit to holding those responsible accountable and creating an anti-racist union that does not extract critical labor from Black women leaders. To this end, we commit to:
- Immediately appointing an ad hoc committee to address these racist incidents and propose a process creating accountability in the future.
- Taking responsibility for rooting out racism anywhere in our union.
- Supporting Black workers at Rutgers, inside and outside of our union.
- Calling out racism in our union spaces and holding other elected leaders to account when they do not do the same.
We call on our Executive Council to:
- Create solidarity principles with mechanisms for accountability and enforcement that require all elected leaders in our union to commit to anti-racism, solidarity, and mutual respect.
- Hold those responsible for racist abuse accountable.
- Require that all union spaces, whether meetings, email, or online platforms, have an enforceable code of conduct that bans racism, bigotry, and hate.
We unequivocally state that this behavior is not acceptable and has no place in our union, and we apologize for the harm that this behavior has caused.
Rebecca Givan, President, Rutgers AAUP-AFT
Todd Wolfson, General Vice President, Rutgers AAUP-AFT