The Analytic Constraints of Settler Colonialism

Video script. The text of a video edit of a conference paper for the annual meeting of the American Studies Association, Denver CO, November 17-20, 2016. Running time: 20:53.

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Black bodies. Indigenous bodies. Male. Female. Queer. Trans. Other.

Military occupation, invasion, relocation, genocide. Abduction, slavery, torture. Forced assimilation. Segregation, lynching, criminalization. Homelessness, unemployment, predatory lending, foreclosures, debt. Surveillance, harassment, detention, arrests, incarceration. Mass incarceration. Police killings. Sexual violence. All the while, sexual violence.

1 in 2. 1 in 3. 1 every minute. Hour. Day. Month. Year.

Post traumatic stress disorder. Except the trauma is ongoing. Transgenerational. A future foreclosed. A past vacated. And we can’t find a way to talk to each other about it.

Your slavery, my lands. Our bodies. Fodder for social media and corporate news that trim it down to fit neatly between commercial breaks as commercials of their own. Images of our death and dying, pain and grief, pleading for a life worth living. Pleading for a life worth.

And the really fucked up thing about it all is that we are reassured by the attention. Are made to compete for it. Humanized only within the terms of the sensational. Humanized by human interest stories that render us human only in the final, worst moments of our lives. Ending.

It is false recognition. An ideology par excellence. Marxist theory calls it false consciousness. Statistics and likes and shares tell us nothing about who we are or what our experiences have been. They invite us to misperceive our relationships to one another in a way that serves our domination — to accept the terms of capitalism’s gospels: greed is good, money is life, exploitation is normal. We cannot see the oppression game we’ve been thrown into – one in which the losers are the winners.

The work of racist ideology and practice can inform our theoretical frameworks and methodological approaches. We refuse historical and social comparisons as anti-blackness, we deflect solidarity as a compromise of Indigenous sovereignty. We have been pitted against one another by discourses aimed at subjugating us to the lies of humanist recognition.

How do we address the violences of anti-blackness and anti-Indigeneity as co-produced social forces of the U.S. imperial formation without rendering the violences against Black bodies and Indigenous bodies less relevant, less significant on their own but also to one another?

I don’t know exactly how to get there, but I do know I need to begin somewhere else, with something else:

For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. — Audre Lorde (1993)

So, I am going to begin again.

The Twelve Little Women


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In the cliffs, amidst the caves, at the mouth of the Delaware River was the home of twelve little women. When any man sailed by, the women came out and struck up a conversation. If they received a kind reply, the man would go on with good wishes. If he was impudent or disrespectful, they would run him down. If they caught him, they plucked out every hair on his body. If they were unable to catch him they would call upon their uncle, the great serpent who lived in a deep in the ocean, just beyond the mouth of the river. Their uncle always came. He would raise his head above the water, draw in a deep breath, and pull the insolent man into his mouth.

Afterwards the women made bags of the hair they had taken from the men. They took the bags with them to the shore where men were fishing. They asked each one for something to put inside. If the man gave willingly, he caught so many fish afterwards that he didn’t know what to do with them. If he complained or refused, he caught no more fish. When the women returned home and emptied their bags, the fish – which, on going in, became so small that thousands of them would fill a little bag – returned to normal size. The women were never hungry.

There were many stories of resentful, grumpy men whose hairs were plucked off or fish given to the women. In all of the stories, to all of their complaints, the elders refused to punish or exile the women. “They don’t hurt good people,” they would say. It was a way of telling.

One day, after a number of men came home bleeding from the loss of their hair, they sat alone together and complained. “We must get rid of these women.” “I can put an end to them,” said one. The next day the man passed by their home and was rude to the women. They chased him all over but could not catch him. So they called upon their uncle.

The man had already made up his mind to be swallowed by the serpent, so he yielded himself to the serpent’s breath and went in. Inside the man cut his way out. In pain the serpent thrashed about, creating large channels off the river where he fell to the ground. Finally the man freed himself and ran.

When the women saw the serpent’s trouble they began to weep. They hurried down to where he was and stayed with him as he died. While they were mourning, the man went to their home and burned it to the ground. The women, seeing the destruction of their home and the death of their uncle, gathered their things together and readied to leave.

Many people gathered on the shore opposite where the serpent lay dead. The women cried out to them as they left. “If you had left us in peace, we would have taught you many things. We could have taught you how to deal with those who will come from across the great ocean. A hundred years from now they will come and drive you away and you will have no lands any longer. You will be poor. This is what will come of you for driving us away.” By the time the people crossed the waters to comfort the women, the women were gone. They were never seen or heard from again.

The Analytics


The Lenape’s story of the twelve little women is about the human need for respect – for others to hear us when we explain what our needs are and define perimeters for how we want to be treated, for others to hear our needs in our own terms. For others to see us as we are.

[Not this.]

I’d like to re-frame my critique of the constraints of settler colonialism with the twelve little women in mind. I am going to try to show that a certain analytic within the studies has, however unwittingly, foreclosed and even chilled understandings of Black and Indigenous histories and identities in ways that derail our understandings of U.S. imperialism as a social formation and so our work with one another. One of the consequences of this goes to our ability to think through how #BlackLivesMatter, #SayHerName, #NoDAPL, and #MMIW are co-generative — even as I recognize the reasons why each of these movements have at different times demanded we respect their particularity.

Drawing from Marxist structuralism, Patrick Wolfe defines the settler colonial society through two key differentiations.

The first is between the structure and the event of invasion. Wolfe maintains that the permanence of invasion distinguishes the structure of a settler society, which originates with the withdrawal of the empire and the rise to power of a land-holding class who always intended to stay. Wolfe defines the ideology that cements this structure together as the logic of elimination. The settler exploits Indigenous labor but more importantly seeks to eliminate all vestiges of Indigenous land claims by the elimination of Indigenous cultures and identities.

The quickest way I can explain my concerns with Wolfe’s definition is to mark how it rearticulates the problematics of structuralism. It treats society as a fixed, coherent thing that can be objectively described. The descriptions are simultaneously over‑determined by the historical event of the empire’s withdrawal and the exceptionalism of a permanent invasion. We’ve been in this trouble before – we know structuralism generates all kinds of ahistorical and apolitical problems, not to mention essentialisms, even as it is conditioned by the intersectionalities of originary events and political identities.

For instance, Lorenzo Veracini argues that settler colonialism is “characterized by a settler capacity to control the population economy” as a marker of sovereignty and that this situation is “associated with a particular state of mind” and “narrative form” so powerful that “the possibility of ultimately discontinuing/decolonizing settler colonial forms remains problematic.” Veracini maintains that “settlers do not discover: they carry their sovereignty and lifestyles with them. As they move towards what amounts to a representation of the world, as they transform the land into their image, they settle another place without really moving.”

I would argue that the settler colonial is a contested and unstable concept. Drawing from critical Indigenous, race, and feminist approaches — such as those developed by Jodi Byrd, Mishuana Goeman, Jennifer Denetdale, and Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers — that understand colonialism, racism, sexism, and homophobia as permanent features of U.S. society, I would argue that society is not an objectively settled structure to be described, nor an imaginary that travels as an integral whole around the world. It is a set of contested meanings caught up in struggles over power and knowledge.

And resistance is most certainly not futile.

The second differentiation on which Wolfe’s settler colonialism rests is between the settler and the Indigenous. While many assume the settler to be white – and perhaps more so to be a white heterosexual male – Wolfe, Veracini, and others characterize the settler as both white and all other non-Indigenous people irrespective of gender and sexuality. Pressed on the politics of such characterizations, particularly of figuring Blacks as settlers, Wolfe explains:

Willingly or not, enslaved or not, at the point of a run or not, they arrived as part of the settler-colonial project. That doesn’t make them settlers in the same sense as the colonizers who coerced them to participate—of course not—but it does make them perforce part of the settler-colonial process of dispossession and elimination. — Patrick Wolfe (2012)

As the work of Circe Sturm, Tiya Miles, Sharon Patricia Holland, and so many others have demonstrated, Black and Indigenous histories and identities (not necessarily distinct) are intersectional messes of racialized and gendered contestation over and within the ongoing colonial forces of U.S. imperialism. We need their analyses to understand these histories and identities and the ways we have inherited them. We need to be careful about grouping all racial, ethnic, diaspora, and immigrant communities in with settlers and pitting them and their presumably shared struggles for civil rights against Indigenous sovereignty and territorial claims. The kinds of polemics that result are not helpful. What if reparations and return are not antithetical political objectives? Who decides their antithesis?

Creation, Generation


In 1985, during a speech at the United Nations Decade for Women Conference in Nairobi, Lilla Watson said:

If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.

Watson, a member of the Murri indigenous to Queensland, has said since and repeatedly that she was “not comfortable being credited for [saying] something that had been born of a collective process” and preferred that the words and their meaning be credited to “Aboriginal activist groups, Queensland, 1970s.” She thus held herself – and the practice of citing her – accountable to the community to whom she belonged. That ethic is further reflected in her — in her community’s — perspective that genuine decolonization will happen as our movements address our shared conditions of oppression. Our liberation is bound together.

“But,” Oklahoma-based Black activist tells me, “I want Indigenous peoples to take responsibility for the way they enslaved Black bodies and internalized white racism towards Blacks in the conduct of their tribal sovereignty.” “But,” Mississippi Choctaw scholar says to me, “I want Blacks to take responsibility for the way they grabbed at Indian lands after the Civil War. For the way the U.S. illegally and violently acquired the lands from us that they promised to give to Freedmen. That Freedmen and their descendants ignore this when they call for reparations.”

But… I’m still trying to figure out how in the difficult moments when the transgenerational trauma of land dispossession, slavery, and racism so profoundly precludes our perceptions and expectations of one another, we can find a way to affirm one another’s concerns and move our liberation struggles forward.

A way that rejects the “respectability” of U.S. recognition and the containment politics of financial settlement. As Glen Coulthard argues, recognition is a bullshit lie of capitalism that dresses up exploitation in liberal inclusion. As Alyosha Goldstein argues, settlements “foreclose the lineages of historical injustice” and “individualize” in liberal fashion what is a matter of collective and sovereign claims to territories and economic reckoning.

A way that rejects the kinds of legally and economically inconsequential responsibility-taking performance of church and government apologia. A way that refuses to be settled up or settled down to negligible levels of financial compensation that change nothing.

I believe we must draw from what Leanne Simpson argues are our cultural teachings for behaving towards one another. She offers compassion, generosity, and humility as the points at which genuine restoration of ourselves and our relationships are possible. From there, as Coulthard argues, we must carve a way forward through a “disciplined maintenance of resentment,” a “politicized anger” towards state oppression that refuses to accept guilt ridden, meaningless gestures of acknowledgment and payouts for genuine reparations and land return.



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As a conclusion I want to think about Black Lives Matter supporting the #NoDAPL actions at Standing Rock.

I don’t think it’s an accident that it is water that has brought the movements together. As the Black community of Flint and the Lakota peoples of Standing Rock have taught us, water links us together in our struggles for life. It points our attentions to what is destroyed by military, security, and corporate concerns in Ferguson, Mexico, Palestine, and British Columbia; what highlights the illegal seizing of lands for the illegal construction of pipelines; what has been contaminated with hubris in the Delaware River basin, Flint Michigan, the Dakotas, and too many other places to name.

Melissa Nelson writes that,

Most of us find it easier to separate ourselves from nature than to embrace the liquid mystery of our union with it. As freshwater disappears on the earth, so do the water stories that remind us that we too can freeze, melt, conceive, and evaporate. We too can construct a confluence of cultural rivulets where the natural and cultural coalesce. — Melissa Nelsen

Perhaps we too can embrace the life of water to recognize the ways our movements co-generate, to find our coalescence.



Trump-Elected Stress Disorder

Having experienced sexual harrassment and an attempted rape, and working within Native American and Indigenous Studies and with Native and Indigenous people, I am familiar with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a psychological, spiritual, physical, and transgenerational condition resulting from the experience of sexual violence.

The National Institute of Mental Health defines PTSD as “a disorder that develops in some people who have experienced a shocking, scary, or dangerous event” or a “sudden, expected” experience including the death of a loved one. (NIMH) Symptoms can begin early or years afterwards and can become chronic. They generally involve “re-experiencing” the trauma, such as through flashbacks, bad dreams, or frightening thoughts. To avoid “re-experiencing” the trauma, an individual may attempt to stay away from particular places, events, objects, or people or avoid certain kinds of thoughts and feelings. These efforts can result in an individual being easily startled, feeling tense or “on edge,” insomnia, and anger. They may also include trouble remembering key features of the traumatic event; negative thoughts about oneself or the world; distorted feelings like guilt or blame; loss of interest in enjoyable activities. PTSD is often accompanied by depression, substance abuse, or other anxiety disorders (NIMH)

For those with PTSD resulting from sexual violence, the discourse of this presidential campaign has provided a steady supply of prompts to rememeber and re-experience the violence — in the moments of news reporting Trump’s behaviors, attitudes, and talk and reviewing federal lawsuits and in the moments of Trump’s supporters dismissing and trivializing the allegations and disparaging the women.

For myself, I had a particularly difficult in the moment of hearing Trump brag about sexually violating women (“grab her by the pussy”) and Trump apologists dismissing the behavior as ‘men will be men’ ‘locker room talk’. (Youtube) It was the proverbial last straw for me after a long year of hearing the allegations of sexual violence from underaged girls and young women, from strangers on planes and business associates and employees, spanning decades and social situations. The audible record of Trump’s sexual assaults and sense of patriarchal entitlement to women’s bodies folded too neatly into another round of public dismissals of its seriousness and relevance, in effect affirming its normalcy and inconsequence.

A part of me believed, though, that voters would care. At least I hoped they would.

But while not all men are Trump, the fact that Trump earned as many popular votes as he did, that the electoral college chose to throw down for him and override the popular vote, and that there has been a rash of hate crimes by Trump supporters towards Latinx, Arab and Muslim immigrants since Tuesday, have made it very clear to me that not only do “We don’t care about you” (as an individualizing of sexual violence) but “we don’t care about sexual violence as a political issue.”

Tuesday’s result was an affirmation of the normality and banality of sexual violence in U.S. politics — of the centrality of rape culture in setting the norms for social behavior and attitudes.

Sexual violence is a rampant, epidemic condition within the United States, particuarly for women of color and Native American and Indigenous women who have a one in three chance of being raped in their lifetimes.

Trump-Elected Stress Disorder is the realization that that sexual violence is altogether unimportant to U.S. voters and their electoral college, at least of the “white” identified voters both male and female who overwhelming supported Trump, those who apparently care more about punishing the system than they do about sexually predatory behavior and attitudes towards women.

Trump’s Sexual Assaults, Harrassments, and Misconduct

For those who haven’t heard the stories, I think it’s important to listen to the women who have spoken up about their experiences of being assaulted by Trump.

Jessica Leeds. “More than three decades ago, when she was a traveling businesswoman at a paper company, Ms. Leeds said, she sat beside Mr. Trump in the first-class cabin of a flight to New York. They had never met before. About 45 minutes after takeoff, she recalled, Mr. Trump lifted the armrest and began to touch her. According to Ms. Leeds, Mr. Trump grabbed her breasts and tried to put his hand up her skirt. “He was like an octopus,” she said. “His hands were everywhere.” She fled to the back of the plane. “It was an assault,” she said.” (New York Times)

Rachel Crooks. “Ms. Crooks was a 22-year-old receptionist at Bayrock Group, a real estate investment and development company in Trump Tower in Manhattan, when she encountered Mr. Trump outside an elevator in the building one morning in 2005… Aware that her company did business with Mr. Trump, she turned and introduced herself. They shook hands, but Mr. Trump would not let go, she said. Instead, he began kissing her cheeks. Then, she said, he “kissed me directly on the mouth.” It didn’t feel like an accident, she said. It felt like a violation.” “It was so inappropriate,” Ms. Crooks recalled in an interview. “I was so upset that he thought I was so insignificant that he could do that.” (New York Times)

Kristen Anderson. “Anderson was deep in conversation with acquaintances at a crowded Manhattan nightspot and did not notice the figure to her right on a red velvet couch — until, she recalls, his fingers slid under her miniskirt, moved up her inner thigh and touched her vagina through her underwear. Anderson shoved the hand away, fled the couch and turned to take her first good look at the man who had touched her, she said. She recognized him as Donald Trump: “He was so distinctive looking — with the hair and the eyebrows. I mean, nobody else has those eyebrows.” At the time of the incident, which Anderson said took place in the early 1990s, she was in her early 20s, trying to make it as a model. She was paying the bills by working as a makeup artist and restaurant hostess. Trump was a big celebrity whose face was all over the tabloids and a regular presence on the New York club scene. The episode, as Anderson described it, lasted no more than 30 seconds. Anderson said she and her companions were “very grossed out and weirded out” and thought, “Okay, Donald is gross. We all know he’s gross. Let’s just move on.” (Washington Post)

Barbara Cockoran. “The 67-year-old real estate mogul shared that the Republican presidential candidate, 70, once compared her breast size to that of his second wife, Marla Maples, during a business meeting. “I’ve never been in a room with him alone except on one occasion. I was pregnant with my first child at the time, and so was his second wife,” Corcoran said. “He compared my breast size to his wife by putting his hands in the air. I was in a business meeting! I was shocked.” (CNN/People)

Cathy Heller. “Claimed that in the late 1990s, she was attending a brunch at Mar-a-Lago with her in-laws and children when her mother-in-law, a club member, introduced her to the businessman. Instead of a handshake, though, Heller told PEOPLE that Trump pulled her toward him to deliver a kiss on the mouth. When she pulled away, Trump allegedly got “angry” and said, “Oh, come on.” “He really grabbed me and he was holding me very tight to kiss me on the mouth,” she charged, noting, “I was able to turn my head a little, so he didn’t get my whole mouth.” (People)

Mariah Billado. “Four women who competed in the 1997 Miss Teen USA beauty pageant said Donald Trump walked into the dressing room while contestants — some as young as 15 — were changing. “I remember putting on my dress really quick because I was like, ‘Oh my god, there’s a man in here,’” said Mariah Billado, the former Miss Vermont Teen USA. Trump, she recalled, said something like, “Don’t worry, ladies, I’ve seen it all before.” (Buzzfeed) Temple Targett,

Jill Harth. “A makeup artist, has stayed quiet for almost 20 years about the way Trump pursued her, and – according to a lawsuit she instigated – cornered her and groped her in his daughter’s bedroom.” (The Guardian)

Karena Virginia. “Alleged in a New York City press conference that Trump touched her breast while she waited for a car at the U.S. Open in 1998.” (People)

Mindy McGillivray. Groped by Trump at Mar-a-Lago 13 years prior, when she was 23. (Palm Beach Post)

Natasha Stoynoff. During a 2005 trip to Mar-a-Lago to interview Trump and wife Melania — who were celebrating their first wedding anniversary — the PEOPLE writer alleged that Trump assaulted her. (People)

Jessica Drake. “Adult film star Jessica Drake accused Trump of sexual misconduct during a press conference with her lawyer Gloria Allred in late October. Drake claimed that Trump had tightly hugged and kissed her without her permission at a Tahoe, California, golf tournament in 2006.” (People)

Ninni Laaksonen. “Told Finnish newspaper Ilta-Sanomat that the businessman groped her before both appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman in 2006, according to a translation of the interview in the U.K.’s The Telegraph. “Trump stood right next to me and suddenly he squeezed my butt,” claimed Laaksonen, who is now 30. “He really grabbed my butt. I don’t think anybody saw it but I flinched and thought, ‘What is happening?’” (People)

Summer Zervos. “Season 5 The Apprentice contestant… charged last month that Trump assaulted her at a Los Angeles hotel in 2007. Zervos said that she reached out to Trump after being “fired” from the popular reality show, and asked him to grab lunch while she was visiting New York City. Instead, Trump invited Zervos to her office, where he greeted her with a kiss on the lips, she alleged. The incident, she said, was just the beginning. Trump later phoned Zervos at her California home, and asked her to visit the Beverly Hills Hotel, where he was staying, for a business meeting. After arriving at Trump’s hotel room, Zervos alleged that Trump began kissing her “very aggressively and placed his hand on my breast.” Despite pushing back, Trump tried to pull her into the room’s sleeping area, and put her “in an embrace.” “I pushed his chest to put space between us and I said ‘Come on man, get real.’ He repeated my words back to me, ‘Get real’ as he began thrusting his genitals. He tried to kiss me again and with my hand still on his chest I said ‘Dude, you’re trippin’ right now,’ attempting to make it clear that I was not interested.” (People)

Cassandra Searles. “Miss Washington 2013, Cassandra Searles wrote in a June Facebook post, which was screen grabbed by Yahoo, that Trump treated the pageant contestants like “cattle.” “Do y’all remember that one time we had to do our onstage introductions, but this one guy treated us like cattle and made us do it again because we didn’t look him in the eyes? Do you also remember when he then proceeded to have us lined up so he could get a closer look at his property?” she wrote. “Oh I forgot to mention that guy will be in the running to become the next President of the United States.” Searles further alleged in the post’s comment section, “He probably doesn’t want me telling the story about that time he continually grabbed my ass and invited me to his hotel room.” (People)

Salma Hayek. “Said Donald Trump repeatedly called her asking for dates. She claims he befriended an old boyfriend of hers to acquire her number. When she turned him down she said he planted National Enquirer story. Hayek claims he contacted her again afterwards to insist story wasn’t true.” (Daily Mail)

Jane Doe. “An anonymous “Jane Doe” filed a federal lawsuit against GOP presumptive nominee Donald Trump last week, accusing him of raping her in 1994 when she was thirteen years old. The mainstream media ignored the filing.” (Huffington Post)

For further information, see:

  • Michael Barbaro and Mehan Twoheymay, “Crossing the Line: How Donald Trump Behaved With Women in Private” (New York Times).
  • Lindsey Kimble, “Everything You Need to Know About the Sexual Assault Allegations Against Donald Trump Before Election Day” (People).

Trump’s Talk and U.S. Rape Culture

Even before his presidential campaign launched, Trump’s open prejudice towards women’s bodies, particularly those who are considered “overweight,” was well-known. He publicly criticized Tara Conner and Rosie O’Donnell for being overweight, ugly “losers.” (CNN) He used this same language to challenge the credibility of his accusers, some of whom he said were not attractive enough to warrant his unwanted sexual attentions.

By the time we hear Trump brag about sexually violating women (“grab her by the pussy”) during his campaign, we were not surprised. (Youtube) He dismissed the talk as “locker room” banter. But isn’t that the point? Talking about women that way, bragging about sexual misconduct of underage beauty contestants, bragging about his physical prowess and successes, are considered normal for men in a culture that tolerates sexual violence against women.

As the video of his comments replayed over news and social media, it was difficult for survivors not to re-experience the event of their assaults and harrassments. Every time someone on the news or in social media minimized Trump’s remarks and behavior as “normal” or irrelevant, they affirmed the remarks and behavior.

The importance of Trump’s remarks and behavior go to the place of sexual violence within the United States. So tolerant are we that Jane Doe, who charged that she was raped by Trump when she was 13, withdrew her complaint because of mounting death threats against her attorney Lisa Bloom and herself. And no one cared.


If I hear one more person tell me that I need to care about or learn to talk nicer to the “white middle class” or “white men” or “white women” or “white feminists” who voted for Trump…. These categories of people are the categories protected in the law and in society. Everything is already about them and their interests.


If I receive one more invite to a hand-holding meditating anti-Trump gathering…. The time is for organizing direct action against Trump and his policies. And I’m sorry. If that organizing doesn’t address sexual violence and rape culture, I’m not interested. And if you don’t understand why sexual violence is a core social condition on which Trump’s empire is going to be built through pro-oil/gas, anti-immigration, anti-Muslim, and anti-Black policies, then you have some work to do.

If one more person tells me I need to participate in an overhaul of the Democratic party…. I don’t care about the DNC and it’s autopsy and musing over how to make it better for the next election cycle. The RNC and DNC have made themselves irrelevant. And no. I don’t care about third party politics either. We need something else.

Photo by Dallas Goldtooth.

Photo by Dallas Goldtooth.

From Flint to Standing Rock

Comments made at the NoDAPL action at SFSU on September 15, 2016.

The residents of Flint, Michigan, cannot drink or shower in their water because the state switched their water supply to a river known to be contaminated with lead poisoning. The decision caused major pipe corrosion that is irreversible — meaning that the lead will stay in the water for the foreseeable future. It has also caused, primarily in children and the elderly, learning disabilities and mental and behavioral problems.

Home owners and farmers in Dimock, Pennsylvania can light the water coming out of their faucets and showers and in their toilets on fire because it is contaminated with the several hundred unknown chemicals used to extract natural gas — hydraulic fracturing or fracking. They and their pets and livestock, and the animals and birds that live in the surrounding area, lose their hair, develop skin sores, suffer high rates of cancer and birth defects, and experience disorders of the nervous system. Some of these conditions are fatal.

In California there has been an extended drought evidenced by disastrous wildfires and a snow pack at its lowest in recorded history. It has gotten so severe that the state has declared a drought emergency and imposed water restrictions on individuals. But it has also lifted water restrictions on cities, permitted Nestle — on a $524 a year permit fee — to extract 36 million gallons of water from a national forest to sell as bottled water, and allowed over 70 million gallons of water to be used in fracking.

As countless academic and independent studies have demonstrated, there is not a single oil or gas extraction method that is safe for water (the land or air, but I’ll focus on water for here).

Hundreds of deregulated chemicals are used in oil and gas extraction. The millions and millions of gallons used in the process of fracking contaminates the land and aquifer systems for thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of years. The water cannot be returned or reused.

We are creating our own conditions for intergenerational trauma. We are destroying the waters for ourselves and for thousands of generations to come.

This is part of why President Obama halted the Keystone XL Pipeline project.

Since 2010, over 3,300 incidents of crude oil and liquefied natural gas leaks or ruptures have occurred on U.S. pipelines. These incidents have killed 80 people, injured 389 more, and cost $2.8 billion in damages. They have released toxic, polluting chemicals into waters and aquifers.

Over 1,000 of these incidents occurred on pipelines carrying crude oil. The spills and ruptures have released over 7 million gallons of crude. One of the largest spills happened in North Dakota in 2013 when lightning struck a pipeline, which leaked over 840,000 gallons of crude onto a wheat field.

Nearly half of America’s crude oil pipelines are more than 50 years old, increasing the chance of corrosion and failure. Human error and failure of operators to act on potential vulnerabilities in their pipelines also contribute to accidents. So do natural phenomena like lightning and earthquakes. (Regions of Nebraska, Kansas, and Oklahoma are experiencing their first ever earthquakes because of fracking.)

Only 139 federal pipeline inspectors are responsible for examining over 2.6 million miles of pipelines.

Additional funding for inspections is an important step. But even if we throw more personnel and money into the infrastructure we are still not addressing the basic issue.

We need to shift to renewable energy sources.

And why don’t we?

Because this society is based on the capitalist, imperialist premise that greed is good, money is life, and there are no consequences or social problems that money cannot fix.

They are killing us with it.

In fiscal year 2015, U.S. military spending was projected at 54 percent of all federal discretionary spending: $598.5 billion. Military spending includes all regular activities of the Department of Defense; war spending; nuclear weapons spending; international military assistance (including the 38 billion dollar military aid package just approved for Israel); contractors including security and construction; technology, vehicles, supplies, and all other Pentagon-related spending.

I leave you with this:

• The military makes its surplus supplies available to local police and even state transportation agencies like BART. Did you know that in 2014, the UN Committee Against Torture condemned US police brutality and the excessive use of force by law enforcement?
• The Department of Defense is the largest single consumer of energy in the world, responsible for 93% of all US government fuel consumption in 2007. The DoD’s uses 4.6 billion gallons of fuel a year or 12.6 million gallons of fuel per day.



Water Is Life.

I am donating all proceeds to support #NoDAPL actions at Standing Rock.

Budgets Are Politics by Other Means

The day/after my previous blog was posted, UIUC President Timony Killeen sent out an email blast to university employees informing them that the university has “no budget” and that they could expect severe (necessary) cuts and changes in the coming academic year.

In The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, Naomi Klein posits that crises — both natural and financial — are used by government and corporate officials to re-engineer the operations they oversee to advance free market ideologies and practices (i.e. inflationary profits). Those who pay the price are laborers and customers; those who benefit are officials, financial CEOs, and their compatriots:

“The theory of economic shock therapy relies in part on the role of expectations on feeding an inflationary process. Reining in inflation requires not only changing monetary policy but also changing the behavior of consumers, employers and workers. The role of a sudden, jarring policy shift is that it quickly alters expectations, signaling to the public that the rules of the game have changed dramatically – prices will not keep rising, nor will wages.”

Faculty, Staff, Student Debt: Bring Your Own…

In the context of university funding, it is faculty, staff, and students who bear the burdens of debt.

Since I graduated high school in 1980, I have been an undergraduate student (1980-1991), a graduate student (1992-2000), and a faculty member (2000-present), all in the state of California. I was an undergraduate student on a part-time basis at a community college and a private liberal arts college (1980-86) before earning my B.A. degree from a public institution in 1991 (in southern California). I did my doctoral studies at a public insitution (in northern California). All the way through, I had to work part to full time to afford rent and basic living expenses. On my salaries and fellowships I could never afford to pay for what was expected of me in relation to my professionalization — attending and presenting at conferences, conducting archival and field research, buying books and software and updating my computer. Those things I did on student loans, loans which I will carry “to the grave.”

Since earning my Ph.D. in 2000, I have been appointed as a full-time lecturer (2000-01 at a CSU campus), an assistant professor (2001-03 at a UC campus), and am now a professor (2003-present at a CSU campus).

At no point in time, at no institution, did the state government or campus administration not claim that there was an economic crisis of funding. Repeatedly the crisis was/is used to justify student tuition hikes, hiring freezes or erasures of faculty lines, cuts to student or faculty support, program dissolutions, and/or campus-wide reorganizations. Sometimes all at once.

In the few moments I have seen of alleged financial ‘recovery’ (early to mid 2000s), I have seen the money ‘return’ from the state to the university administration — not to the classroom, not to labor, not to students. To the administration. Especially ironic given the ever escalating expectations of faculty to serve on committees and task forces that essentially run the university.

As the California Faculty Association has shown time and again, these budget ‘returns’ never make up for previous cuts. They almost always normalize new baseline lows of financial support and instructional operation for the university system as a whole and at individual campuses. All the while they increase classroom size — demanding greater faculty workload and providing compromised learning environments — while decreasing faculty research and instructional support. (Keep in mind that that research is important not merely for publication but for teaching.)

Some examples:

  • I use to receive funds for instructional materials (books, media, the like) and participation in professional associations (travel, membership dues, conference registration).
  • My normal class size used to be 35 students, now it is 49-120 (without paid assistance)
  • If I were a lecturer in the CSU, I would be expected to teach five courses a term to be considered full time (that’s 245 students a term). I’d have to teach full time for 6 years to earn ‘tenure.’
  • In 14 years at SFSU, my total raises outside of promotion have not exceeded about ten percent (meaning, they have not kept pace with inflation and I live in the SF Bay Area so you do the math — in relation to cost of living I probably earn less now than I did in 2003. I certainly pay a greater percentage of my salary to rent than I ever have and I cannot afford to buy — back to the student loan thang).

Public Funding: Education For Whom?

State and federal officials have systematically underfunded, devalued, and minimized public higher education.

From California’s “master plan” commitment to fund public higher education in 1960, to the systematic defunding of the CSU and UC system ever since, to the rise of for-profit rationales, public higher education has become virtually unaffordable for both labor and student.

Faculty, staff, and students are forced into near-constant organizing efforts to defend and advance their jobs, their benefits/supports, their curriculum/programs, and their lives. (See here and here for more information.) Not only are work loads irrational, but we are forced into fighting to protect those workloads in a near-constant state of financial duress.

And then there is the all-the-way-through-it devaluing of critical ethnic and indigenous studies, disability studies, and gender/sexuality/feminist studies. Whenever administrators imagine financial cost cutting or restructuring, it seems to come at our expense. Just watch a few of the testimonials from the SFSU community to get a sense of how that devaluation works in the lives of our students.


In two moments of recent SFSU history, university administrators have claimed financial dire straights to propose drastic restructuring of programs at the department and college level.

In 2011, when the university proposed and then carried out a complete overall of college organization that resulted in college and department mergers, staff reassignments and early retirements, and increased faculty course loads. As reported in the SFSU student paper, the Golden Gate Express, the California Faculty Association appointed a professor of accounting to analyze the university’s reorganization plan and budget:

Howard Bunsis, a professor of accounting at Eastern Michigan University who has done similar analyses at CSUs Humboldt and Dominguez Hills, was appointed by the California Faculty Association SFSU chapter to evaluate campus spending. He detailed his findings that state there is no reason for cuts to faculty and students but rather costs of the administration. “The idea that SFSU is broke is absurd. It’s an absurd notion,” Bunis said. “As we’re going to show you, the only thing that’s broke are the priorities of the administration.” According to Bunsis, SF State currently has $78 million in restricted reserve funds and $20 million in unrestricted reserves. Cuts should be made in a particular order, but should begin with assessing reserves, he said… “Reserves should be used for short-term unexpected declines in revenue or short-term unexpected expenses,” he said. “That’s what they’re there for.” The University accounting office, Bunsis said, has documents detailing budgetary issues, but is not allowing those affected by them to see them. “They exist and they have them, they’re just not showing them to us,” he said. “It’s immoral to do so.” With the average cost per member at $230,000, he said, the administration is the largest academic unit with 214 employees. Bunsis noted that with a 20 percent reduction in administration positions, the University would save $5 million.

Despite criticisms of the proposal, SFSU administrators proceeded on course.

In 2016, when the university proposed to gut the College of Ethnic Studies, Howard Bunsis again reviewed and reported that there was no crisis justifying the proposed cuts. As covered in the SFSU student paper, the Golden Gate Expressand the California Faculty Association:

Bunsis announced that SF State was not operating at a structural deficit like administration officials previously claimed, and that money should not be cut from any of the colleges.  “The idea of a college owing money or having a deficit is completely made up,” Bunsis said. “There’s no empirical evidence for it. Show me where the revenues are and where the expenses are and where is that structural deficit.”…During his analysis, Bunsis emphasized that SF State and the CSU are doing well financially. “SF State is in solid financial condition; they have sufficient reserves,” Bunsis said. “This institution does not have a financial crisis.” Bunsis brought up SF State’s assets, operating cash flow, enrollment rates and tuition costs, all of which were at adequate levels compared to the rest of the CSU system. Bunsis repeatedly put SF State in the middle in regards to its financial ranking. Attending the meeting were students and faculty from Defend and Advance Ethnic Studies, who were frustrated with administration’s lack of transparency concerning the 2016-17 budget and the financial issues surrounding the College of Ethnic Studies.

Only after a well-publicized student hunger strike and series of actions on campus did the SFSU administration back-track and restore some funding to the College.

But the SFSU budget remains a mystery — it is near impossible, even for the faculty union or mid-level management — to secure accurate information or details. This seems inherently problematic when it is the budget that is being used to justify the proposed cuts.

Austerity Capitalism

Returning to Naomi Klein, it is difficult not to be cynical or pessimistic when university officials claim that there is “no budget” when proposing or enacting dire cuts to programs that have such profound impact on particularly racialized, gendered, classed communities of faculty, staff, and students.

Budgets are politics by other means.

So if Klein is right we have to begin with the premise that the financial crisis is produced not organic. That serious choices are being made that do not only trickle down but flood. And that those who are barely or un- able to float are, well, not going to be mourned when they drown. For faculty, they’ll turn to temporary laborers within minimal contractual protections and no benefits; for students, they’ll raise tuition and increase international admissions.

Public higher education institutions like the CSU and UIUC have been (re)defined by free market ideologies and capitalist dreams. Maybe it is the communities and scholars who are working to change that as a given who are being thrown out of the boat first? Maybe the histories and cultures that challenge those goals as evolutionary wisdom are the ones being held under water?



The New Indian Removal

Reflections on the Dismantling of the American Indian Studies Department at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

anti chiefSince the early 2000s the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) developed one of the most vibrant Native American and Indigenous Studies (NAIS) departments in the country, including several faculty lines, an artist and elder resident program, and student fellowships. Its faculty included those reknown for their scholarship (Jodi A. Byrd, Chickasaw), creative work (Joy Harjo, Muscogee), and international leadership in the professional development of the field of NAIS (Robert Warrior, Osage). One of their most recent programmatic accomplishments was the receit of an award to mentor (post)doctoral students working comparatively (transnationally) in NAIS across the hemisphere and Pacific. They were pushing disciplinary and intellectual boundaries in uniquely geopolitical ways, showing up the global relationality of Native/Indigenous experiences of U.S., Canadian, and European imperialism and colonialism while remaining attuned to the needs for Native/Indigenous faculty development and student mentorship.

This was no small matter for Native American and Indigenous communities in the United States. It seems just about every Native person has seen — some multiple times — the film In Whose Honor? American Indian Mascots in Sports (1997), which documents the culture of racism towards Native faculty, staff, and students at UIUC. This culture of racism has been instanced and perpetuated by the Chief Illiniwek mascot, officially retired in February 2007 to comply with NCAA regulations but continually performed and marketed at UIUC sports events and local entertainment and food venues.

Many know that Native families in the region have been hesitant to send their children to UIUC and that tribes have rejected or been hesitant to develop productive relations with the university (even while supporting Native faculty, staff, and students and the department) because of the racist ideologies and practices that the mascot represents. Many also know that Native/Indigenous faculty, staff, and students have experienced ongoing acts of racist violence and harrassment, including the vandalism of an outdoor exhibit, “Beyond the Chief” by Edgar Heap of Birds in 2009, racist events sponsored by sororities and fraternities and campus organizations, and racialized threats against Native/Indigenous students, staff, and faculty on social media.

UIUC’s building of the AIS department suggested an effort to cultivate of a different kind of culture. In the spirit of that effort, during the 2014-15 academic year, AIS proposed to change its department name to Indigenous Studies and hired Palestinian scholar Steven Salaita. These actions were consistent with their work to extend the boundaries of the field. But anti-Palestinian groups and individuals as well as pro-Israeli funders mobilized a fierce reactionary attack that resulted in Salaita’s firing and his subsequent lawsuit and settlement over the violation of his civil rights in that firing (see here for details on the attacks).

In the context of campus and international attacks on AIS faculty over Salaita’s hiring, firing, and lawsuit/settlement, and the continued on-campus racism against Native/Indigenous faculty, staff, and students represented by the Chief’s relentless resusitation in post-retirement, AIS faculty have transfered their lines to other departments or left the campus altogether. At the end of the 2015-16 academic year, there will be no core faculty in the department.

Two Updates (6/1):

  1. The faculty have been informed that the UIUC administration will not commit itself to hire another NAIS scholar for 2 years, effectively absorbing the approximately $800,000 annually for the six faculty lines in AIS into the campus coffer. The real achievement, then, was gutting the faculty lines in order to reaquire the money for itself. In two years, the administration will have covered the Salaita settlement and pocketed $600,000.
  2. There are — will still be — Native/Indigenous faculty and fellows on campus but none will be in the department of American Indian Studies: the two current faculty in AIS are assistant professor Jenny L. Davis (Chickasaw), who will be transfering to Anthropology in August, and professor/director Robert Warrior (Osage), who will be moving to the University of Kansas in August. Davis’ first year on campus was the year of Salaita’s hiring/firing. The three postdoctural fellows include Silvia Soto, Brianna Theobald, and Korinta Maldonado. The faculty who have remained on campus but have transfered their lines include Jody A. Byrd (Chickasaw), who is now in English and Gender and Women’s Studies, and Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert (Hopi), who is now in History. Faculty who have left the campus include Vincent M. Diaz (Pohnpeian/Filipino) and Christine Taitano DeLisle (Chamorro), who are at the University of Minnesota. LeAnne Howe (Choctaw) had already moved to the University of Georgia. Affiliated faculty include Joy Harjo (Muscogee) in English; Brenda Farnell (Anthropology); Fred Hoxie (History); Robert Dale Parker (History).

Urbana-Champaign, Illinois

In God Is Red, Lakota scholar Vine Deloria, Jr., suggests that history ought to be understood not as a temporal progression or evolution of events but in its geocultural contexts. In other words, history is not about time but about place.

When the history of AIS at UIUC is told, it should be told not as an inevitable, natural, or social evolution of events, but as defined by the place now known as Urbana-Champaign.

The cities of Urbana and Champaign were built within the historical territories of the Illinois Confederacy, including the tribes of the Albiui, Amonokoa, Cahokia, Chepoussa, Chinkoa, Coiracoentanon, Kaskaskia, Moingwena, Michigamea, Espeminkia, Maroa, Matchinkoa, Michibousa, Negawichi, Peoria, Tamaroa, and Tapouara.

Through 1700, the confederacy was decimated by disease and warfare.

By 1800, only five tribes remained in the area—the Cahokia, Kaskaskia, Michigamea, Peoria, and Tamaroa. (Urbana was founded in 1822.) Under the terms of the Indian Removal Act of 1830, the tribes were forced to cede their territories and remove to Indian Territory, which at the time included territories that would later become the states of Kansas and Oklahoma. (Champaign was founded in 1855.) As with so many other cities in the region, Urbana and Champaign were established and developed largely after the Illinois Central Railroad laid its tracks two miles west of downtown Urbana.

According to the UIUC website:

“The University was one of 37 public land-grant institutions established after the Morrill Land-Grant Colleges Act was signed by Abraham Lincoln on July 2, 1862. Illinois was one of seven commonwealths that had not formed a state university. Eligible for a grant of 480,000 acres of public scrip land valued at $600,000, in 1867 the state established a university for the purpose of fostering access to higher education for the working people. … Its roots began as one building located in the muddy fields between the Illinois Central train station in Champaign and the courthouse in Urbana.”

As other public land grant institutions, the UIUC campus was only possible because of the territorial dispossession of Native nations that had historical and legal claim to the lands. The forced removal and liquidation of the financial assets of those nations under the provisions of the Indian Removal Act expedited the dispossession and economically, geographically legitimated non-Native claims to the land and their capital investments.

There is something ironic in the fact that the lands, under U.S. control, were reformulated as lands for the public, common interest — higher education and railroad transportation. Public and the common good, of course, meaning everything and anything not Indigenous.

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The New Indian Removal

Where are Native/Indigenous people in Illinois?

Between the 2000 and 2010 census, the American Indian and Alaska Native population of Illinois grew by 41.8 percent to represent .3% of the total state population.

According to the 2010 census, American Indian and Alaska Native population people are over-represented in the state’s prison population; they are about 3.5 times more likely to be in prison than Whites (see graph below).

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According to the Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Prison Reform:

“Historically, Illinois has had a costly overreliance on prison which has grown exponentially in the last four decades, from 6,000 inmates in 1974 to almost 49,000 today. The growth has continued despite space constraints – today’s prison system was designed to hold only 32,000 – and falling crime rates since the early 1990s. …  Almost 60 percent of the prison population were Black compared to 15 percent of the general population. And while nearly 65 percent of the general population is White, Whites made up less than 30 percent of the prison population.”

According to the Illinois Poverty Rate:

“Poverty rates are 2 to 3 times higher for Illinoisans of color, and people of color fare far worse on nearly every measure of well-being. In the latest of its annual reports on poverty, “Racism’s Toll,” Heartland Alliance’s Social IMPACT Research Center lays bare the moral, human, and economic cost of the deep inequities in the state. Virtually all research on poverty shows that people of color are at a much greater risk of experiencing poverty across all age groups and across generations than whites. And mountains of other statistics and studies show the stark differences in outcomes, status, and experiences between whites and people of color: Black children in Illinois are nearly 4 times more likely to live below the poverty line than white children; the Illinois school districts with the most students of color receive 16% less in funding per student than districts serving the fewest students of color; unemployment rates are far higher for black Illinois workers than whites at every educational level; Illinoisans of color are 2 to 3 times more likely to not have health insurance; Black Illinoisans on average live 6 years less than whites; Poor black (16%) and Latino (22%) Illinoisans are more likely to live within a mile of a hazardous chemical facility than poor whites (13%); nationally, the median net worth for a white household is $110,500 versus $6,314 for a black household.”

According to the National Center for Children in Poverty:

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How do we understand these disparities?

According to Michelle Alexander in The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness:

“The genius of the current caste system, and what most distinguishes it from its predecessors, is that it appears voluntary. People choose to commit crimes, and that’s why they are locked up or locked out, we are told. This feature makes the politics of responsibility particularly tempting, as it appears the system can be avoided with good behavior. But herein lies the trap. All people make mistakes. All of us are sinners. All of us are criminals. All of us violate the law at some point in our lives. In fact, if the worst thing you have ever done is speed ten miles over the speed limit on the freeway, you have put yourself and others at more risk of harm than someone smoking marijuana in the privacy of his or her living room. Yet there are people in the United States serving life sentences for first-time drug offenses, something virtually unheard of anywhere else in the world.”

Apparently, in the United States, there is plenty of room for Native, Indigenous, and other racialized groups in U.S. prisons, unemployment, and homelessness but there isn’t any room for their sovereign rights on their traditional territories or in their unique cultures.


Chief Illiniwek literally, figuratively, and economically replaced the citizens of the Illinois Confederacy with a charactiture of a non-existent Indian chief. He did so under the guise of celebrating the state’s history, multiculturalism, and campus achievement but advanced patriarchal ideologies via the hyper-masculinity of white athleticism. At the same time, the university geoeconomically replaced the territories of the Illinois Confederacy with an institution of “public education” the Chief and his culture of racism has made intolerable for NAIS and scholarship, let alone for Native faculty, staff, and students.

UIUC created the opportunity for itself to change these things, to change its relationship to the lands and their peoples. It chose not to continue in the most hostile ways imaginable.

And what is particularly disturbing is that UIUC is not alone. As critical ethnic and indigenous studies programs around the country are struggling to survive systemic and systematic attacks, often under the guise of austerity, one can only wonder what other Chief Illiniweks will be (re)created to rationalize their erasure.

Charging Ethnic Studies


Photo Credit: Paul Chinn, SF Chronicle

There is debt, and then there is indebtedness.


12768361_10209237502839770_8312454416598224311_oI offer some observations about the issues raised at Thursday’s meeting between San Francisco State University (SFSU) students, alumi, faculty, and staff of the College of Ethnic Studies (COES) and SFSU President Leslie Wong, Vice President and Provost of Academic Affairs Sue Rosser, and Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Ronald Cortez concerning the proposed COES budget for 2016-2017.

State Funding

1) As public education throughout the United States, the California State University (CSU) has been systematically underfunded even as student admissions applications and graduation rates have steadily risen. According to the CSU Budget Office:

The CSU’s 23 campuses are the source of almost half the bachelor’s degrees awarded each year in California and nearly one-third of the master’s degrees. Yet years of fiscal crisis have constrained the CSU’s capacity to admit students. In the fall 2012 term, the CSU had to deny admission to more than 20,000 eligible California undergraduate applicants. While the state still faces fiscal uncertainties, the CSU has legitimate funding needs in order to carry out its critically important mission for California of student access, success and completion. This 2014/15 support budget request is tempered by recognition of the state’s ongoing fiscal challenge, yet represents a credible statement of the university’s key funding needs. During a half decade of state fiscal crisis, state support fell to a low of $2.0 billion…. this amount was nearly one-third below the peak level of state support of $2.97 billion in 2007/08. A funding recovery began with the enacted 2013/14 state budget. Nevertheless, the current level of state funding is less than what was provided in 2000/01 (13 years earlier) when the CSU General Fund appropriation was $2.47 billion. This comparison makes no adjustment for inflation. Moreover, in 2013/14, the CSU is teaching almost 58,000 more California resident, full-time equivalent students (FTES).

12744124_1546635535648482_2709572018719127134_nSince the 1990s, rather than challenge public officials and voter priorities concerning the funding of education and address dwindling state support, CSU administrators have embraced corporate business models and assumed the operational role of fundraisers: looking for ways to privatize funding sources; create new revenue streams; develop contracts with corporations like Coke and Pepsi for campus monopolies for which the corporations pay donations; attrack donors through spectacular events and benefits; and create ways of augmenting programs with potential to bring in the dollars (athletics).

These efforts are capitalist-driven and they treat Ethnic Studies, Women’s/Gender and Sexuality Studies, Disability Studies, and the Social Sciences, Humanities, and Creative Arts — which tend not to bring in large private donations — as financial burdens to bear even as they herald ‘those programs’ as examples of how universities fulfill their ethical and legal mandates to serve social justice and multiple kinds of communities historically disadvantaged.

Ethnic Studies

12747412_10209237101029725_36213929216301683_oOn March 21, 2014, the CSU unanimously approved a statement to advance Ethnic Studies within the CSU. In part, the statement provides that the CSU is:

RESOLVED: That the ASCSU endorse the efforts of the CSU Task Force on the Advancement of Ethnic Studies; and be it further; RESOLVED: That the ASCSU urge CSU campuses and the Office of the Chancellor to vigorously support the growth and development of Ethnic Studies by providing adequate funding and support; and be it further; RESOLVED: That the ASCSU urge that changes in status made to Ethnic Studies departments or programs only occur in consultation with campus Ethnic Studies faculty and through established campus curricular review processes; and be it further; RESOLVED: That ASCSU encourage campuses to evaluate Ethnic Studies programs, as we evaluate all academic programs, by recognizing their academic merit and educational and societal value rather than purely financial considerations; and be it further; RESOLVED: The ASCSU commend the California State Legislature for adopting Assembly Concurrent Resolution 71 – Relative to Africana Studies (2013) which expressed support for the continuation of Africana studies departments, programs, and related projects in California’s institutions of higher education, and be it further; RESOLVED: That the ASCSU distribute this resolution to the CSU Board of Trustees, CSU Chancellor, Timothy P. White, CSU campus Presidents, CSU campus Senate Chairs, CSU Provosts/Vice Presidents of Academic Affairs, California Faculty Association, CSU Ethnic Studies Council, California State Student Association and Members of the California State Assembly and Senate.

12747896_10209237025107827_4789752766287086561_oThe introduction to the SFSU strategic plan reads:

Emerging from the University’s long-standing commitments to teaching, learning and social justice, the new strategic plan is anchored by five core University values: Courage, Life of the Mind, Equity, Community and Resilience.

It goes without saying that the COES is core to the ability of SFSU to fulfill its own strategic mandate to advance social justice and equity. A fulfillment established in a January 2016 by a Stanford University report to have profound impact on student success.

In this study, we estimate the causal effects of an ethnic studies curriculum piloted in several San Francisco high schools. We rely on a “fuzzy” regression discontinuity design based on the fact that several schools assigned students with eighth-grade GPAs below a threshold to take the course in ninth grade. Our results indicate that assignment to this course increased ninth-grade student attendance by 21 percentage points, GPA by 1.4 grade points, and credits earned by 23. These surprisingly large effects are consistent with the hypothesis that the course reduced dropout rates and suggest that culturally relevant teaching, when implemented in a supportive, high-fidelity context, can provide effective support to at-risk students.

Disporportionate Cuts, Centralization of Curriculum, and a Lack of Transparency About it All

Provost Rosser said that in 2009-2010 (her first year on the job) that CSU systemwide experienced a 10 percent budget reduction. CSU faculty, through their union, voted to accept a 10 percent pay cut or furlough to help compensate and save temporary faculty jobs.

During that same year, SFSU imposed a 15.89% cut on the COES.

At the time, the COES had 60 full-time faculty. Today it has 37. Over time, as faculty have retired in Africana Studies, Asian American Studies, and Latino and Latina Studies, the departments have not been permitted to replace them. Two promised lines to help develop the initiative in Arab Ethnicities and Muslim Diaspora Studies were withdrawn. American Indian Studies has had no new faculty lines since its last hire in 2010. The Cesar Chavez Institute, the M.A. graduate program, and the Ethnic Studies Student Resource and Empowerment Center have all lost funded positions for directors and advisors.

But since 2009-2010, course offerings in the COES have increased. This has occured through the centralization of augments for temporary faculty or lecturers in the Office of Academic Affairs (AA) by Provost Rosser.

After preliminary course schedules are produced by department chairs for tenure and tenure track faculty, with a few courses scheduled for temporary faculty through union entitlements or course releases, AA reviews the coverage of general education or statutory requirement courses in the COES. The courses are neeeded by the campus community in order to help facilitate student graduation and tend to be the ones most impacted in enrollment. But rather than allowing department autonomy in developing curriculum, AA decides which courses will get added and for how many sections. Departments then assign temporary lecturers to cover the courses. This has involved anywhere from 40 to 50 percent of the total course offerings in the COES.

(As a side note, I should say that when American Indian Studies conducted its last self-study a couple years ago, Provost Rosser was sharply critical of how much weight was given to general education courses within our curriculum, a situation her office has directly created.)

At the meeting yesterday, while Wong, Rosser, and Cortez maintained repeatedly that there would be no cuts to the COES budget for next year, they also said that the COES would not receive any augmentation. Without augments for temporary faculty, there will be a reduction in anywhere from 20 to 40 percent of course offerings within the COES, varying by individual departments and programs.

12771723_1260535523962196_5273478727024577096_oIn fact, the COES Dean Ken Monteiro reported that the proposed budget for the COES will not even cover existing tenure and tenure track faculty salaries. But he was also careful to point out that he has not yet received a consistent or full accounting of the current or proposed COES budget from the administration. More directly, he has been given conflicting information.

That conflict is reflected in public statements issued by the SFSU administration. The budget they gave to the COES a couple weeks ago stated that it was at $3.6 million minus $245,000 for augments but is now saying — at the meeting yesterday and to the press — that the budget is $5 million. Both of these things cannot be true.

It also cannot be true that the SFSU administration knows how much — to the lecturer, to the course — that the COES budget needs to be cut by and not be able to produce an accurate budget. At the meeting, students demanded that the administration produce such an accounting by the end of Black History Month — Monday, February 29, by 5:00 pm. (You can read his non-response response here.)

Cuts v. Debt

Throughout the meeting, Wong, Rosser, and  Cortez maintained that the COES proposed budget would not be cut for the next academic year. They maintained that there would be no loss of permanent faculty or temporary lecturers. Several newspapers and blogs have repeated this insistence as a fact of goodwill.

What they did not address or acknowledge was the impact of the alleged debt they have imposed on the COES. In a letter addressed to the SFSU community on February 23, Wong stated:

Be assured that no plan exists to reduce the yearly budget for any of our six colleges, including the College of Ethnic Studies. While our 2016-17 budget for the University has not been finalized, we expect this year’s allocation to closely resemble last year’s. What has changed is how we respond to programs, including colleges, that run annual deficits, as has been the case for Ethnic Studies in recent years. When budget gaps have been discovered in other programs, a strategy was developed that allowed the program to continue while arranging to pay back its debt to the University within a set timeframe. In the case of the College of Ethnic Studies, no reimbursement plan has been requested. But the college has been asked to adapt to new budgetary discipline moving forward.  Adapting to new budgetary guidelines can come with challenges and, as I’m hearing from members of the College and others in the SF State community, anxiety about the unknown. As a lifelong educator, I believe strongly that increasing knowledge can greatly decrease concerns.

So, technically, Wong, Rosser, and  Cortez insist that they are not imposing any budget cuts on the COES but are only expecting the COES to make its account current. To balance the books. To stop over-spending?


As reported by Inside Higher Education, On January 8, 2016, California Governor Jerry Brown proposed $1 billion in new funding for public institutions, “an increase of 3.4 percent. (Roughly $590 million of that amount would come from the state’s general fund.) The total of $30 billion in state support for higher education would be an increase of 30 percent since 2012, when California emerged from years of deep, recession-driven budget cuts.”

As reported by Press Telegram, “Gov. Jerry Brown’s funding proposal for CSU during 2016-17 calls for an additional $139.4 million investment to pay for net student growth enrollment at 1 percent. CSU says 3 percent enrollment growth is needed. The higher growth rate would cost another $102.3 million in state funding, allowing CSU to enroll about 12,600 additional students.”

If the CSU budget is being augmented by the Governor’s office, allowing for student growth enrollment, how is it that the SFSU budget for the coming academic year is not also augmented? Why is the COES going to experience cuts at a time of growth, even a modest one, within the CSU? Why has the COES been asked to bear the brunt or the lion’s share of budget cuts to SFSU since 2009? Shouldn’t we be talking about what SFSU owes to the COES?

The Beginning and End of Ethnic Studies

Joanne Barker


UPDATED: Last week at San Francisco State University (SFSU), the only College of Ethnic Studies (COES) in the United States, was informed that next year’s budget would be cut somewhere between $400,000 and $500,000: based on this year’s budget of $3.6 million, that would mean a 13.8 percent budget cut (see table below).

To be clear, the COES has already experienced severe cuts: for instance, in 2009, the COES had 60 full-time faculty and now has only 37 full-time faculty.

The proposed cuts for 2016-2017 could mean no faculty sabbaticals or course release, no lecturers, no research institutes, no student resource center, and the suspension of all hiring initiatives on new and replacement faculty lines most immediately impacting a current search in Africana Studies. Tenure and tenure track faculty would be expected to make up the difference by significantly increasing their course loads and advising responsibilities. Further, with 40-50 percent less course offerings (considering the total percentage of those courses currenty offered by lecturers), students’ time-to-degree could also be adversely impacted.

The proposed cuts represent the systematic undercutting of COES resources at SFSU over the last decade. It is part of the structural undercutting of Ethnic Studies across the California State University (CSU) system and California public education more broadly. Unexceptionally, it shows what is going on nationally in regards to the advancement of neoliberal agendas to suspend funding of public education and social services (towards their privatization) while increasing funding for “national security” (the military, the militarization of police) as well as government subsidies of corporations and industry.


→ Since 2009, the College of Ethnic Studies has experienced budget cuts totalling about 10.48 percent.

→ The proposed cuts to the College budget for 2016-2017, totalling anywhere from $400,000 to $500,000 or 13.8% of this year’s budget, could result in a combination of specific cuts to the following: The Cesar Chavez Research Institute; Outreach and programming; the Ethnic Studies Student Resource Center; Tenured Faculty MOUs; Sabbatical replacements; Course release for Senate and other service; Work studies; Temporary lecturer appointments.

→ If the cuts go through it means that since 2009, the College of Ethnic Studies has experienced budget cuts totalling about 25 percent.

Working As Learning Conditions

Within the CSU, faculty time is allocated on a five-course per term basis. Each campus, college, and department has modest authority to decide on how to allocate faculty responsibilities and evaluations of performance on that basis.

Generally speaking, faculty tend to secure one course release per term for administrative responsibilities and one course release per term for research and publication. The other three courses they teach, and they are expected to enroll 50 students each. The overwhelming majority of faculty in the CSU are not provided with teaching assistance. This means that faculty are expected to teach three courses and grade the work of 150 students per semester without aid.

The only viable support for faculty research—the foundational basis on which curriculum design, publications, and conference presentations are produced—has to come from a modicum of CSU and campus-based grants and one-term sabbaticals. These grants and awards are highly competitive.

12719227_10153781283551418_6716576196408209125_oAt SFSU and in the COES, faculty wanting time for the professional development of their research and writing or for travel expenses to vet their work at conferences and workshops generally must secure outside funding from equally competitive sources. The policy has been that faculty are “charged” $10-12,000 per course per term for course release. Meaning, effectively, that a faculty person who wants time off teaching for research and does not have a CSU or SFSU grant to do so must secure an outside grant or fellowship at a minimum of $30,000 for a term and $60,000 for the academic year. Since most national fellowships, such as the Ford Foundation, average $45,000/year, CSU and SFSU has created a situation that essentially disqualifies faculty from being able to apply for these awards unless they are willing to make up the difference out of pocket.

Even without viable financial support for research and travel, faculty are expected to publish, present at conferences, and serve their communities. In addition to teaching evaluations, publications and service are used to decide retention and promotion.

And this doesn’t even begin to address the work load, lack of job stability, and salary of temporary faculty. Over the last decade, in fact, course offerings have been so centralized by the SFSU administration that the majority of temporary faculty in the COES have to wait 3 to 4 weeks before the term, and then 1 to 2 weeks into the term, to find out whether or not they have a job and then whether or not their courses will stay on the books for meeting enrollment expectations.

It seems superfluous at this point to have to say that the working conditions of faculty have dire impact on the environment of student learning, advising, and mentoring.

National Politics, National Contexts

The proposed cuts to the COES budget for 2016-2017 will wipe out what is left of any COES support for faculty research, hiring, and collaborations and modest student resources that have survived a decade of systematic gutting. The only way to understand the political significance of these proposed cuts is to situate them within national debates over public education and its responsibilities and relationships to Ethnic Studies.

The student-led strikes of the late sixties and early seventies were about redressing the curriculum of public education. The central criticisms that coalesced strike demands (which led to the formation of the COES at SFSU and Ethnic Studies programs around the country) was the responsibility and relevance of higher education not merely to the communities it served (though it was about that) but to its historical and institutional service to a particularly conservative, racist, and sexist notion of United States history, culture, society, economics, and politics. The strikes, in other words, were strikes against the way the erasure, distortion, and outright lies within higher education about United States history served the political agendas of whiteness, heteronormativity, and class exploitation.

But the response to the strike demands was uneven and often failed, characterized by the treatment of Ethnic Studies faculty, staff, and students as “window dressing” for university public relations (often presenting itself as an institution of social justice and equity) and of Ethnic Studies curriculum as a quaint and largely optional set of electives. Yes, even within the CSU and at SFSU, Ethnic Studies faculty tell many stories of being told that their professional journals and associations do not stand up to the scholarly rigor or intellectual relevance of their peers, that their courses are interesting but not ultimately necessary, and that their students would do better pursing more employable degrees.

The truth is that ever since the formation of Ethnic Studies, public officials and university administrators have been trying to “roll back” the changes. They have not used striker and subsequent critiques of higher education as an occasion to question university curriculum or the function of public education more broadly. Instead, they have indulged false nostalgia in attempts to get back to the day when those critiques were seen to be silenced or at least inconsequential.

power_to_the_people_by_acffOn May 11, 2010 Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed House Bill 2281 to prohibit a school district or charter school from including in its program of instruction any courses or classes that: 1) promotes the overthrow of the Federal or state government or the Constitution; 2) promotes resentment toward any race or class (e.g. racism and classism); 3) advocates ethnic solidarity instead of being individuals; 4) are designed for a certain ethnicity. The law had to allow: 1) Native American classes in order to comply with federal law; 2) grouping of classes based on academic performance; 3) classes about the history of an ethnic group open to all students; 4) classes discussing controversial history. The bill was lobbied by Tom Horne, superintendent of public instruction, to cut the Mexican-American Studies offerings within the Tucson Unified School District because he thought them “destructive ethnic chauvinism and that Mexican American students are oppressed.”

On September 13, 2015, faculty, students, and staff at the University of California, Berkeley, submitted a letter with over 660 signatures to the Chancellor, Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost contesting a proposed “repositioning” of the Center of Race and Gender that would effectively downgrade its budgeting and institutional support.

Arizona’s HB 2281 and budget changes at UCB foreshadowed SFSU’s proposed 40 percent budget cuts to COES.

Of particular concern is how the cuts and their legal counterparts represent a broader conservative political agenda to “roll back” the institutional and political reformations of Ethnic Studies in public education.

Rather than looking for ways to advance Ethnic Studies, and its potential for raising serious questions about the implications of things like military spending and the militarization of the police, university administrators and public officials are strategizing how to end it.

The immediate goal of budget cuts serves conservative, neoliberal interests to diminish the potential critical attention and student empowerment within Ethnic Studies as a discipline and curriculum to revolutionize imperialist, racist, and sexist norms within public education and U.S. society.

Hand of deth


(1) The College of Ethnic Studies includes the following departments and programs: Africana Studies Department, American Indian Studies Department, Asian American Studies Department, Latina and Latino Studies Department, and the Race and Resistance Studies Program (including the initiative in Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diaspora Studies).

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Things you can do to support:

  1. email and call the SFSU President Leslie Wong: email:; office: (415) 338-1381
  2. email and call the Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Sue Rosser: email:; office: (415) 338-1141
  3. organize and email group letters of support through your programs, departments, associations, and organizations
  4. join the Facebook page for updates
  5. sign the student petition here