November 2, 2020

Dear Faculty, Staff, Students, and Friends of Rutgers Humanities,

In this moment of crises in public health, political leadership, unemployment, immigration, and anti-Black racism, the Humanities at Rutgers are engaging the public, creating new curricula, establishing new collaborations, and stepping forward to contribute expertise and action where it is needed most.  I am enormously proud of the work we are doing, and the work we have planned going forward.

In the past six months alone, faculty from our 19 Humanities departments and programs have penned articles for newspapers and digital magazines, contributed to pandemic-related research, curated new exhibits, and provided expert testimony.  These contributions are speaking to the moment—for example, to the challenges of political leadership in a national crisis; to the ways the pandemic has forced women with children out of the workforce; and to the stunning works of incarcerated artists, which have received increased visibility during the pandemic, as they shed light on entrenched racism in our society.

The Humanities help us process and interpret the urgent concerns of today and tomorrow in the context of the past.  They also introduce us to the creators, thinkers, and actors who change what we know, how we see ourselves and others, and how we act in turn.  Some of the recent contributions to this thinking in the public sphere include “What Abraham Lincoln Can Tell us about Resilience in the Face of a Crisis,” which Louis Masur, Distinguished Professor of American Studies and History, wrote for CNN Opinion in April 2020.

In an article on “Making Art When `Lockdown’ Means Prison,” which appeared in the New York Times on September 24, 2020, Nicole Fleetwood, Professor of American Studies and Art History, discusses artworks produced in conditions of mass incarceration.  And in the Newark Star Ledger on October 19, 2020, an article on “A Woman’s Work is Suddenly Undone,” about the disproportionate increase in women forced out of the workforce during the pandemic, features the expertise of Yana Rodgers, Professor in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and Director of the Center for Women and Work, and Radhika Balakrishnan, Professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and Director for the Center for Women’s Global Leadership.

The Humanities at Rutgers have a special role to play in shaping public conversations about immigration, language, and citizenship.  We benefit from the exceptional multilingualism of our students and communities in New Jersey, and that has allowed us to offer regularly more than 35 languages, including Akan, Aramaic, Yiddish, Yoruba, and Zulu, as well as major world languages such as Arabic, French, German, Hindi, Italian, Mandarin, Spanish, and Japanese. There is no global citizenship without multilingualism.  Several initiatives across the division are therefore focused on language engagement -- threading an engagement with languages, in addition to English, throughout all facets of our curriculum; designing courses on language and social justice; and initiating new programming in translation studies.  Stay tuned.

Over the next few months, leaders in the Humanities are hosting major conversations about the history of enslavement, anti-Black racism, and the contributions of Black intellectuals to social thought.  These events are interdisciplinary and open to all.  Among them are “The Black Atlantic in the Age of Black Lives Matter,” organized by the Rutgers British Studies Center, on November 20, 2020.  And the “Darkwater 100 Virtual Conference,” a three-day gathering on or about the centenary of the publication of W.E.B. DuBois’s Darkwater, which has been organized by Henry Rutgers Professor of Philosophy Derrick Darby for December 2-4, 2020.

These publications, initiatives, and upcoming events speak to the enormous creativity, resilience, and commitment of our Humanities faculty, students, and staff, who are contributing their intellectual expertise and interpretative frameworks to the urgent concerns of our local and global communities.

I look forward to working with you in the months to come.


Rebecca Walkowitz
Dean of Humanities
Distinguished Professor