Queer Privates, Public Protests

Curator's Note

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.



Looking back over the last few weeks of content on In Media Res, I'm wondering about the kinds of connections that can drawn between what has been presented above as a queer critique of the privatization of higher education in California  and beyond (and the week's theme of Queer Privates) and what Elizabeth Heffelfinger discussed on April 20th regarding the resurgence of the Free Enterprise System (as part of the theme week on Economic Education). Both posts seem particularly concerned with the function of education as a formative space that also delimits the realm of what is possible to think/discuss/imagine. As Heffelfinger suggests, "The recent decision by the Texas Board of Education to rewrite the state social studies curriculum to promote a conservative agenda includes replacing “capitalism” with the “free enterprise system” throughout the texts" is a tactic to limit the terms through which economic systems can be discussed.  This could perhaps be read as an effort to naturalize capitalism and linguistically implement an "end of history," per Francis Fukuyama's 1989 thesis, and a foreclosure on ways of critiquing the present and imagining a different future.

It is important to expand the grid of this conversation to encompass the appalling ongoing events in Arizona. As the demands made by the current student hunger strike at UC Berkeley assert, there is a clear connection between the discriminatory immigration policy recently signed into law by Gov. Brewer and the politics of the university. (We can, and should, also draw explicit links between the surge of racial and homophobic violence on university campuses and beyond and the wave of anti-immigrant violence coming to popular attention on the East coast).  The connections between the AZ immigration law and shifts in UC policy have been made all the more clear in recent days given moves made the Arizona Department of Education to "remove from classrooms teachers who speak English with a very heavy accent or whose speech is ungrammatical," and the passage of legislation by the State lawmakers that effectively prohibits ethnic studies classes. In that provisions of this law prohibit courses that could "advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals," I wonder how the impact of this provision on any course, ethnic, queer or otherwise, that strays from an economic education grounded solely in individual enterprise of the self.





I'm intrigued at the ways in which, much like the previous Economic Education discussion in Samir Dayal's more recent exhibit "The Inadequately Violent State," all demonstrate ways of not only teaching a flawed normative system but also how deeply entrenched the binary oppositions that system relies on really are, and how completely the refusal to acknowledge an alternative (let alone to give any voice to it) emerges.   In all three topics, the capability of education to silence a group, idea, or even a function is brought out in an intriguing way, leaving the question about how those silenced have to work their way back into contention.

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