A recent tweet sent out by the UC Santa Barbara Department of Geography that was co-authored by department Chair Stuart Sweeney stated, “If there is anything we can do, please let us know.”
Yes, Sweeney, there is plenty you can do. First of all, we need you to shut up and listen.
You are the 12th white male to serve as chair of the UCSB geography department in a long history of white males. There has never been a person of color leading this department, and there has never been a woman in the space of that chair.
And it shows. It shows in the patriarchal culture the department embodies and perpetuates. It shows in the bankrupt values and ideologies the department institutionalizes and advocates. It shows in the department’s silencing and absencing of anything and anyone who questions or challenges its faulty and racist foundations and structure. It shows in the department’s legacy and habit of narrow white ways of knowing, thinking, acting and being. This is so apparent to us, because we have lived it. We have been laughed at for raising questions of difference. We have been told by you we do not belong.
It thus is not so surprising to us that your hollow letter of concern to the geography community glosses over the death of George Floyd in such passing as to be completely tone deaf, at best, and purposely dog-whistling at worst. Floyd’s murder is not even the intention or attention of your sentence or concern. You say, “We realize these are indeed troubling times on many fronts,” and you associate what is troubling with the events that followed his killing.
It would be amusing to note, if not for the direness of this reality you contribute to, that your reference to the vile and unjust public execution of Floyd is myopically entangled within your seemingly indelible white privilege: how faculty must “grapple” with having to work from home. Is that really the reach of your concern? Is that really the best that you can do?
Apparently, it is.
The event of Floyd’s murder deserves explicit recognition, direct condemnation and corrective actions. As do the murders of Breonna Taylor, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Ahmaud Arbery, Stephon Clark and so many other Black people at the hands of those who are supposedly there to serve and protect. Does this trouble you? Or, do the “many fronts” of concern you mention express the vocal and visible challenges now being presented to the white hegemony the department has for so long promulgated and promoted?
You and every UCSB chair of geography before you have led a department that has policed the gates of opportunity and kept them away from Black, Brown and Indigenous scholars. You and every chair of the department before you have, on several occasions, presided over a faculty that has turned down exceptional Black and Brown hires, including an African-American woman, a woman of African origin and a Nepalese woman, only to hire more white faculty. You and every chair before you have embodied a department that has done nothing to level the playing field with your privilege. The word “diversity” is spoken at faculty meetings as a token nod to progressive values, but you do nothing to make the department more welcoming to and inclusive of non-white students and potential Black, Brown and Indigenous faculty.
You know what we DON’T need: more diversity seminars, webinars, colloquiums and forums that you can check off your to-do list. We DON’T need Black and Brown students and faculty to shoulder the burden of changing a system that claims “freedom of thought” but ends up keeping that platform for white voices, values and modes of geographical thought, methodologies, scholarship and activism.
You and every UCSB chair of geography before you have led a department that has policed the gates of opportunity and kept them away from Black, Brown and Indigenous scholars.
For a discipline that literally has the world as its focus, your myopic views and behaviors are an embarrassment and a failure. You uphold the racist and colonial legacy of geography by not confronting this very real history of the discipline, and you advocate and perpetuate these racist and colonial tendencies today.
If this truly brings you discomfort, if there is a modicum of sincerity in your message, you may then be asking: what CAN I do? The answer is: begin to change the entire structure of your department from within to work for corrective justice inside and outside your halls of privilege.
Start teaching about the racist and colonial history of the very discipline you purport to represent. Step outside your comfort zones of white privilege and incorporate into all classes geographical issues of race and racism, privilege and marginalization, gender and identity, and resource destruction and exploitation. Actively recruit Black scholars and other scholars of color. Actively work with, take direction from, and cite and publish with Black, Brown and Indigenous scholars. Actively examine the biases in your own work, in your own choices, and in your own institutions and power structures. And explicitly recognize and vocalize that electing a faculty of color as chair is far overdue. Actively work to change and correct this. And for the sake of all and any gods, educate yourself.
All of this is what you can do. And if there is any grain of sincerity in the department’s message, all of these steps must begin to be taken NOW. Recalling the words of Dr. King:
“I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress.”
So, yes, these are indeed troubling times. Especially when your thoughts, given in abstract sympathy and for dubious ends, only serve to re-traumatize and build dams against a student body that has faced discrimination from your department since day one.
When your brief, ambiguous message presents and represents the full extent that this department is willing to go to in order to acknowledge what is happening outside the ivory tower, and we mean ivory, the only purpose it serves is to give comfort and satisfaction to those already enjoying the white privilege and power that tower provides.
Whatever your next actions are as a chair and as a department — and make no mistake, silence and upholding the white status quo is action — will be revealing of the sincerity or insincerity of your message to us, marginalized members of the UCSB geography community.
Graduates of the UCSB geography community
This article was published anonymously at the request of the authors due to fear of retaliation.
Which graduates of the department? How many people signed on for this? If this is something real and you feel strongly why not attach your names to this be open and transparent? A lot of vague attacks but really critiquing them for not hiring specifically in 3 cases no real examples of anything. If there were any amount of people behind this not just a few they would have signed names in stead of using a name that sounds all encompassing and inclusive of all students view when I would bet they represent a very small portion of the graduates… Read more »
Graduates and grad students depend on their relationships with the faculty for their professional careers. In this case, I don’t think its reasonable to expect them to attach their names. Instead of (what appears to me to be) trying to discredit the authors, perhaps you could pose a follow-up question in the comments, signaling that you are listening and want to learn more?
Fine ill ask a question what real concrete examples do you have other than 3 people that you say were qualified and not hired? (You don’t compare qualifications of the applicants just argue that the POC should be hired instead of white people bc that would be inherently right.) All the complaints are vague feelings but not substantive arguments please back up your letter with concrete examples.
Why don’t you post your full name and department affiliation if you’re going to lob these criticisms? Prove your house isn’t glass if you’re going to throw stones?
I don’t claim to speak for a group of people. Just one voice however the authors have represented themselves as every graduate of the school when many don’t feel that way. It is fair to ask them to define the group that they actually stand for. You think it is criticism to ask for more concrete examples not made of feelings? Why do you have absolutely no interest in impact and real ways that this may impact the department?
It is sad that you can see no distinctions and show no intellectual curiosity.
I agree, what graduates? As an alumni of UCSB geography, I did not sign, see nor participate in this letter. Possible prewritten agenda from an outside source rather than actual input from all UCSB geography/grad students?
Nah, a lot of people I know feel this way. The department needs to step up and take concrete actions rather than just paying lip service to the idea of diversity.
Be honest, Is the irony not lost on you that you also fail reveal your identity, be honest?
No I’m not claiming to speak for a group of people nor making demands. If it was from a graduate of 15 graduates I would have had no problem but the group represents itself as speaking for all graduates.
As a graduate of the Geography department, I would not have signed onto this letter if asked (which I wasn’t). I agree with about 2/3 of the content and none of the tone. I wish that the reasonable ideas in here weren’t presented like a tumblr rant and that the unreasonable ideas were omitted, because it seems like the goal was to convince people who already agree with the authors rather than to convince the department.
As a graduate of the geography department I want to thank the authors of this letter. It’s hard to disagree that it’s an almost entirely white department, with syllabi filled with white authors. Most of these are white males. I would love to see more Black and brown faculty in the future. Instead of trying to discredit the authors, maybe just agreeing that things need to change?
I’m another graduate from this department and I second this opinion. The department needs to take meaningful actions to change this (like hiring Black and brown people that 2019 Grad mentioned and also recruiting and supporting Black and brown graduate and undergraduate students!)
I graduated from this department several years ago and I totally agree with this article. I am a woman of color, and I found that the dominant culture within the ucsb geog department is that of white patriarchy, one that was rarely challenged. There was little room or acceptance for research interests in non-white spaces or points-of-view. Geography’s history, much like anthropology’s, is rooted in colonialism, and yet there was hardly any acknowledgement of the historical biases which continue to pervade in the department. I continued my studies in other geog departments that have done a much better job of… Read more »
I agree with the concerns raised by the authors and appreciate their willingness to publicly express these long overdue critiques of the UCSB Geography Department. I’m sure there are other departments at UCSB and many other academic institutions in the U.S. that are also using this time to take a hard look at themselves and explore in collaboration with faculty, students, staff, and alumni constructive ways that they can materially improve on racial and gender equality issues. UCSB Geography should not be immune to this just because it’s inconvenient or the tone of the article is shocking, but should rather… Read more »
What a load of bs. This article misdescribed the tweet. So apparently it’s authors may be illiterate to some extent, possibly related to their experience of professional shortcoming. The staff and faculty are and have been part of the solution. This article is wrong and it is defamatory – thus the anonymity.
Whoa whoa hold up. The attacks in this article are so out of line. Condemning a bunch of nice people who are devoted to lifting up and promoting women and people of color? Wow. Gross. I really enjoyed my time in the department and always found people to be incredibly supportive. Just a totally reprehensible attack and I sincerely don’t want to share a college campus with them. Bye, Felicia.
The campus should do more but this seems really personal. Almost like someone is holding a grudge or something. I’m part Mexican and I don’t really see this as fair at all…
Marginalized because you suck?
This letter is legit. I’m a white guy and yet it speaks to my own disenchantment with the department. They need to step it up. And some of you need to reflect deeply on why you’re trying to invalidate alums who wrote this letter instead of focusing on the core issues.
I’ve interacted with Prof. Stuart Sweeney a lot and have found him to be one of the most fair, open-minded, caring and considerate people that I’ve met inside of academia (and outside as well, for that matter). He’s consistently taken on graduate students (of different races/ethnicities/sexes/genders) that were struggling in the department and helped them to achieve their goals and he also spends a lot of time with young faculty. In his tenure as chair, he’s worked very hard to create structure in the department to make it a better place for everyone. I’m sure that Dr. Sweeney has made… Read more »
Really terrible article. Doesn’t make much of a case for anything. Says they’re white males (they are and the depar tment could do better, yes). But all of the other stuff about white supremeentcy and comparison to Nazism I mean really??? If these folks applications are this bad why would any for them expect to be successful? Hey “geography grass” – you can’t write well.
Agree with others. This looks like Republican
Lol this is fake
Come out and identify yourself coward.
As a former graduate student from another geography department and a current faculty member of yet another geography department, and a non-white (but also non-diverse person according to most policies), I would like to say something to those who are unhappy with the fact the article is anonymous. These people don’t really understand what it is like to be non-white. There are things that white people think are rights are actually privileges. Putting your name up there is one of them. You don’t understand the fear of the consequences of exposing your name to the world. You don’t really understand… Read more »
The problem is not really that they are anonymous but that they represent themselves as speaking for all graduates of the department when many in the department do not agree and did not sign it. Nor were they give opportunity to read or revise it or have any input on it. Instead a few anonymous people decided to claim to speak for everyone. That is the problem. Your phrasing makes it seem like you believe that only white people could disagree (which isn’t true)or request some definition to a group that claims to speak for all but silences and removes… Read more »
This unwarranted and vicious attack, by the anonymous article author, disgusts me. Be assured, this 1990 grad will never again answer the call for funds. When I get the next phone call asking for a gift, I will hang up. I have sent a link to my roommate from UCSB, as well as 4 friends from undergrad and have urged them to do the same.
I support the authors of this piece. I came from SDSU where critical geography and issues of race, racism, marginalization, colonialism, etc. were central discussions in our first required course on theory in Geography. I found myself in the UCSB department for a year and that critical education halted completely. One could certainly say that UCSB’s department is more “physical” or “quantitative” as opposed to more “human” and “critical” like the department at SDSU, but I agree with the author that this represents far more than a difference in interests (but perhaps it takes a critical education to recognize that).… Read more »
I look at this department’s faculty and it actually looks pretty diverse to me. The original email from the dept chair seems reasonable and empathetic — the right sort of note for a dept chair to strike during this summer. The evidence that this faculty has “policed the gates to keep out black, brown and indigenous scholars” is not presented.
I’m also part of SDSU’s joint program. I’m Armenian/Middle Eastern and a human geographer studying marginalized Roma. In my experience, UCSB’s geography community – including dept chair, faculty, staff and grad students – was incredibly welcoming; I wish I had spent more time there.
Anyone who would agree to be chair in this toxic climate is basically a saint.
During my time in the Department, I never expected special treatment due to my minority status, but I did expect respectful treatment. Dr. Rick Church, often made diminishing quips about “third-world” circumstances or people, whether that be myself or the population I was researching. Dr. Montello made me repeatedly uncomfortable with his less than subtle sexual innuendos (he would also hold inappropriate parties in his hotel room during conferences), and Dr. Dar Roberts repeatedly ignored me even though I was physically present in his office during office hours. Even Dr. Sweeney tried to “buy” my attention by offering me non-academic… Read more »