“Meeting the challenge of our UC mission,” Santa Cruz Sentinel

Original Op-Ed Post


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.

“You Deserve Better,” Inside Higher Education

Original Post on Conditionally Accepted Blog

Too many academics of color, and recent Ph.D.s in particular, are getting the misguided advice to accept the initial terms of a job offer, argues Sylvanna Falcón.

Over the past few years, I have started mentoring junior scholars, primarily women of color, about how to negotiate tenure-track job offers. This kind of mentoring came about rather organically, as I do not pitch myself as some kind of expert negotiator. But over time I became increasingly passionate about helping others secure better job offers as it started to align with my politics as a brown, Latina, middle-class, antiracist, feminist sociologist.

I became deeply troubled hearing time and time again that academics of color were advised against negotiating beyond the initial offer, to just be grateful about getting a job. Sometimes that advice is coming from other academics of color! Even though resources exist online about how to negotiate job offers, too many people, and recent Ph.D.s in particular, are getting the misguided advice to accept the initial offer, even in cases when they have competing offers from different institutions.

Increasingly, negotiating an offer is seen as a risk that could end in losing the job altogether or that we are being ungracious — or worse, ungrateful. This shift is particularly salient since the Great Recession of 2008, when the academic job market radically declined. Rather than having a plethora of tenure-track jobs to which to apply, such jobs have become scarce and intensely competitive, and many of us are simply unable or unwilling to live just anywhere in the country.

I remember a time in the early 2000s, when advanced graduate student cohorts in sociology would apply for 50 or more jobs; this job mecca was not my experience at all. I went on the academic job market four times, moving from positions as a lecturer to an assistant professor at a liberal arts college on the East Coast and then to a postdoc and an assistant professorship at a research-1 institution on the West Coast.

I would like to posit that our mind-set when negotiating academic job offers has to shift from being grateful that we have received an offer to knowing that we bring value to an academic institution — even in this new job climate. This shift in mind-set directly undermines the gratitude discourse prevalent at neoliberal universities. Why should we be grateful (and hence indebted) to labor for an institution? After all, we worked hard to earn that Ph.D. and receive that offer — facts we quickly forget when we are repeatedly told that we should be relieved to be offered an academic job at all these days. That is not to deny the very real and good fortune many of us have in landing a tenure-track job when too many Ph.D.s are unemployed, in severe debt and/or living the adjunct life. It is always sobering to hear the latest statistic about only 60 percent of Ph.D.s getting tenuretrack jobs in the social sciences and humanities, yet this new normal should not somehow circumvent our legitimate desire to enter a new job feeling happy and respected.

As academic job seekers enter into the negotiation phase for a tenure-track position, I encourage them to embrace three points.

Understand the value that you bring to the institution and your future department, even if you are a newly minted Ph.D. If you accept the job offer, you plan to work at this particular academic institution for the foreseeable future. The students and your future colleagues are going to benefit from your outlook, energy, research, recent graduate school training and knowledge. You will bring renewed enthusiasm to your teaching and research. They extended the offer to you so your future colleagues see your value. Now you should, too.

The offer is yours to accept … or not. I have yet to hear firsthand of a case where someone asked for an increase in salary and it resulted in the offer getting pulled, but there are stories. You are going to hear “no” a lot in academe (so, develop thick skin now), but in order to even get to that stage, you actually have to ask for something. If the offer is not to your liking, then you can walk away. Yes, you can actually walk away! Why should you accept an offer that has not met your standards and expectations? You have a bargaining position that you need to finesse to your advantage rather than be taken advantage of.

However, you have to be an effective and strategic negotiator, meaning that you request reasonable considerations typical of that particular institutional structure. Asking for things typical of a research-1 job offer at a liberal arts institution is not in your strategic interest. It is in your interest to consult widely — online and with multiple mentors — and to give serious thought to what you need in place to excel at that particular institution.

Do not pre-emptively sabotage yourself by not asking for anything. Ignore the advice and reaction from your mentors or other supporters to just sign the initial offer. I have helped women of color negotiate increases in salaries, research funds and course releases after people they trust told them not to ask for anything. I have literally lost count of how many people of color I have helped to negotiate better packages against the advice of their academic mentors. This help has translated to larger salaries for senior positions (by $20,000), substantial increases in research funds (by $15,000) and modest increases in salaries for assistant professors (ranging from $2,000 to $5,000).

Now, you will not get everything for which you ask; negotiations means compromises. But even I have been stunned at some of the aforementioned successes when people of color get serious about negotiations. That is not because I have some inside secret or deft negotiation skills to pass on, but because, with some close mentoring, people of color began to think concretely about what they needed to thrive. The key, I believe, is that they offered an effective explanation as to why they merited these items. Your salary has a chance to increase if you can provide a clear and compelling rationale for the increase based on the value you bring, not because you have a lot of debt. This same logic applies to your research funds, summer salaries and course releases. If you ask for it, you must be able to explain why you deserve it.

With a tight and scarce job market and the trend toward neoliberalizing universities, people of color — especially women — seem scared, literally, to ask for anything beyond the initial offer. You do not want to start a new job from a place of fear or misplaced gratitude. The content of the job offer sets you on a career trajectory. Change your mind-set about the purpose of job negotiations away from indebtedness to an institution and academe. Nurture an understanding of what you need for your well-being and to thrive professionally.

What Would Bertha Lutz Say? Making Sense of the United Nations Secretary-General Election

Original Post

October 24 is United Nations (UN) Day. In this guest post, Sylvanna Falcón—author of Power Interrupted: Antiracist and Feminist Activism inside the United Nationsweighs in on the recent election of António Guterres to Secretary-General-Designate of the UN.

Struggles over representation, power, and voice occurred during the first United Nations (UN) conference in 1945 where delegates discussed the structure of this new multilateral institution, including the formation of the Security Council and the drafting of the UN Charter. The struggle over representation at the UN is further complicated by geopolitical dynamics in which certain countries of the world are disproportionately empowered at the UN and tend to stifle the voices of those who are less powerfully positioned. Today, these geopolitical dynamics remain reflected in the Security Council, which wielded its formidable influence regarding the recent election of the next Secretary-General—Portugal’s former prime minister, António Guterres—through secret straw polls. With its current configuration of 15 members, including only one woman (US Ambassador Samantha Power), the Security Council forwarded its recommendation to the General Assembly for a full vote that occurred within a matter of days earlier this month.

Bertha Lutz, the Brazilian delegate to the 1945 UN conference, remarked at the time, “The men like to hear themselves very much.” As one of four women to sign the UN Charter (out of 160 signatories), Lutz was a feminist associated with the Brazilian suffragist movement. She became frustrated with the men from the conference, whom she described as amicable but determined to create an international organization in which women would not play any central role. It would be fitting to ask ourselves in Lutz’s honor why “the men like to hear themselves very much” and about the evaluation criteria the Security Council referenced for their endorsement of Guterres.

The representation of women in high level positions at the UN has been too infrequent. The late Dame Margaret Anstee of Britain, who dedicated her life to the UN, reached the highest level appointment ever occupied by a woman in 1987, when she was named Under Secretary-General. Importantly, seven out of thirteen candidates for the UNSG position were women, indicating that at least the applicant pool had some gender balance to it, but it completely lacked any semblance of equity in terms of regional representation (for example, no applicant came from the African region). While that outcome is disappointing, it is not surprising given the UN has been troubled by problems of representation since its founding.

Mr. Guterres is by all accounts an established and respected diplomat. Having formerly served as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, he expressed a commitment to gender equality and gender parity in his vision statement, which I believe is at least promising. He wrote, “The UN must be at the forefront of the global movement towards gender equality, an inalienable and indivisible feature of all human rights and fundamental freedoms.” Perhaps he should look closely at the work of feminist activists who understand that gender equality and parity can only be achieved with a simultaneous commitment to combating global racism.

International Women’s Day Interview by University of Washington Press with Sylvanna M. Falcón

Original Post
March 8 is International Women’s Day (#IWD2016)—a global day celebrating the significant achievements of women and a reminder that urgent action is still needed to accelerate gender parity.

This International Women’s Day, we are taking the opportunity to highlight a new book on transnational feminist and antiracist activism from our Decolonizing Feminisms series. In Power Interrupted: Antiracist and Feminist Activism inside the United Nations, Sylvanna M. Falcón redirects the conversation about UN-based feminist activism to consider gender and race together. As the primary international institution that engages the issue of human rights, the United Nations has sponsored three World Conferences Against Racism (WCARs) and has been immersed in the debate around issues of racism for the past 50 years. The most recent, the 2001 World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance in Durban, South Africa, presented race and gender intersectionally in certain contexts, thanks largely to the concurrent NGO Forum Against Racism, which gave activists, advocates, and concerned citizens a space in which thousands could intensely debate and discuss the ongoing global challenges of racial discrimination.

The goal of antiracist feminists, particularly feminists of color from the United States and Canada and feminists from Mexico and Peru, was to expand the discussion of racism at the UN level, especially because the UN had not explicitly addressed the issue of racism on a global level since the 1983 WCAR.

Using a combination of interviews, participant observation, and extensive archival data, Falcón situates contemporary antiracist feminist organizing from the Americas alongside a critical historical reading of the UN and its agenda against racism. Her analysis of UN antiracism spaces, in particular the 2001 WCAR, considers how an intersectionality approach broadened opportunities for feminist organizing at the global level. The Durban conference gave feminist activists a pivotal opportunity to expand the debate about the ongoing challenges of global racism, which had largely privileged men’s experiences with racial injustice. When including the activist engagements and experiential knowledge of these antiracist feminist communities, the political significance of human rights becomes evident.

We spoke with Falcón about her book, publishing this spring.

Q: What inspired you to get into your field?
Sylvanna M. Falcón: Right after college graduation, I had the opportunity to attend the 1995 UN World Conference on Women in Beijing, China. Meeting feminist activists from all over the world was an inspirational and life-changing experience. I then moved to San Francisco and became associated with a youth-based human rights group and started to work at the Family Violence Prevention Fund (now called Futures Without Violence). Taken together—the Beijing conference and my time in San Francisco—I learned in an applied way about human rights as an organizing framework and method, about the challenges and promise of community organizing, and about the importance of public policy. Sociology as a field gave me both the flexibility and the structure I needed to investigate the questions I wanted to ask as part of graduate study. I also have a doctoral emphasis in Feminist Studies and this interdisciplinary field provided me with the methods, models, and tools to think about scholar-activism.

Q: Why did you want to write Power Interrupted?
SMF: I’ve been so inspired by all the women I’ve met doing human rights work in this region and I felt like their stories had been under-told. Of course other scholars have written about feminist human rights work at the United Nations, but I really wanted to tell the story of transnational feminist activism stemming from the Americas that had an explicit commitment to an antiracist politics. How do activists think about the confluence of patriarchy and racism and then apply this conceptualization of intersectionality in a radical way to ensure an inclusive visibility? How does a feminist approach to antiracism raise suspicion and distrust in other (non-feminist) activists who feel this nuanced approach derails the conversation about racial justice?

Q: What was the biggest challenge involved with bringing this book to life?
SMF: Writing a critical historical analysis of a mega institution to provide the context for contemporary activism was very challenging because I did not want to unintentionally give the institution credit for the activism that emerged in this space. The activism is the most important part of this narrative, yet its emergence did not come forth in a linear manner nor separate from an institutional structure. I refer to this challenge as the “circuitous milieu.”

Q: What was the most interesting thing you learned from putting together Power Interrupted?
SMF: At the first UN conference in 1945, the women representatives from Brazil and the Dominican Republic (Bertha Lutz and Minerva Bernardino, respectively) wholeheartedly embraced a feminist agenda while the US representative (Virginia Gildersleeve) publicly distanced herself from the women’s movement. In fact, a 1945 Washington Post article referred to Gildersleeve, in a positive way, as “no feminist thinker.” This discovery was an important reminder about the value of feminist genealogies to contextualize contemporary realities.

Q: What do you think is the book’s most important contribution?
SMF: A key contribution I make in this book is my assertion that the transnational feminist activism I discuss could only be possible in antiracist spaces. Thus, intersectionality gains traction at the UN as part of its agenda against racism by the mid-1990s following the downfall of South African apartheid and the independence of Namibia.

Q: How did you come up with the title?
SMF: I think the UN is a representation of power that is masculinized, racialized, hierarchical, and domineering and is often viewed institutionally as reflecting a US agenda. What antiracist feminist activists have done here is interrupt this power in such a manner that they also challenged a US agenda at the UN.

Q: What is your next project?
SMF: My next project is focused on transitional justice in Peru and about the challenges of building a human rights culture there. I am Peruvian American and like many children of immigrant parents, I often wonder what my life would have been like if my parents never left Peru. Thanks to my provocative conversations with human rights activists and artists in Peru, I have started to think about how social conflicts become obscured through an assertion of being “post-conflict” and about the importance of collective healing from trauma, which mandates challenging an entrenched culture of indifference to people’s pain and experiences with injustice.

Q: What are you reading right now?
SMF: Outside of the reading I do for my job, I have mostly been reading memoirs. At the moment I’m reading Life in Motion: an Unlikely Ballerina by Misty Copeland and prior to that book I read Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love, and So Much More by Janet Mock. In terms of novels though, I cannot recommend And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hossein high enough. Everyone I tell to read this book thanks me in the end.

Q: What would you have been if not an academic?
SMF: I’m a very organized person so maybe a party planner or a professional photographer since I love photos.

Skip to toolbar