Written By: Olivia McCaa
During the height of Black Lives Matter last summer, and in response to George Floyd and Breonna Taylor’s murder, Brooklyn College’s Poetry MFA released a statement regarding their stance with the movement. The department stressed their commitment to bringing about inclusive and safe classrooms for their students through their hiring and admission practices.
“In these ways we commit to fighting racism in our lives and in our work by advancing the values, principles, and actions to which this nation, at least by its words, commits.” The department wrote.
Following the program’s message, a student named Monique Ngozi Nri responded with an account of her own. Nri vocalized her disappointment with the lack of BIPOC students, faculty, and writers in the community, urging Brooklyn College to implement more changes.
Students in the program supported her message, and decided to form the Black Lives Matter Poetry Alliance Club (BLMPA).
“We seek to address as much as possible the exclusionary practices of mostly white MFA programs by providing inroads for BIPOC students who wish to earn an MFA in poetry at Brooklyn College,” club members wrote in an email to the Vanguard.
BLMPA strongly advocates that education is a right, not a privilege. Academia, particularly in the MFA, remains exclusive of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. According to the BLM Poetry Alliance’s website, three-fourths of BIPOC students accepted to the MFA program do not attend Brooklyn College because of financial concerns and lack of funding.
Currently, BLMPA aims to raise money for BIPOC students, while advocating for more resources, faculty, and curriculum changes that are representative of BIPOC in the English Department.
For much of the MFA program, however, students continue to be exposed to “White, canonical writers,” or the “unmarked,” as club members state.
“We are skeptical of poets deemed ‘universal’ and many of us have attempted to ‘mark’ our own writing and reject the idea that White writers have the privilege of being apolitical,” the club wrote.
BLMPA continues dismantling racism in the MFA program by allowing members to actively participate in an open conversation.
“As much as possible, we want BLMPA to be a coalition of people united in anti-racist thinking,” they stated. “The ‘Black Lives Matter’ part of the name is there in solidarity of all the protests and fights for racial justice happening in different communities and avenues.”
BLMPA members are dedicated students that have learned to balance taking classes for their MFA, thesis manuscripts, and for many, working a full time job. Regardless of their personal circumstances, the alliance continues to support their academic community.
“Our biggest challenge is raising enough scholarship money to provide tuition awards to BIPOC Poetry MFA students for this coming fall, but we believe it is a very doable goal,” they wrote.
In an effort to bring about change to the curriculum and support BIPOC students, BLMPA has worked with the Brooklyn College administration on and off to discuss the goals of BLMPA.
With the assistance from faculty advisors like Rosamond S. King, Monica de la Torre, and Ben Lerner, the club has held two readings from BIPOC poets Erica Hunt, Colin Robinson, and their advisor King herself. The club also provides support and mentorship for undergraduate students looking to pursue their master’s at BC or elsewhere.
As the alliance prepares to hold more readings in the future over zoom, they also hope to build strong ties with other anti-racist groups on campus like the Anti-Racist Coalition.
“Our role is to fight for the ideas of the Black Lives Matter movement and anti-racist thinking in
our small community of the Brooklyn College MFA,” they wrote. “We wanted to make a change in what is tangibly in front of us.’