Archive Page 2


rights/vulnerabilities of migrants in transit

photoAgain I find myself studying the vulnerabilities of persons in transit, migrants, or “peregrinos” as staff at the local office of Caritas here in Mazatlán refers to them. There is too much to say in one blog post about the situation of Central Americans in transit para “el Norte” and too many images to share: the role of NGOs and people of faith- such as Caritas and local Catholic parroquias- in offering shelter, showers, meals, medical attention and a safe place to rest to migrants; the role of the authorities (municipal police, immigration officers) in protecting or violating migrants’ rights (some of the worse assaults against transiting migrants are perpetuated by the police who rob, extort, and otherwise threaten them); the ways members of local communities respond in solidarity- offering food, a phone call home, a shower – and show the best side of human kindness; the violence perpetrated by gangs and other armed actors against migrants in transit; the violence of the journey itself, with the treacherous journey by train resulting in exhaustion, skin rashes, dehydration, limb loss/falls/injuries, even death; and the trains themselves, “la bestia”, the huge steel wheels creaking along tracks that in an instant can mean loss of limb or life for a migrant atop. Today in a visit to the local migration delegación, this picture was on a wall, trying to warn migrants of the dangers of transit. Indeed, the Mexican migration authorities told us, their role in this transnational story of movement, violence, and displacement is “purely administrative”, as a 2012 migration law in Mexico reinforces a reformed, and more humanitarian, discourse about migrants –no longer referred to by immigration officials here as “illegal” but as “extranjeros sin documentos” or “personas no documentadas”, the officials’ role is not to “deport” but to “return”, and they assert that this is a “humanitarian gesture”, given that the most dangerous part of the journey lies in the deserts ahead, sending people back, via plane and consulate intervention, to their home countries may indeed be a life-saving act. Or is the humanitarian response that of the local Caritas group, which offers showers, a clean bed, a change of clothes, and a warm meal before migrants travel onwards towards their dreams/illusions of a better life?


campus violence

This term, I am struck by the high levels of violence on university campuses. This weekend’s incident at UCSB is of course troubling and tragic. Other recent incidents of rape and sexual violence at UO, and the UO Office of the President’s inept and inadequate response, are also troubling instances of a university administration unable to move beyond tired tropes of “procedure” and “policy”, and unwilling to face the potential political and financial fallout of standing up to the Athletics Establishment. At UO in the past month since the rape involving three basketball players and a botched Eugene Police Department response (that included making the incident/crime report publicly available on the web, which inappropriately included the name of the victim and details of the incident still under investigation), students have reacted with a range of responses, including: stigma and rejection, trauma and re-living their own past experiences of sexual violence, and anger and organizing to pressure the campus Administration for change. (All topics I’m discussing in my small seminar class this term, allowing a space for students to process this incident and its aftermath.) Student pressure has culminated in a list of demands made on the Administration, including: asking for an overhaul of EPD and campus police response to incidents of rape and sexual assault, increased funding for support services for sexual violence survivors on campus, and a required general education course covering sexual violence-related topics. These are strong and explicit demands that make particular sense during a political moment when the Obama Administration is advancing a campaign to address sexual violence and rape on college campuses nation-wide (estimates are that 1:4 college women will experience sexual violence) and yet the UO higher-ups have thus far failed to act. Shameful. 

I don’t yet know the details of the UCSB case of this weekend, but news coverage of the violence there is troubling as well. For one, it seems the perpetrator was receiving counseling and other forms of mental health services, and his “mental instability” is used almost as justification for violence – perpetuating stereotypes equating mental illness with violence and sidelining issues of gun laws and accessibility to firearms that make deadly violence possible. In addition, it seems the attacker was targeting women specifically (a sorority was one of his targets and two women standing outside among his victims), implying deep-seated links between misogyny and violence that reflect the larger cultural problem of sexual violence on university campuses and beyond.  


on embodied stress among academics…

Recently, I’ve been involved in a search for a department head in an academic unit with which I’m affiliated. In talking with other, more senior, faculty who have known and worked with the outgoing Head for a good number of years, it has become apparent that he will be impossible to replace. So much of the functioning of the unit depended on his volunteer labor, something we in academia are not unfamiliar with (in our promotion reviews, it’s called “service”, and, while spoken of as a reflection of one’s commitment to the university, it counts for very little in terms of achieving tenure, which is a decision – at my large, public university at least – based almost entirely on one’s research profile.)  What has been interesting for me to contemplate is the reason almost unanimously given among my colleagues for the outgoing Head’s success: “He sleeps only five hours a night”.  Indeed, I’ve had my own conversations with said Head (a senior male tenured Professor in his late 50s or early 60s) in which he boasts proudly of arriving to work at 7:00am and staying until 7:00pm every day. I’ve had a good share of my own twelve hour days in the past year and a half as an Assistant Professor (whether in the office, or with the work I take home and do late at night on my couch), and this may be part in parcel of the professional world of A) junior professorship and/or B) late neoliberal global capitalist order in which we find ourselves caught up at this moment in history. Not just in academia, but in so many (all?) professions at this historical moment, it seems to me we gain credibility through our suffering. To wit: “I’m so busy” is a ubiquitous greeting, so much so that it’s nearly lost it’s meaning. Who is not busy, I wonder, when faced with this claim uttered by everyone I run into on campus on a given day? “I’m so stressed”. “I’m over-committed”. “I have so much work to do”. Who doesn’t feel stressed to their limits most of their work week?  The thing is, in academia, it seems to me that these complaints are doing some additional work that seems like lending a veneer of credibility to our work, or should I say, a sheen of legitimacy to ourselves and our own stressed-out existences. Not sleeping and sacrificing one’s personal wellbeing are monikers of someone who is focused, dedicated to their career, ultimately worthy of the one-day-to be-granted title “Professor”.


As another example, I remember a faculty meeting (this time in a different academic unit from the one mentioned above) last year in which the Department Head missed a few agenda items in her facilitation of the meeting. When she realized this, she reflexively uttered the following as an excuse: “I’m sorry, it’s that I only slept five hours last night”. Immediately after this phrase was put out onto the table, another tenured female faculty member said, “Oh, that’s good; I only slept three hours last night”. What was this about? I thought. Some sort of race-to-the-most-stressed-out bottom?  A competition to see who had slept the least? This is crazy! It’s as if we don’t have legitimacy in academia unless we (and our minds and bodies) suffer. Just think what would happen if we walked around responding to the question, “How are you?” with something like: “Great! I had a solid eight-hour sleep, I made myself a healthy breakfast, had a good workout, got into the office at 9:30am and now I’m enjoying doing some writing before I teach this afternoon and then leave at 5:00pm [in my ideal work day, there is no lunch “break” because I’d rather get done and get out sooner – most of us eat at our desks through lunch anyway] to head home to spend the evening on a nature walk with a friend/sharing dinner with my family/doing community service at my child’s school/volunteering at the nursing home/animal shelter”. Can you imagine faculty talking to one another like that? That wouldn’t be an academic institution of repute at all, now, would it?!


My thought here is that we are all upholding the inequities- historically patterned by gender, class, color- in the university by engaging in this sort of self-sacrificial competition. Traditionally, academic labor was done by white men, who counted and depended on the reproductive labor of their wives/ female partners at home, (maybe also the sexual services of female graduate students, but that’s a rant for another time), the child rearing labor of paid servants/domestic workers (often immigrants and people of color), and low-wage service workers providing everything from lawn care, dry cleaning, laundry, restaurants, and car-washing services. The Department Head who spends 12-plus hours at the office and only 5 hours asleep certainly had some help at home raising his two children (now adults) all those years pre- and post-tenure, right? How could such schedules have been maintained without the unpaid reproductive labor of women and lower-status men? Who would have done his laundry, cooked his food, cleaned his house all those long hours while he was at the office?


If anything, I hope to reflect on the way we all, through our idioms of distress (“I’m so stressed/busy/sleepless”), support and uphold contemporary inequities in labor and power through our own exploitation. If we women who find ourselves occupying academic jobs now continue to perpetuate this race of self-sacrificial behavior, are we not just embodying our own exploitation (and that of our colleagues) with our constant refrains of “I’m so stressed… I haven’t slept all week… I don’t have time for exercise/meditation/yoga/dog walks/children/community work/sex/relationships/church/community/sports/writing groups/volunteer work/knitting/cooking”?!? I know that I may sound Pollyannaish in even putting this discussion out there, that I should be grateful for my tenure-track job in a social context of un- and under-employed PhDs, etc. But my argument might have implications for the job market as well: if we all did a little less self-sacrificial work, respecting our limits, the 8-hour work day, weekends, and holidays, would not institutions eventually need to hire more people to do the work that so many of us do essentially for “free” under the current regime of compete-to-see-who-works-the-hardest?


Chavez & Nicaragua

Chavez & Nicaragua

two weeks ago, I was in Managua and had the opportunity to see the transformation made to the city since the passing of Hugo Chavez Frias. President Ortega’s wife, Rosario Murillo (aka “Chaya”), used the opportunity to install steel “trees of life” (arboles de la vida) along Managua’s major boulevards and rotundas (the yellow trees you see in the picture behind Chavez’ image). In July, the memorial pictured here was inaugurated, with many dignitaries in attendance. Seeing the new monuments in Managua, I was reminded not just of the political alliance Chavez formed with Ortega’s rebranded FSLN in contemporary Nicaragua, but also of the symbolic importance of Chavez to los pueblos latinoamericanos – to the Latin American people. In Nicaragua, Chavez is symbolic of ideals of social justice, anti-imperialism, and national sovereignty, values with deep historical resonance and that will endure as Nicaragua continues forging its own development path in the future.


The arbitrary nature of asylum in the U.S.

Today’s NY Times ran an interesting story about a local official in South-Central Mexico who is writing letters attempting to document and legitimize migrants’ claims of persecution and violence so that they may seek asylum in the United States. The article alludes to the arbitrary nature of the asylum determination process in the U.S., in which the same claims or cases within families may be decided differently by immigration officials, resulting in return/deportation/separation/and further uncertainty for migrants and their family members. This discussion further highlights how the legal/political distinctions between “migrants” and “refugees” (the former category of people viewed as moving of their own accord in search of economic opportunity and the latter category reserved for those viewed as forcibly displaced due to political persecution and violence) fail to encapsulate the complexities of contemporary human displacement across national borders. (This, by the way, is an argument that several colleagues and I are making in a proposed special issue of the journal International Migration…)


no U.S. war in Syria

It’s as though recent history is repeating itself, with no broader historical perspective. It’s like the justification for war in Iraq in 2002-03 all over again and once again U.S. imperialism seems boundless and its power un-checked. 

Might be worth a moment to call your elected reps in Washington, and to take your message to streets, coffee shops, newspapers, etc. if you can. A good website for quick review of talking points is:
The U.S. should not lead any military strikes in Syria and should only be a part of multilateral, diplomatic, efforts to end the violence there. It was not that long ago that the U.S. and its allies were supplying the Assad regime with the very agents needed to develop these chemical weapons that now seem so atrocious to us that they justify military intervention. The ironies of imperialism are all over the mainstream media, it’s just too much to take

back to school

Most major universities and public schools came back into session for Fall term this week. At the BUAP Escuela de Medicina,  students are back from vacation and the halls buzz with anticipation as they arrange schedules and meet new professors for their classes in endocrinology, psychiatry, public health, nursing, and other specialties. Unlike in the U.S., medical school students here have a standard uniform: white pants, white shoes, and long lab coat-like white jackets. Embroidered patches on coat sleeves indicate the student’s speciality or course of training. Students at the BUAP Medical School come from surrounding Puebla communities, but also from states near and far: Veracruz, Estado de México, Morelos, among others. Their excitement is somewhat infectious, and though I would like more time here to work on my research and writing projects, it’s time to head back to Eugene for our return to Fall quarter classes. This is our MHIRT trainees’ last week and my last week in Puebla.