Open Letter to the Federation of the Humanities and Social Sciences (FHSS)

We respectfully submit this letter on behalf of the Canadian Association for Commonwealth Language and Literature Studies (CACLALS) to address the requests put forward by the Black Canadian Studies Association (BCSA) and FHSS’s recent response. The following requests are outlined in the February 9, 2021 public statement released by the BCSA:

  1. That Congress fees be waived for BCSA student-members and community members; and
  2. That a formal commitment be made to a Black Studies theme for Congress in the near future.


FHSS has now responded to this letter, which raises serious concerns about the accountability of Congress to Black scholars, especially in the wake of the racial profiling that occurred at the Vancouver Congress, a tumultuous year of anti-Black violence, and global resistance to racist policing. Moreover, Scholar Strike Canada in September 2020 emphasized that numerous academic community members across what many call Canada stand in solidarity with confronting structural, institutional, and interpersonal racisms that continue to permeate everyday life in the academy and beyond. We recognize that Congress has acceded to these requests, but stress that—particularly where a future congress dedicated to a Black studies theme is concerned—FHSS must act immediately on their promise. Given the urgency of the issues that could potentially be taken up at a Congress that centralizes Black studies, FHSS needs to follow through on this theme now. Promises will not restore faith in FHSS until they are realized.

We declare our solidarity with the BCSA’s requests, both out of respect to their organization’s right to hold a conference in which barriers to Black scholars and community members are eliminated, and to respect to CACLALS’ own membership, which consists of a coalition of scholarly interests and positionalities. This includes members who are Black, Indigenous, and people of colour. Many of our members are also settlers who negotiate their work alongside Indigenous colleagues. Our organization, whose scope involves post- and de-colonial literary and cultural studies, is deeply invested in confronting intersecting forms of colonial oppression that continue to structure the worlds in which we live and work, as well as to confront our own association’s complicity in a system that facilitates the ongoing dispossession of Black lives.

With our association’s purview in mind, our membership was encouraged by Congress 2020’s decision to amend its theme to centre confrontations of anti-Blackness and colonialism. This emphasized a Federation that was attentive to the concerns and demands of its membership, especially those most vulnerable to institutional racism. The global COVID-19 pandemic dismantled that possibility, but it also exacerbated the already unequal access to healthcare, safe work environments, and funding that our colleagues of colour face. This necessitates an immediate response by scholars in the Federation to racism in our current context. Considering the notion that, as the BCSA points out, “a Congress centred on the theme of ‘Confronting Colonialism and Anti-Black Racism’ has yet to be realized,” we join in the call for Congress to once again act immediately to amend the theme of one of its future conferences in response to the crises that immediately affect our members and demand our vigilance today. We also encourage that the Congress Advisory Committee on Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Decolonization (EDID) be at the centre of any decisions regarding future Congress themes tackling anti-Black racism and decolonization.

We support BCSA’s requests because the exclusion of the BCSA from Congress affects not only one organization, but many others, including our own. It puts our current conference in crisis. In that many BCSA members have ties with CACLALS, the opportunity to hold conferences alongside one another grants scholars whose concerns overlap with both organizations an opportunity to build interdisciplinary conversations and solidarities. Given that CACLALS did not hold a conference last year, we have chosen to continue with last year’s theme, “Ecologies of Alliance in a Divided Age,” while also welcoming contributions centring Indigneous issues in relation to Congress 2021’s theme of “Northern Relations.” We retain our commitment to last year’s theme, whose central concerns involve anti-Black racism, in part because we maintain that this conversation has not been given sufficient attention at Congress.

Moreover, one of our central events, the Indigenous Studies Roundtable—an annual discussion co-hosted with the Indigenous Literary Studies Association (ILSA)—has been put into crisis by the exclusion of the BCSA. This event is, every year, one of our best attended, and close to our members’ hearts for the valuable conversation on Indigenous themes it communicates to our members. It also affords members an opportunity to listen to influential voices in Indigenous literary studies. This year’s theme is slated to be on “Black and Indigenous Solidarities.” This is the second time the Roundtable is centring this theme because it demands ongoing consideration. With the BCSA choosing not to attend congress, we may not be able in good conscience to continue with this theme, particularly if our Black colleagues were not able to attend out of commitment to the BCSA’s decision. Having this conversation in the absence of many of our colleagues most affected by it has caused us to reconsider the ethics of holding this event, which risks significant disruptions to our program, membership, and attendance. This issue also extends to our broader conference theme. How can we foreground issues of anti-Black racism if our Black colleagues choose not to attend out of solidarity with the BCSA? How could we go forward with any conference theme without these members, our indispensable colleagues, students, and community representatives who enrich our scholarly discussions? While CACLALS is slated to hold a conference this year, we are deeply concerned about the exclusion of many of our members.

We are troubled by our colleagues’ exclusion from this year’s conference precisely because Congress continues to be a meaningful and important venue for our members to exchange ideas, produce scholarship, and amass community. We therefore submit this letter not to create opposition or discourage, but to emphasize what could be accomplished if the Federation were to, once again, realize its commitment to vulnerable members of its community. We also believe that any host institution would welcome a commitment to confronting racism, and invite the next host institution to volunteer to support this theme.

We at CACLALS remain committed to confronting anti-Black racism and colonialism, both in and beyond our community. We also welcome the efforts of the Federation beginning to work through these myriad issues with the announcement of the EDID committee, and wish to express our particular gratitude to the committee’s members for their ongoing labours. We welcome direction from this committee on how CACLALS can play a part in this process because, as we see it, these labours go beyond the responsibility of a single committee. They require the support, participation, and commitment of the wider community and FHSS has the resources to mobilize widespread community conversation. We regard this as a conversation that is direly needed not only for marginalized Federation members, but everyone in our community, all of whom bear responsibility, though unequally, for dismantling ongoing colonialism and anti-Black racism that permeate our institutions and lives.

FHSS must act now.


The CACLALS Executive