Bad Subjects Statement: Ethnic Studies and Social Justice
Issue #44, June 1999
On May 4 over eighty University of California-Berkeley students were arrested at a peaceful camp-in outside the office of the university's Chancellor. They were protesting the marginal status of the Ethnic Studies department, its inadequate funding, absent faculty hires, and cancelled courses. The arrested students represent a teacher's dream: students who want more classes, a better education, and who are vocal.
This student strike arises in the context of continuing assaults against democratic access to higher education, which found their greatest success in California's Proposition 209 against affirmative action. Each year fewer minority and disadvantaged students arrive at Berkeley and other public universities; each year more obstacles to higher education appear and re-segregation increases. In education, as in many other areas of public policy, we are in the midst of a massive rollback of social progress.
The UC Berkeley Ethnic Studies department, which has been at the heart of intellectual resistance to discrimination on the basis of race and ethnicity in American society, is engaged in a struggle to control the terms of its existence. Many right-wing opponents do not want the department to continue to exist, claiming that it represents a sterile academic endeavor.
To the contrary, the development of Ethnic Studies has made and continues to make a massive contribution to understanding American communities and the always-incomplete work of multiethnic social justice. University-level study and research of ethnicity and race are critical towards achieving the decency of a tolerant society. Ethnic Studies has an intellectual history of asking disturbing questions about the maldistribution of resources under the American economic system, which accounts for no small part of the resistance to its presence at Berkeley and other US universities.
Equally important, Ethnic Studies represents a re-orientation of university curricula away from their Eurocentric preoccupations. It has provided a new and invaluable forum for knowledges and communities that have been denied voices and intellectual legitimacy.
As a collective that supports social justice, Bad Subjects supports the current Ethnic Studies student strike at the University of California and calls upon the university administration to restore the Department's resources to their former strength.
The Bad Subjects Editorial Collective
May 5, 1999