Please note: this video includes visual documentation of police violence.
This issue of In Media Res is inspired by the fourth annual Queer Studies Graduate Symposium at the University of California, Davis. The theme of this year’s symposium -- “queer privates” -- situates discussions of private parts and acts in relation to liberal discourses of privacy and neoliberal processes of privatization. The symposium builds upon recent queer scholarship and activism that has criticized the tendency for racially and economically privileged lesbian and gay activists to argue for the “right to privacy” in order to gain state recognition and institutional access. Queer scholars and activists have also interrogated the steady dismantling of the welfare state and the increased privatization of public resources. The symposium investigates the ways in which these processes unevenly affect queers of color, working-class queers, queers with disabilities, gender-nonconforming queers, and other queer and trans subjects. As members of the symposium’s planning committee and graduate students/instructors in the UC system, we have chosen to focus our contribution to this issue on the student activism emerging out of queer critiques of the privatization of public higher education in California.
This activism was particularly visible on March 4, 2010, an international day of action to defend public education. The news video linked here, created by undergraduate journalists, records that day's events at UC Davis. In both its student-centered focus and its meticulous documentation of police violence, this report differs markedly from almost all other media coverage of the UC Davis demonstrations. For example, network news outlets -- clearly present, as this video shows -- failed to air substantive interviews with students or footage of police repression. The student journalists are also careful to cite the multiple events prompting these protests, linking fee increases and budget cuts to questions of campus safety: just days before this protest, the campus LGBT Resource Center was defaced -- one of many violent displays that have recently evoked responses across California. Signs and chants in the video foreground queer politics not only as a direct response to the defacement of the LGBTRC, but also as profoundly connected to the broader effects of privatization ("Queers in Support of Ethnic Studies"). Yet mainstream news media tended to omit mentions of anti-queer violence and responses to it, and outside observers frequently wondered why queer politics were part of the demonstration to begin with.
Like many students protesting throughout California and beyond, we do not see the issue of fee hikes as removed from questions of violence. And unlike many UC administrators (including President Mark Yudof, we are not surprised that explicitly racist and homophobic actions have erupted in the midst of a financial crisis. Most of the students organizing against privatization do so from marginalized positions, foregrounding critiques of whiteness and heteronormativity and calling for the downward distribution of resources. The recent vandalism of the LGBTRC might be understood as a backlash against these threats to privilege and is just one example of the homophobic and transphobic violences connected to privatization. The university has systematically de-funded student resource centers, social justice-oriented departments, and other key programs providing support for historically marginalized communities. Such actions are not only a violence themselves but also create an environment that condones violence. Administrative responses to these spectacular acts of racism and homophobia and the state's disinvestment in education have focused on personal responsibility by asking individuals to become more "tolerant," pay higher fees, and comply with increased police presence and surveillance on campus. Conversely, a queer critique of privatization insists upon community responsibility in addressing acts that make certain groups vulnerable. Furthermore, protests that refuse to reduce their message to one statement or a neat list of demands require that those who wish to understand the current state of public education immerse themselves in an analysis of the networks of oppression exacerbated by processes of privatization.