To the University of Maryland Community:
On June 8, as The Diamondback reported earlier this month, Melissa Landa was dismissed from the University of Maryland’s education college without any explanation. We are writing as current and former students, and people of color, expressing surprise and shock upon learning this. For 10 years, Landa has provided a safe environment and approach to learning, in which students learned about the roots of racial bias.
Despite a string of escalating incidents, it was not until black Bowie State University student 2nd Lt. Richard Collins III was murdered on the campus in May — and Sean Urbanski, a white former student at this university, was charged in connection with the killing — that many of this university’s faculty seemed to finally acknowledge the prevalence of racism here.
[Read more: UMD will hold a moment of reflection Wednesday to honor Richard Collins]
Landa, however, recognized and addressed the reality of racism in all her classes while advocating for faculty and students of color for more than 10 years.
The Diamondback Editorial Board recently noted that the administration appears to finally recognize the “degradation, prejudice and violence marginalized communities experience at this university.” However, this university’s commitment to combating racism requires more than just responding to biased professors; it must also hire, and protect from capricious firing, instructors like Landa and other faculty who actively support and mentor students of color.
After the riots of white supremacists and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Virginia, the singular cloth weaving together the various patchworks of prejudice has been laid out for all to see, in one great, crazy quilt of American hate. And while Landa herself may not be identified as a person of color, she is a woman, a Jew and an immigrant. She is someone who truly understands the experiences of marginalized peoples, and has done her utmost to convey these experiences to non-marginalized students and future teachers.
Landa is our ally and was one of the best professors at this institution. She taught us that we are each a product of our upbringing, and that it is our responsibility to question what we have been taught to believe — especially when it comes to stereotypes. She created a classroom where we felt comfortable discussing our beliefs, and even our biases, without the fear of being judged. If something was said that caused tension, she helped us explain our feelings and led us toward a path of mutual respect and understanding.
She taught us the difference between diversity and integration, and made sure that we moved out of our comfort zones to work with classmates from unfamiliar cultures and different economic backgrounds. Most importantly, she taught us that violence against groups of people does not occur out of nowhere, that discrimination builds with each condoned act of oppression and that it is up to each of us to speak up and respond to discrimination.
It is not right to dismiss, without cause, one of the few professors who is an expert in helping students examine their own biases. Now, more than ever, this university needs Landa’s expertise to help us move forward together as a community. We need Landa’s knowledge and compassion so we feel unafraid to speak our minds and know we will be heard. Landa’s presence made us feel safer. Knowing that we attend a university that does not value her enough to retain her makes us feel the exact opposite.
Publicly grieving the murder of Collins is important, but it’s not enough. The university community needs to understand that for people of color like us, racism is nothing new; it will not just fade away because of good intentions. Landa understood and taught this. If the University of Maryland wants to really show it is committed to lessening racism on the campus, it can begin by reversing this careless decision and bring Landa back to this university.
Former Students of Professor Landa
Ihechi Akwuole ’17
Heena Ali ’16
Clara Allsup ’16
Carina Ferreira ’15
Ileanna Gama ’16
Abhishek Goel, ’16
Jenee’ Greenwood ’14
Riya Gupta ’16
Jamar Hawkins ’20
Nahl Ilyas ’18
Laura Jaramillo ’16
Jazz Jordan ’14
Alicia Martinez ’18
Rosa Quintanilla ’14
Andrea Perez ’20
Anika Prather ’17
Naty Tsegaw ’18