rosaura sánchez, “ethnicity, ideology, and academia”

excerpts from rosaura sánchez, “ethnicity, ideology, and academia” in the american review 15.1 (1987); cited from the version included in the chicana/o cultural studies reader, ed. angie chabram-dernersesian (2006)

the “cancer cluster” elevator in the literature building at the university of california, san diego. there are at least 17 known cases of breast cancer and other type of cancer diagnosis found among women who worked in the building as students, staff, and faculty from 1991-2010—the majority are women of color. after a protest organized by the literature department community in 2009, the university finally decided to “remodel” the elevator. since then more cases of breast cancer have been found, including professor rosemary marangoly george, a south asian feminist scholar, who passed away in 2013.

“For some of us [ethnic studies] suggested a counter discourse, outside the dominant cultural practices, yet ironically within the very structure of an ideological apparatus of the state, the university. The question is whether one can in fact ever represent a counter project while being funded, housed, and incorporated within the system. Once within the academic establishment could ethnic studies ever reflect a discourse other than the dominant one? Are we perhaps mouthing the same dominant discourse that we ought to be struggling against? Perhaps our discourse was totally co-opted and absorbed into the system. Or perhaps we always had the same discourse; perhaps we saw only national or racial boundaries and fell for the myth of an egalitarian pluralism.” (383)

“In general, new academic programs arise out of particular interests in a specific body of knowledge. For example, there is now an interest in what could be called studies of the Pacific Basin. These studies arise in response to US interests in controlling access to particular raw materials, labor pools, and markets. These same interests, as well as political changes in Latin America, have led to the institution of US-Mexico policy studies at various University of California campuses and at other universities in the Southwest. It is evident then that state interest in gathering information calls for the establishment of academic programs that can oversee a systemic and complex collection of data as well as interpret it for decision makers in this society. The role of the universities in various facets of military and nuclear research as well as research for the benefit of private enterprise, like, for example, agribusiness, is of course well known.” (384-85)

“New academic programs such as ethnic studies and women’s studies arose not out of state interest in a body of knowledge but out of interest in ensuring campus order and security. At most these programs were targeted for eventual absorption by mainstream academic departments.” (385)

“Thus these ethnic studies programs were instituted at a moment when the university had to speak a particular language to quell student protests and to ensure that university research and business could be conducted as usual. The university was able to create and integrate these programs administratively under its umbrella, allowing on the one hand for a potential firecracker to defuse itself and, on the other, moving on to prepare the ground for a future assimilation of the few surviving faculty into existing departments.” (385-86)

“In the end, minority faculty also internalize the dominant ideological discourse, unable to escape the training nor avoid the strategies they themselves absorbed at the university.” (386)

“The discourse of ethnic power, opportunity, and pluralism led to an unrealistic assessment of the extent of struggles possible at the institutional level and masked our incapacity to avoid serving privilege and class domination within academia. In the end our counter discourses have been co-opted, silenced, or ignored by mainstream discourse.” (386)


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