N. American History
Ever asked yourself why all the brown kids are sitting outside the History Department waiting for ES to offer a Latin@ history class instead of just taking American History? Go read about the disconnects between “modern” vs. colonial history aka ethnic vs [white] history aka problems in conceptualizing intersectionality, competing and complimentary narratives across history, etc. over at Gay Prof‘s and Historiann‘s.
Yesterday, March 4, 2010, was an incredible demonstration of the disconnect between the state and the universities it runs. Students in places as varied as California, Wisconsin, and New York took to the streets around mostly state run schools to protest massive increases in tuition, cuts in student and diversity services and programming, and losses of Departments/Programs (including but not limited to identity studies programs, foreign language programs, interdisciplinary studies programs, etc.). The message from the students was that education matters and when it is priced out of the hands of those who have least access to good education, our state and national government is implicated in creating a purposefully undereducated and therefore exploitable class.
The response from The State was almost universally the same: to dispatch riot police, arrest and question student organizers or those associated with student organizations. In Wisconsin this meant that the head of the Student Union was detained for hours after he arrived at a rally simply for identifying himself and asking to speak to the University President. In other cases, it meant people got hurt, as in the case of a UC Riverside student who sprained her ankle in a skirmish witnesses say was started by the police pushing into the crowd with their riot gear.
While the story of rights and wrongs is not as clear cut in every case as I have presented here, some students were said to be throwing things at cars attempt to circumvent their street blockades for instance, the question remains: why was state government so invested in policing and silencing student protest? What does the state gain from ensuring state and national level silence or ignorance about increasing costs of school and the unfair loan agreements attached to them?
We have written often on this blog about how the student loan industry appears to violate basic national and international laws governing legal contracts and how these violations permanently divide those who can afford school or to pay back loans and those who cannot. More recently, we have devoted time to the way that the media has portrayed two generations of struggling youth as people on credit card sprees with unrealistic expectations about their standard of living, rather than addressing the increasing number of well-educated students who live at home because their loan debt precludes them from paying even the most basic expenses. Other academic blogs have pointed to the seemingly illegal relationship between some colleges and some student loan companies and between some Congress people voting to give those loan companies free reign and the companies themselves. Yet the common perception outside of the university system, and even inside it from some elite academic bloggers who present their trust fund students’ lives as normative to the detriment of every one else, is that “student” is code word for beer guzzling, free loader, with entitlement issues, who can be found spending up their financial aid checks at the mall more often than they can be found in class. In this story, “financial aid” of course takes the form of “your hard earned tax dollars.”
What is at stake in these competing images?
While the obvious answer addresses the disconnect between a mandate to teach residents of the state and the realities of costs on both sides (costs of running the uni and costs of attending it). I would argue that investment in the image of the unreasonable and entitled student serves multiple other purpose including:
- masking the collusion between government, financial industries, and universities
- erasing the ways the economic crisis has played out along pre-existing lines of oppression against both students and Departments/Programs and/or faculty
- denying the increasing gap between an educated and employed elite and the rest of N. America (who may or may not be educated or employed)
- avoiding connections between failures in education, student activism, and the prison-industrial-complex
Watching some of the footage late last night on local news, I found myself thinking of the last time riot police were dispatched across the nation to silence student protest. There was a war on in a foreign country that nobody supported and a war on local soil for the equal rights of people of color and women and around those wars grew the two headed giant of military and prison industrial complexes. And while I think this President has a different response to the issues of the day, his own “boot straps” mentality about education and his seeming cluelessness about working class and subsistence level lives (I say seeming because he grew up in a working class household) could ultimately leave him ill-prepared for the storm that so many presidents and congresses before him have stirred up.
Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II has asked that state funded colleges and universities in Virginia remove protections for same sex relationships (like health care benefits) and LGBTQ people on their campuses. Since taking office, he has argued that only the General Assembly has the right to determine who does and does not get state level protected status against discrimination. Now he is arguing that universities have overstepped their bounds and no “special rights” will be sanctioned by the state regardless of university policy, therefore the policies are misleading as well as “illegal.” Should he be successful in his attempts, it will set a precedent for other conservative states and/or colleges to follow suit. However, there is hope that with the passage of a trans inclusive ENDA, Cuccinelli will be out of luck.