Words from the CRG Student Advisory Committee

Event Date: 

Tue, Feb 9, 2016 - 2:30 pm

Summary: 

 

Words from the CRG Student Advisory Committee
Originally printed in the Spring 2015 issue of FaultLines

Where each publication of the Center for Race and Gender’s FaultLines customarily features “Words from the Director,” the circumstances currently afflicting the Center’s well-being have called for the newly assembled student advisory board to address our readers. While Professor Emerita Evelyn Nakano Glenn remains Acting Director, she, alongside students, other faculty, and staff, have joined together to lead the CRG in both its daily function and its dispute with the UC Berkeley Administration against a looming downgrade.

The CRG was founded as a result of the 1999 Ethnic Studies Student Strike at UC Berkeley, a historic mobilization in which students organized to respond to severe budget cuts to Ethnic Studies and dwindling numbers of students and faculty of color at Cal. Students occupied buildings, engaged in hunger strikes, and organized the support of faculty and the community until they successfully negotiated an agreement with then-Chancellor Robert Berdahl. In this agreement, the students called for the establishment of a research center, which became the Center for Race & Gender. Since its founding in 2001, the CRG has been positioned under the Office of the Executive Vice Chancellor Provost (EVCP), a position which has had three outcomes. First, the CRG’s direct line to the EVCP maintained an ongoing relationship of accountability between the administration and the students. The history of the CRG is unlike any other research center on campus in that it was established through a hard-won agreement that students continue to take seriously. Second, the CRG’s budget has largely been protected from ongoing budget cuts over the years because our budget is not lost among multiple units in an office that receives across-the-board budget cuts. Third, the position has allowed a certain level of autonomy that helped the Center’s focus develop through a constituency-led, or bottom-up rather than a top-down approach.

Unfortunately, last summer, the CRG learned indirectly that EVCP Claude Steele had apparently made a decision to move the CRG without consulting students or faculty. Because similar actions towards other units had destabilizing consequences, this news was very troubling. Following the tradition of the 1969 and 1999 student mobilizations, we decided to take action. We quickly drafted three petitions for students, faculty/staff, and the community to sign. The responses came swiftly and whole-heartedly in a short period of time. Within ten days, over 1,100 people from across campus, the U.S., and the world had signed our petition asking that the CRG’s administrative reporting and funding lines remain directly to the Office of the EVCP. With that, online comments, letters, and e-mails poured in. The students also decided to take direct action and personally hand in the signed petitions and letters to the Chancellor, as well as to the EVCP. Our voices had been heard. A meeting was called.

In mid-October, EVCP Steele and other members of the Administration began to meet with us. EVCP Steele stated that the CRG lacked ambition without providing any reasons for this conclusion, so we outlined our accomplishments and growth over the years and proposed an upgrade of the CRG into the Critical Race, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Institute. He referenced vulnerability to budget cuts, but we cited examples of other units that were consolidated and subsequently sustained budget cuts, harming their work. Perhaps most importantly, EVCP Steele declared that our reliance on the legacy of student activism which paved the way for the 1999 agreement that founded the CRG was “illusory.” Ironically, during this time, the Associated Students of the University of California (ASUC) and the Graduate Assembly – both student government bodies – unanimously passed resolutions which cited the 1999 agreement as one reason to keep the CRG where it is and fully funded. However, even with a student government mandate and our substantially supported arguments, we remained at an impasse by mid-November. EVCP Steele decided to assemble a task force to recommend where the CRG would “fit best” within the University. After we contended that the task force should include staff, student, and faculty representation, the EVCP invited CRG Associate Director Alisa Bierria, Ethnic Studies doctoral student Rachel Lim (representing the CRG Student Advisory Board), Prof. Paola Bacchetta (Gender Women’s Studies; representing the CRG Faculty Advisory Board), Prof. Juana María Rodríguez (Gender & Women’s Studies), Prof. Leigh Raiford (African American Studies, Interim Chair), and Prof. Shari Huhndorf (Ethnic Studies, Chair). The task force is chaired by Prof. Carla Hesse, Executive Dean of Letters & Science, and Prof. Na’ilah Nasir, Vice Chancellor for Equity and Inclusion. We are hopeful that this task force will come to a consensus decision that supports our top three issues – secured and full funding, freedom to follow leadership of CRG’s constituents, and accountability to the 1999 agreement – however we fully intend to continue to organize.

It is important to note that this process is part of a larger context of campus consolidation as the Administration’s response to an ongoing budget crisis. In 2011, UC Berkeley administration implemented Campus Shared Services (CSS), which consolidated administrative staff across campus, decreasing the capacity of many departments and research units. Yet, 28 CSS staff received layoff notices this January, which staff labor unions are resisting. The CRG is being swept up in a larger national movement towards the consolidation and privatization of universities. We intend to continue to organize campus discussions about this trend and its implications for students, faculty, and staff; campus initiatives specifically working on race, gender, and sexuality studies; and the future of public education. 

Despite the challenges the CRG has faced this semester, we are proud of our constant growth with every subsequent year. This past semester has been no exception! In light of our struggle, we supported the Third World Multiracial Solidarity and Community Engagement Conference in late November, which welcomed alumni who were student organizers in the historic 1969 and 1999 mobilizations on campus that led to the CRG’s founding. In this issue of FaultLines, you will also learn about other exciting events and accomplishments, including welcoming the Honorable Dr. Moncef Marzouki, the former and first democratically elected President of Tunisia, to a packed house at UC Berkeley, where he gave the lecture “Lessons from the Arab Spring: Success and Failure!” We also hosted Professor Sharon Holland from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in our Distinguished Lecture Series, and a symposium with local scholars and organizers analyzing the relationship between gender violence and the road to incarceration. The CRG Islamophobia Research & Documentation Project collaborated with colleagues around the world to host major conferences in Paris and London. This project also released the fourth issue of its influential peer-reviewed publication, Islamophobia Studies Journal. Finally, we welcome a new esteemed research initiative, the Political Conflict, Gender, and People’s Rights Project, to the CRG fold.

With the CRG’s fifteenth anniversary upon us this year, we remind ourselves of what brought us together and keeps us going: unity. Between students, faculty, staff, and the community, the Center continues to grow and pump out ground-breaking research that pushes a counterhegemonic standard in the field.  Frederick Douglass’s words come to mind here: “Without a struggle, there can be no progress.” Thus, we look to each other and to you during our struggles and hope that you will join us in celebrating our progress.

John Mundell, second year PhD student, African American and African Diaspora Studies with a
Designated Emphasis in Women, Gender, and Sexuality,
On behalf of the CRG Student Advisory Board