As a creative writing department, we know that the words we use have power. James Baldwin wrote that “not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” We, the faculty members of The Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University, commit to facing racism and inequality in words and working toward equity and inclusion in our actions. Baldwin also wrote, “I love America more than any other country in the world and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.” We, too, recognize criticism as a loving and generous act (including the uncomfortable work of self-criticism), an act necessary to imagining and building a more equitable future.

In 2020, we issued a statement condemning racism in all forms, affirming that Black lives matter, and responding specifically to racist violence, militarized policing, and structural inequality. You can read our 2020 statement here. We also acknowledged our own personal and institutional responsibility to work toward an equitable present and future in our classrooms and community, and committed ourselves to the work of anti-racism within our institution and our department, recognizing that such a commitment entails a process of self-education and reflection, listening, and concrete action. To work towards that outcome, we collaboratively developed the following practical, interlinked goals:

  • Hire and retain tenured/tenure-track faculty of color, focusing on underrepresented minority faculty.
  • Distribute the labor of anti-racism and inclusion equitably across faculty.
  • Diversify curriculum and pedagogically address issues of race and representation.
  • Regularly solicit input on issues of diversity and inclusion.
  • Address equity in editing, curating, and awarding.
  • Recruit and retain a more diverse undergraduate student body.
  • Hold ourselves accountable in our progress.

As of Spring 2024, we have made four faculty hires since our initial statement, following searches focused on increasing our course offerings in the fields of African American Literature, World Literature, Asian American Literature, Latinx Literature, and LGBTQ Literature. These hires have shifted the faculty demographics from one untenured Black faculty member and an otherwise all white faculty to a faculty that more closely resembles the field. We have made additional unsuccessful recruitment efforts in fields that remain underrepresented in our program and will keep these needs in mind in future searches. We have had great success in meeting our hiring goals, but along with that success, have had necessary conversations and growth in our language and procedures regarding anti-bias best practices. 

Hiring and internal consideration of the curriculum have expanded our course offerings in the related fields. Faculty members have diversified their syllabi in all classes and given consideration to how material is presented and contextualized. We regularly offer courses with a focus on Black literature and World literature, and are able to offer additional classes in new areas of faculty expertise. Based on the input of the Student Advisory Board, graduate students, and faculty, we have adapted our IFP curriculum, increasing the diversity of the required readings through greater representation of writers of color, LGBTQ writers, and women writers, while continuing to teach readings by writers from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds. The curriculum includes writers both of the past and of the contemporary moment and is updated periodically. All incoming MFA students preparing for teaching undergraduates will dedicate class time to discussions of racism, representations of race, and racial sensitivity as part of the course’s ongoing conversations about effective teaching.

We have also expanded our Community Based Learning course offerings, and now house a Teaching Fellows project that increases the interaction and mutual education happening between our students, students in Baltimore City Schools, and members of the community. We have formed a Student Advisory board to allow open communication between undergraduate majors and the faculty and moved to an external judging system for our graduate prizes. Our reading and lecture series continue to bring a diverse stream of visiting writers to campus, and we have redesigned our program’s literary magazine, The Hopkins Review, with an emphasis on celebrating the local and global, championing both international work in translation and work by Baltimore artists that spotlights the specific and vibrant art scene of the city we live in. Along with these changes, we’ve seen increased diversity in both the graduate and undergraduate programs.

Our 2024 goals are to continue to hold ourselves accountable to the 2020 goals, maintaining progress and keeping ourselves open to opportunities for growth, to keep lines of communication open and continue to make space for student and alumni feedback, to navigate new admissions guidelines in a principled manner, to consider equity and division of faculty labor, and to continue to build a program where all of our students and faculty are represented and heard. We will work toward these goals expansively while remembering that our initial statement was a specific response to the need to understand Anti-Blackness in the United States as a historical and ongoing reality, and that it is important that we, especially as a program based in the city of Baltimore, work with an awareness of that specificity moving forward. 

We note both historical shortcomings and work already in progress. We recognize that we have to build trust in the sincerity of our intentions and commitment, that some of our goals will take longer than others, and that additional actions and initiatives will likely be necessary, particularly in response to student feedback.

We recognize that the project of moving from diversity to antiracism is about recognizing that inviting people of color into predominately white spaces is often challenging work for them. As we recruit or work with graduate students, majors, and faculty, we will be conscious of the fact that we’re inviting them to do additional labor, in some cases more of it than they’d have to do in a more diverse environment. We will continue to think critically and proactively of ways to mitigate that work.

We recognize that our challenges are not conducive to quick fixes, and we commit to annual stock-taking and transparency in our progress. We don’t think of our statement as a one-off, but as the beginning of a process. To this end, we will periodically review and update these commitments to see what steps we’ve taken, to measure the difference they’ve made, and to see what further steps are necessary. We will also hold ourselves accountable in a continuous way by including the work of anti-racism, diversity, and inclusion as a regular item on the agenda of our departmental meetings. Thank you for joining us in this work of imagination, reflection, education, critique, and action.


The Faculty of The Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University