Statement on Fostering Equity and Justice In and Through Humanistic Scholarship

Today in New York City, against the sounds of sirens and helicopters, ACLS stands in solidarity with those engaged in the struggle for justice, equality, and human rights. 

We share the sorrow and outrage over the killings of African-Americans, most recently George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor. Their deaths add to the already heavy weight of mourning for the Americans of color who have died in disproportionate numbers from COVID-19.

Cicero wrote this in On Moral Duties, citing the African slave-turned-playwright Terence. In isolation, the quotation implies that Cicero is celebrating a happy communal sensibility natural to humanity. But Cicero, deeply immersed in the world of realpolitik, had little room for naïve optimism.  He goes on to make the opposite point – that “it is difficult to care for other people’s affairs” (est enim difficilis cura rerum alienarum). Because we tend to care for ourselves more than we do for others, he says, judging right from wrong concerning the treatment of the alien or the other doesn’t come easily to humans. It’s not a gut instinct. 

To do the right thing requires knowledge and care: understanding of human behavior, on the individual and collective levels, and care for others, regardless of difference. How we got to this place in history; how we remember the past; how we reason; how we communicate in words, images, sounds, objects, and gestures; how collectivities, institutions, and identities form and operate; the swell of emotion and its influence on judgment; the impact of public action on representative government: bold investigation and evidence-based analysis of all these questions and more allow us to understand ourselves and to create a just and equal future. This is the work of the disciplines and areas of study that ACLS represents.    

Scholars have a responsibility to strive for knowledge and understanding in the pursuit of truth and justice. Scholars carry out that responsibility in different ways. Some conduct research on the issues of the day, do interviews, and write for the public. Some increase our understanding of human behavior and potential by studying topics remote from our time and its concerns. Some organize students and colleagues to improve the life of the institutional community. Some engage in thoughtful, consultative administration. We all base our work in the values of inquiry, curiosity, open-mindedness, responsible use of evidence, good judgment, and clear communication – all central to the humanistic enterprise, regardless of field or specialty. ACLS stands by these values at a time when many public voices are advocating reductive thinking, repression, and violence. 

Words are important, as all scholars know, but this moment also demands action. ACLS is committed to inclusive excellence and has taken deliberate steps to expand the world of humanistic scholarship so that it embraces and engages with a broader swath of social and cultural life that includes communities historically overlooked by the academy, especially communities of color. We affirm the urgency of supporting African Americans, including in roles as scholars and students, in ways that recognize and seek to redress the prejudice and hatred this group experiences.

We will devote ourselves to advancing this work in partnership with allies inside and outside academia. This includes gathering and publicizing work in the coming weeks that combats ignorance, reminds us of our history, and indicates paths forward.

These powerful verses by Claude McKay stand on their own.


By Claude McKay

Although she feeds me bread of bitterness,

And sinks into my throat her tiger’s tooth,

Stealing my breath of life, I will confess

I love this cultured hell that tests my youth.

Her vigor flows like tides into my blood,

Giving me strength erect against her hate,

Her bigness sweeps my being like a flood.

Yet, as a rebel fronts a king in state,

I stand within her walls with not a shred

Of terror, malice, not a word of jeer.

Darkly I gaze into the days ahead,

And see her might and granite wonders there,

Beneath the touch of Time’s unerring hand,

Like priceless treasures sinking in the sand.

With best wishes for health and strength,


Joy Connolly