2011 Graduate Student Proposal for a Critical Race & Ethnic Studies Department at UCSC

This grad student call for a CRES program followed a list of serious and radical demands (to be posted, fingers crossed) by undergrad activists.  It garnered the support of a large number of faculty.  However, the administration requested that the group redraft a proposal for a scaled-down CRES program.

Critical Race and Ethnic Studies Department Proposal


What animates this proposal is a collective vision years in the making, as well as a historical moment marked by a particular urgency. It proposes the creation of an institutional structure that UCSC students have sought, in one form or another, for decades—a department designed to cultivate a critical approach to the study of race and ethnicity. It attempts both to make a case for why such a structure is needed now more than ever and to demonstrate that, if made a campuswide priority , such a department is now uniquely possible. Our document draws inspiration from the tireless labor of UCSC undergraduate activists, who have been organizing on behalf of critical race and ethnic studies (CRES) in spite of the fact that many of them will not have the opportunity to benefit directly from their efforts. This proposal’s vision of a CRES department and its language of horizontal governance are therefore deeply indebted to the intellectual energy and ethical imagination generated by undergraduate activism.

This proposal does not claim to collect into a single, unified voice the intellectual visions of all the constituencies that have played a part in its formation. To attempt to do so would, in fact, settle and thereby erase the productive tensions that we believe make CRES an intellectually exciting and important project. But it does document a solidarity that is, we believe, all too rare in today’s academy.

We—the authors of this proposal—met through graduate seminars and protests, in research clusters and writing groups, in conflict and collaboration. We met, grew, and learned to challenge and trust each other in interdisciplinary spaces that gave us a shared language. For a range of reasons—stemming from the budget crisis, from the recent departure of a range of important faculty, and from the restructuring and elimination of academic departments—many of these spaces are no longer available on the UCSC campus. After attending the “Critical Ethnic Studies and the Future of Genocide” conference at UC Riverside this past March, and encountering the dynamic intercampus and transnational conversations that emerged through that space, we reconvened as a group to reflect on what we had learned. This statement is an outcome of those reflections.

Statement of Purpose:

We are proposing a Department of Critical Race & Ethnic Studies organized around a series of productive tensions—tensions between theories of oppression and praxes of resistance, between the critique of racism and the usefulness (even indispensability) of race as an analytical category, and between the university and the communities that have been historically and systematically marginalized from and by it. This model would move away not only from formations of ethnic studies that assume that identity is a historically stable phenomenon, but away too from disciplinary structures that reduce race and ethnicity to supplemental matters or topical content. Instead, the Department we propose would turn to race and ethnicity both as fundamental forces that structure society and as concepts that organize our knowledge of it.

What makes the intellectual project we are proposing distinctive is the way that it focuses the study of race and ethnicity around four intertwined rubrics: 1) social structure and formation; 2) knowledge production; 3) theories and praxes of justice; and 4) crosscutting axes of power and difference, such as gender, sexuality, and nation. It is through these questions that we are looking to centralize an engagement with the issues that, historically and contemporarily, ethnic studies has so pressingly engaged. These include economic, imperial, and colonial violence, and structural exploitation in local, national and transnational contexts. The curriculum centers the importance of interrogating knowledge production practices and the ways in which people have struggled historically to transform them.

We ask that the University administration and the Academic Senate consider the formation of a department rather than a program or major because of the stakes of the current historical moment. A department draws together the components of an institutional home, administrative staff, a departmental curriculum that reflects a cohesive intellectual project, and the labor of graduate students in supporting that curricular vision.

Statement of Need:

The formation of a Critical Race & Ethnic Studies Department is an urgent project that would signal the commitments of the campus to building an intellectual environment that at once recognizes the ongoing value of critical race studies, and takes seriously its attentiveness to questions of difference, histories of the present, and the necessity of responding to urgent contemporary questions. While faculty working in the departments of Feminist Studies, Latin American and Latino Studies, American Studies, Community Studies, and History of Consciousness have trained graduate and undergraduate students in the theories and practices of critical race studies, we believe that a curricular vacuum remains on our campus.

The past five years have presented somewhat of a crisis for ethnic studies on our campus, with the departure of a number of crucial faculty, the closing of Community Studies, and the slashing across the board of campus resources for the support of interdisciplinary scholarship. With the loss of these faculty and resources, what is threatened is the continuity of an intellectual dialogue on the necessity and institutional value of diversity.

The list of faculty, and especially faculty of color, who have left UCSC in recent years is stunning. These scholars, all of whom are widely known for their contributions to ethnic studies, include: Angela Davis (HistCon/FMST), Paul Ortiz (Community Studies), Neferti Tadiar (HistCon), George Lipsitz (Amst), Tricia Rose (Amst), Manuel Pastor (LALS), Louis ChudeSokei (Literature), Margo Hendricks (Literature), Sonia Alvarez (Politics), Nate Mackey (Literature), Judy Yung (Amst), A. Yvette Huginnie (Amst), and Phyllis Rogers. While these faculty left UCSC for a variety of reasons, many of them spoke openly about institutionalized racism on this campus, and cited the lack of support for the production of marginalized knowledges and interdisciplinary scholarship as an impetus for their decisions to leave. The shameful lack of attention given to replacing these irreplaceable faculty only affirms their critiques of the institution.

This mass departure must therefore be seen in relation to the university’s recent disinvestment in Community Studies and related interdisciplinary programs, the systemwide decline in enrollments for students of color, and the abandonment of administrative recruitment efforts a task that has unfairly fallen to students. The university periodically conducts Diversity Climate Studies, but there have been no systematic attempts to address the findings. We do not want UCSC to remain a campus that is perceived as hostile—whether actively or passively—to faculty and students of color. The way out of this is to create a campus environment and infrastructure that will attract, and retain, scholars trained in the pedagogies and methods of critical ethnic studies.

We are confident that our proposed initiative will work to create precisely this infrastructure. By providing a dedicated space for the nourishment and development of scholarship on race and ethnicity, the formation of a department of Critical Race and Ethnic Studies will make visible to the broader academic community the value our university places on intellectual contributions in this field. The creation of such a unit will bring a palpable energy to the study of race and ethnicity on our campus, centralizing the robust, though scattered, academic labors currently being performed in this area, as well as fostering new scholarly collaborations across disciplines and divisions. Moreover, the institutionalization of Critical Race and Ethnic Studies will promote a deepened commitment to the kind of socially engaged scholarship that has long made UC Santa Cruz a distinctive place to learn and teach.

What is Critical Race and Ethnic Studies:

The scholarly and intellectual project of Critical Race and Ethnic Studies assumes, as its primary objective, the study of the dynamic power relations resulting from the cultural and institutional productions of the idea of “race” on a global scale. Here, “race” is understood as a major ideological framework through which practices of power and domination, as well as struggles for liberation and self-determination, have been articulated and enacted throughout modern history and in the contemporary moment. The study of “race,” as such, is a rigorous subject of analysis, one which yields critical insights into the social, political, and economic processes that have defined and shaped the modern era—colonialism and slavery, conquest and displacement, genocide and warfare, and criminalization and imprisonment. Critical Race and Ethnic Studies, as we envision it, is therefore less a study of stable or unified racial “identities,” than an interrogation into how the production of knowledge about, and consequent disciplining of, racial “difference,” structures the organization of social affairs and the valuation of human life, and permeates the “common sense” of our current political worldings.

We conceptualize Critical Race and Ethnic Studies as a flexible and durable intellectual project, one characterized by its commitment to continual self-critique and redefinition in the face of constantly shifting economic and political arrangements of power. Integral to this project is, therefore, an ongoing interrogation of the ways in which Ethnic Studies paradigms, in their institutionalized manifestations, risk complicity with very liberal multiculturalist mandates they aspire to critique. To that end, the project of Critical Race and Ethnic Studies has two primary goals with respect to its disciplinary orientation to the university:

1. To explode the curricular formations of Ethnic Studies that replicate and reproduce epistemes of race wrought from the imperatives of white supremacy, settler colonialism, capitalism, heteropatriarchy, and US nationbuilding. This would require a shift away from the “four food groups model” of Ethnic Studies, which tends to flatten the complex histories behind the production of racial categorizations, leaving unexamined the entangled and uneven historical and discursive processes through which Native Americans, Latin@s, Asian Americans, and African Americans have been rendered as distinct “racial” communities. Instead, this department would insist upon the analysis of interconnected structures and histories to create a space for strategic alliances and collaborative knowledge.

2. To serve as a site in which the disciplinary formation of the university, in its entirety, becomes the object of critical investigation. Ethnic Studies is often called upon to do the work of “diversifying” a liberal arts curriculum which remains otherwise stable. This approach to institutional incorporation treats Ethnic Studies as a tool of “conflict management,” a means through which to “contain” the “threat” of discourses of race to the “integrity” of traditional canons and disciplines. Rather than limiting its scholarly impact to its institutionally circumscribed borders, a department of Critical Race and Ethnic Studies would provide an important location from which to examine, critique, and begin to transform, the imperialist relations shaping and undergirding the overall disciplinary categorization of knowledges within the university.

These goals beg the question of whether it would be more productive to work within current disciplines to develop a “racial lens” through which to reconstitute existing curricula, rather than create a new department which would run the risk of “ghettoizing” the study of race. In response to such concerns, we maintain our position that the creation of a department of Critical Race and Ethnic Studies would be the most effective means of redrawing the curricular and disciplinary contours of the university. Thus far, attempts to integrate Ethnic Studies into existing departments have largely followed an “additive” approach. Although there have been efforts made to hire faculty with training and research experience in Ethnic Studies, and to provide courses with Ethnic Studies content, these efforts have fallen short of transforming the fundamental paradigms, canons, and methods at the core of existing disciplinary formations. The “additive” approach, rather than circumventing the institutional “ghettoization” of Ethnic Studies, has merely created “ghettos” within established academic departments. The establishment of a department of Critical Race and Ethnic Studies would not confine the study of race and ethnicity to a particular university formation, but rather open up a wider space in which such dynamics could be pursued broadly, deeply, and rigorously.

Practical Implementation:

We contend that the creation of a Department of Critical Race and Ethnic Studies—governed collectively by faculty, staff, and students—is the only viable option for adequately addressing the curricular and epistemological shortcomings of the university in its current state. Given current tendencies in university labor practices that overutilize and overrely on the production and availability of casualized, “cheap,” and un/underrecognized labor—from adjunct workers, graduate, and even undergraduate students—we see a department as the only fitting institutional structure to do justice to a Critical Race and Ethnic Studies project. In other words, a degreegranting department is the only institutional form that will 1) ensure and secure the continuity of human resources and the availability of funding; 2) effectively integrate the work, efforts, and imagination that are the motivating forces behind Critical Race and Ethnic Studies into a dedicated campus space with a distinctive curriculum; and 3) combine, respect, and facilitate the labors of faculty, students, and staff. An adequatelyresourced department, then, is the only way to ensure that the particular methodological commitments of critical race and ethnic studies are both recognized as a viable course of study and implemented structurally into the everyday functioning of the UCSC campus.

In a campus environment where discussions about intellectual possibilities are often overwhelmed not only by real limitations in resources, but also by a normalized language and culture of scarcity, such a vision risks being disregarded as impractical, or dismissed as extravagant. To counter this, we are asking that Critical Race and Ethnic Studies become not simply one project among others but a campuswide priority for the allocation of FTE and the provisioning of resources. We anticipate and welcome the fact that faculty in other departments might be interested in transferring their FTEs fully or partly into such a department. We would also like to hold open the possibility that the department faculty could be partly constituted through transfers from other academic units. But a real campus commitment to a Department of Critical Race and Ethnic Studies will require a significant allocation of resources. No fewer than five FTE (three core, two crosslisted with other departments) in the next five years, as well as the resources necessary to conduct job searches, will be necessary in order to constitute such a department. In order to continue to expand and interconnect the base of intellectual discourse on Critical Race and Ethnic Studies, we also would like to advocate for a regular campus speaker series that will enable the campus community to engage with speakers whose work pushes critical race and ethnic studies in new directions.

In recent years, UC faculty have increasingly embraced the language and ideal of shared or horizontal governance, both in the spirit of protecting the democratic possibility of public higher education and to counter consumerbased models of education that place the power of university decisionmaking in the hands of administrators. In that same spirit, we believe that a thriving model of Critical Race and Ethnic Studies would necessitate the widening of the very sphere in which the governing body is imagined and constituted. A horizontal structure of governance would both recognize and continue to nurture the energy of the Critical Race and Ethnic Studies project, which was generated through the sustained collaborations and contributions of undergraduate students, graduate students, faculty, and staff over the past thirty years. We are advocating for a structure of departmental governance that keeps of all these parties at the table as a governing body. A horizontal structure would enable faculty and students to build a curriculum, identify scholars to teach, coteach, crosslist and/or transfer courses into Critical Race and Ethnic Studies, and select speaker series participants as part of a larger dialogue about the past, present, and future of Critical Race and Ethnic Studies on this campus. This would acknowledge the struggles and visions of students whose energies have opened up new possibilities at UC Santa Cruz and beyond. This formation recognizes existing strengths in terms of knowledge formations and governing structures, and pushes the campus to imagine a collaborative departmental structure that can both hold and resolve productive tensions–a structure that works through praxes of justice to interrogate western social structures and forms of power.

[Redacted last paragraph which provided the name of an outside faculty member who was willing to serve as director.]

Authors: An Interdisciplinary Group of Grad Students at UCSC


About UCSC Critical Race and Ethnic Studies (CRES)

This blog is maintained by students throughout UCSC. We recognize that students have been working around Ethnic Studies for multiple decades and at many levels of the university. We claim no ownership over any movement or material that is produced. We ask that any materiel used from the blog is cited and used for only educational purposes. Most importantly that it is done with honor and respect for the many people who worked in the struggle for Ethnic Studies. We would also like to point out that the name Critical Race and Ethnic Studies (CRES) was created to acknowledge the intellectual development of Ethnic Studies since the beginning of this struggle. The name came from countless meetings and hours with many different undergrads, graduate students, and faculty.
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