"The concepts contained in words like ‘freedom,’ ‘justice,’ ‘democracy’ are not common concepts,” writes James Baldwin. “On the contrary, they are rare. People are not born knowing what these are. It takes enormous and, above all, individual effort to arrive at the respect for other people that these words imply.”
So, too, might we consider words like “equity,” “diversity,” and “inclusion.” In March 2016, University of Arizona President Ann Weaver Hart called for a Diversity Task Force, stressing an understanding that such a project could help “all of us build a campus environment that values diversity and inclusion as core tenets of what it means to be a Wildcat” (see Diversity & Inclusion site for more information). This is an important step in anticipating campus-wide initiatives that advance our understanding of these concepts and their benefits to our campus. It is also an important call for us as creative writing faculty to consider what makes a better and stronger working environment for all.
As we welcome the new academic year, we ask what equity, diversity, and inclusion mean to the wide range of experiences and approaches that shape literary art. We recognize that the vitality and risk of art encourage us to produce differing and unique points of view. At the same time, we exist as an interconnected community that relies on discussion, debate, and appreciation to thrive. What is the writer’s role as an individual practitioner, and what is the writer’s role within the community? How do we intersect and what are the invisible currents that shape our lives? We believe that thinking about these questions is central to our program’s development as a place where writers assemble and grow.
Audre Lorde describes difference as “a fund of necessary polarities between which our creativity can spark.” As working artists, our MFA community understands how essential and significant this concept is to the literary art we practice and teach. As a faculty we embody a commitment to difference and embody it in diverse ways. We recognize that the core tenets described in this statement are vital to our primary commitment: the respectful mentoring, advising, training, and supervising of early-career artists. Each of us is in a unique position to consider carefully how the integrity of those interactions affects not only an individual’s artistic production, but also the spirit of openness and community that we support.
Signed, the University of Arizona Faculty in Creative Writing:
Kate Bernheimer, Susan Briante, Chris Cokinos, Alison Deming, Julie Iromuanya, Fenton Johnson, Farid Matuk, Ander Monson, Manuel Muñoz, Aurelie Sheehan, and Joshua Marie Wilkinson