Have you read the public mission of the University of California? You should. It is an inspiring missive about our responsibility to California residents to teach, research and provide public service. All three of those responsibilities are being met Jan. 18 and 20 at two teach-ins open to all at UC Santa Cruz, as well as to the wider Santa Cruz community.
The teach-ins are a direct response to the presidential election; they seek to educate, provoke debate, and empower students and the broader community to better understand the uncharted terrain of the current political moment. The fear-mongering, racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, and misogyny unleashed during the 2016 election cycle produced incredible “teachable moments,” a phrase educators use when our students can understand course content on a deep and transformative level — from the normalization of bullying to the denial of climate change, from racism and misogyny to entitlement and nepotism, from bringing to light brewing economic anxieties to taking political advantage of those vulnerabilities, from attacks on the media to the historic significance of the first female candidate on the ticket of a major political party.
The outcome of the presidential election is a challenge to UC educators. Rather than feeling defeated about the dark moment ushered in by Trump’s inauguration, we and other members of the UCSC community are now renewing our commitment to UC’s mission in partnership with the town of Santa Cruz and the Bay Area. As educators, our dedication to equality and justice is unwavering. Our responsibility to equip students with critical-thinking skills to make sense of what’s happening in the country and the world has been heightened. On Jan. 18 and 20, we stand with UCSC students and with all Santa Cruz residents to teach, organize and resist efforts that veer us off a path toward inclusion, equality and justice. Our goals as educators participating in and organizing these teach-ins are to help students and community members appreciate the importance of research, understand the role of evidence in making arguments, interpret the news critically, and reckon with the consequences of foreign interference in our election process.
Would the energy for these teach-ins and those taking place in colleges and universities throughout the country have been organized if Hillary Clinton had won? Unlikely. The silver lining in this uncertain moment is the enthusiasm of students, community members, faculty and staff to act in solidarity with those who have felt their safety at risk in this toxic political climate. Starting on Jan. 18, Santa Cruz will be part of a national dialogue on how to galvanize our energies from disillusionment toward progressive social action.
Fulfilling the UC mission has a new urgency today because public education is being threatened just as the demographics of the UC student population are beginning to closely reflect that of California. UCSC is a Hispanic-serving institution (30 percent of the student body is of Latino heritage); in our departments, Sociology and Latin American and Latino Studies, the percentage of students of color is over 50 percent and 84 percent, respectively. This election disproportionately targeted our students, their histories, and their families, while a Trump administration threatens to gut public education further (in a system already transformed by massive budget cuts that began in 2008). Attacks on our students are attacks on California.
These teach-ins are more than just a response to Trump’s victory; they are also part of the fight for the integrity of public education for our students, who are the new faces in the UC system and our state.