Creating the Institute for the Study of Black Life and Culture

On December 3rd, the Chronicle reported that since the original meeting, the students and three Black faculty remained in conversation with the administration, negotiating the demands.[i] This confirmed what the final demand already showed–that faculty and staff played key roles in the November 18th protest. The exact methods faculty and staff used varied, but the two sources included on this page highlight how faculty and staff played essential roles in the development of the Institute for the Study of Black Life and Culture.

In October 1972, Courtland Robinson, an assistant professor, graduate student, and the chairman of the Black University Community Steering Committee, wrote a letter to Jerry Anderson (Academic Vice President) regarding a proposal for the Black studies program.[ii] His letter criticizes the administration for not meaningfully engaging with the program proposal, but his greatest qualm stems from inadequate funding. Not only was the administration unwilling to fund a symposium the Black campus community planned, but they also planned to split the already meager budget for the Black Studies program with the Chicano Studies program. This splitting the funds, he argues, “is a form of tokenism and must not be allowed to happen.” While Robinson undoubtedly devalues the importance of Chicano studies, his approach highlights how Black faculty made their voices heard. While other examples have centered on Black faculty amplifying student voices and needs, Robinson shows that Black faculty also challenged the administration’s resistance to change without express student support and involvement.

Still, the administrators failed to meaningfully support Black faculty, staff, and students creating the Black studies program. In 1973, Dr. Garcia underrepresented Black campus community members on the search committee for the Director of Black Studies, Black staff, faculty, and students met and created demands and recommendations in 1973. The document includes several important demands, such as postponing hiring a Director of Black Studies, creating a faculty based committee to determine the curriculum, putting a Black person in “a high level administrative position,” and removing Dr. Garcia’s search committee.

Undoubtedly, these letters and recommendations differ in name and delivery from the original demands that the RAAF gave President Emery. There is a distinct difference between a “recommendation” and “demand.” But, we cannot write off the efforts made by Courtland Robinson and other Black faculty and staff at the University of Utah as inactive or not advocacy work. When it came to the Black Studies program, many faculty and staff believed that they “share[d] a responsibility for its future success.” They envisioned a version of the U where Black community members were heard and valued. These Black faculty and staff not only supported student activism, but also helped craft recommendations and curriculum for what would become the Institute for the Study of Black Life and Culture.

[i] “Blacks’ Demands Considered,” The Daily Utah Chronicle, December 3, 1971.

[ii] Steering Committee Progress Report for Period Jan 1972 to June 1972, Acc 530.; New Minority Faculty, Acc 233 bx 12.; Joint Housing of the Institute of the Study of Black Life and Culture and the Center for Ethnic (Black) Student Affairs, University of Utah Ethnic Studies Program records, Acc. 503; A. Sosin to K. L. DeVries, December 28, 1970, University of Utah historical faculty files, Acc. 526, Box 51. University Archives and Records Management. University of Utah, J. Willard Marriott. Salt Lake City, Utah.

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