I am an assistant professor of Chicano studies. I began teaching here three years ago. I love my job. I love teaching, meeting with and advising students, discussing controversial issues, serving on university committees, being an “engaged member” of the campus community and doing research. I can’t think of doing anything else or being anyplace but UCSB. I’m hooked and plan to be here for a while, teaching, writing, mentoring students, reading, making trouble and raising hell.
One of the best things about this “job” is that it gives me almost total freedom to do whatever I please – inside and outside the classroom. I’m a free actor. I value and cherish this degree of freedom (although I’m not completely na•ve and thus realize that the university has its own set of power relations and mechanisms of control). We all know that university professors didn’t always enjoy this level of academic freedom. In the 1950s, during the dark days of McCarthyism and the Red Scare, radical, leftist and progressive scholars – brave women and men who struggled for peace, justice and equality – were sometimes attacked and even fired for freely expressing their intellectual and political viewpoints. Thankfully, because of the social justice movements in the 1960s, professors of all political stripes gained greater autonomy and independence to do as they pleased, without control or interference from the Powers That Be.
This was, and continues to be, a major victory for those fighting for social justice, but there are some folks out there, who ironically say that they favor “freedom,” that they would like to limit and censor the free speech rights of some professors today – in 2001.
This “new” offensive/backlash (which really isn’t all that new) is unfortunate, although understandable. I say “understandable” because the way that I view the world challenges those folks that don’t want to be challenged. They are apparently content with the status quo, with 1 percent of the U.S. population owning 40 percent of our nation’s wealth, with 40 million Americans without health insurance, with 1.3 billion people across the world living on less than one dollar per day, with 24,000 people dying in the world every day from hunger. I’m not content with this reality – who could be?
This stark reality leads me to view the world from a “critical” or “radical” perspective. This means that I try to teach my students (as well as myself) to not only critically think about racism, sweatshops, human rights abuses, U.S.-funded dictatorships in Central and South America, poverty, homelessness, racial profiling and the prison-industrial complex, but to get them involved in campaigns and organizations to eliminate these and all forms of oppression and inequality. In other words, I believe that we should not only interpret the world, but work toward changing it as well.
This method of teaching, which brings together academia and activism, and this way of looking at the world, scares some folks. I don’t know why. What’s so scary about fighting for diversity, food, human rights, housing, healthcare, clean air and drinking water laws, democracy, freedom, equality, liberty and justice? That’s what I’m fighting for. I firmly believe that these are things that everyone should be fighting for – a world without misery, hunger, homelessness, environmental degradation and all forms of exploitation.
I’m proud, thrilled and honored to know dozens of students and social justice activists like Eneri Rodriguez, Ana Rizo, Nick Centino, Oscar Fierros, Melissa Fainman, Shana Singh and countless others (big shout out here to all of you!) from classes, reading groups and campus organizations (e.g. Campus Labor Action Coalition, El Congreso, Student Action Coalition, etc.) who are the “frontlines,” fighting for social change with passion, fire and commitment. To use one of their favorite expressions, they’re simply “amazing,” working 24-7 for peace and justice. They’re the true freedom fighters. Not Oliver North. Not Ronald Reagan. Not Ward Connerly.
The students and social justice activists that I know are humble people. Like them, I want a peaceful, just and sustainable world. This isn’t a scary thing to fight for – it’s simply the right thing to do. I’m not afraid. I’m not backing down. Not one inch. So you can attack and slander me, but I’m not going anywhere. I respect and will defend your right to say whatever you please, but I respectfully and forcefully disagree with your unsubstantiated allegations.
I have not and will never abuse my power as a professor. I love what I do too much to ever do this. I love teaching and being on the “frontlines” and I can only hope that you’ll join us one day. There’s always hope.
Your letters showed your colors; I hope that this one showed mine. Peace.
Ralph Armbruster-Sandoval is an assistant professor in the Chicano Studies Dept.