Archive for the ‘activism’ Category

student protest photos at maryland-college park

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Last week, I was visiting the University of Marlyand to meet with the current Contexts editors, Syed Ali and Phillip Cohen, and my editorial partner, Rashawn Ray. While I was taking a stroll with Syed, I saw a student protest. Over the weekend, a noose was found at a fraternity house and it triggered a backlash. I took these photos of the students who were arguing with administrators.  The photo series begins with me being across the street, then moving into the crowd, then the administrator and the administration’s photographer and a final shot of the students.


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Written by fabiorojas

May 19, 2017 at 3:22 am

the ironic cowardice of hypatia’s editorial board

A few decades ago, the scholarly and scientific study of gender was considered taboo. But, starting in the 1970s, various movements popped up in academia to change the situation. In philosophy, one outcome of this movement was the journal Hypatia, which was established in the mid-1980s to provide a place for academic philosophers to discuss philosophical issues arising from feminist perspectives.

As many of you know, Hypatia is currently enmeshed in a controversy. Rebecca Tuvel, of Rhodes College, published an article asking if the arguments made in favor of transgenderism could be applied to race. This argument may be right, or it may wrong. In any case, it is certainly a valid philosophical question. If you read through the article, it appears to be a rather conventional article.

But a lot of people didn’t see it that way.  Not surprisingly, there was an online petition asking that the paper be retracted. And of course, a lot of people noted that the complaints often bore little relation to the article. The surprising part was the response of some editorial board members. They actually apologized to the online mob! From Hypatia’s Facebook site:

We, the members of Hypatia’s Board of Associate Editors, extend our profound apology to our friends and colleagues in feminist philosophy, especially transfeminists, queer feminists, and feminists of color, for the harms that the publication of the article on transracialism has caused.

Spineless.  What harms? Read through it to see the slings and arrows of outrageous scholarship that Professor Tuvel threw upon her colleagues: “…descriptions of trans lives that perpetuate harmful assumptions and (not coincidentally) ignore important scholarship by trans philosophers” and “the use of methodologies which take up important social and political phenomena in dehistoricized and decontextualized ways.” In a journal that values free speech, the response would be a simple, “thank you for the feedback, please submit all replies and rebuttals to our managing editor.”

Here’s the ironic part. Hypatia of Alexandria was a prominent mathematician and philosopher of late antiquity who was killed  during a wave of political unrest by a lynch mob led by a religious zealot. Her death was horrible:

A mob of Christians gathered, led by a reader (i.e., a minor cleric) named Peter, whom Scholasticus calls a fanatic. They kidnapped Hypatia on her way home and took her to the “Church called Caesareum. They then completely stripped her, and then murdered her with tiles.” Socrates Scholasticus was interpreted as saying that, while she was still alive, Hypatia’s flesh was torn off ὀστράκοις, which literally means “with or by oyster shells, potsherds or roof tiles.”

Well, I’ll give the editors of Hypatia this much credit. They may lack in courage, but they compensate with truth in advertising.

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Written by fabiorojas

May 5, 2017 at 12:03 am

college campus outrage as fundraising tactic

It might be a controversial campus speaker, or an affirmative action BBQ. You see a lot stunts by conservative campus groups these days. Amy Binder has an interesting take in the Washington Post. These controversial tactics are stunts paid for by outsiders to stir controversy so that their cause gets attention and donations:

YAF (Young Americans for Freedom) fuels a provocative style for what one of our interviewees called “Average Joe” college students. Enticed by slogans depicting faculty as “tree-hugging, gun-taking, wealth-hating, and leftist-loving,” students are taught in “boot camps” to fight “persecution” on campus with an “activist mentality,” confronting their liberal peers and professors head-to-head with “aggressive” tactics. Students take up the combative charge by staging showy events like “Affirmative Action Bake Sales” and “Catch an Illegal Alien Day.” This provocative style of right-wing activism is designed to poke fun at liberals, get them angry, protest their events and, when chaos ensues, attract media attention.

Another organization we studied, the Leadership Institute, had $21 million in assets in 2014 and spent nearly $15 million that year supporting conservative students online, on campus, and in their training facilities in Arlington, Va. The organization has trained tens of thousands of college students over the past four decades to enter politics and use advanced technology to get the conservative message out. One former Leadership Institute employee is James O’Keefe, the videographer who produced heavily edited undercover audio and video recordings with workers at ACORN, NPR and Planned Parenthood, all of which went viral years ago on While at the Leadership Institute, O’Keefe traveled to campuses to consult with students on starting clubs and conservative newspapers.

To sum it up, every time the campus left goes on a rant, these groups get paid. While students have the privilege of bringing who they want to campus, and others have an obligation to behave in civil ways, we don’t have to support them. Given that the purpose is not to engage in good faith debate, but to provoke and antagonize, the most effective tactic is silence.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)/Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street 

Written by fabiorojas

May 3, 2017 at 12:21 am

let charles murray speak

On Tuesday evening, Charles Murray will speak at Indiana University. Not surprisingly, his visit has resulted in a bit of discussion on campus. A number of people have immediately wanted to protest the meeting and, like at many campuses, people want “answers.” A lot of my colleagues have acted honorably. While some have jumped to wild conclusions and recommended strong actions, most have done what scholars are supposed to do. They are asking questions, they are discussing the scholarly responses to Murray’s work, and they are organizing their own events.

Here, I want to lay out how I think about campus free speech. Basically, campus free speech is really about the ability of the owners, managers, and employees of an academic institution to discuss whatever they want in a civil environment. There is a lot of trust and tolerance built into this view of free speech. There are no boards that police campus events. There is no party that the campus represents. It is not the Indiana University of Liberals and it is not the Indiana University of Conservatives. It is simply Indiana University. Thus, if a small group of students and faculty obtain their own funding to bring in an outside speaker, so be it.

In this discussion, two important issues are raised and they deserve an answer. First, does permitting Murray to speak somehow legitimize or bring attention to “hate speech?” The answer is clearly no. Lots of ideas are taught and discussed in universities, including hateful ones, but that doesn’t legitimize them. For example, many Western Civilization classes and history classes will read Mein Kampf, in an attempt to understand national socialism and related movements.

Furthermore, it is not clear to me that Murray’s talk would even fit the definition of hate speech, which is that it is speech that “attacks” or “disparages” a minority group. His speech is about his book, Coming Apart. I have not read it, but it appears to be about the differences between working and middle class Whites. It may be right or wrong, but does not appear to be hate speech, as normally understood (“disparaging” or “attacking” remarks about an ethnic group). Finally, it would be unwise for universities to directly police speech. I rue the day that a committee of professors and students directly intervene in invited talks and seminars.

Second, people ask whether it is good or bad that conservative groups sponsor a talk. Once again, I return to the foundation of higher education. A university is not a community of liberals or conservatives. It is a community of scholars. Thus, funding – from any source – is not a problem so long as the funding is consistent with the ideals of independent scholarship. It is totally ok if a group funds scholarship that they like, so long as the student or faculty member is free to come to the conclusion they feel best reflects the evidence.

This is the standard that should be applied to liberal groups, like the Soros Foundation, or conservative groups, like the American Enterprise Institute, which often donate to campuses. In terms of the Murray talk, the faculty who helped organize the talk – some of whom I know personally – have also invited liberals, such as E.J. Dionne, and conservatives, such as a recent talk by Bill Kristol. The Murray talk seems to be consistent with inviting a fairly broad spectrum of commentators, even those who are in the opposite camp.

Finally, let me end with a discussion of the source of Murray’s notoriety. It is not Coming Apart, it is The Bell Curve.  That is the book that most people are alluding to when he is accused of hate speech. In all honesty, it is the only work by Murray I have read in its entirety. I read it in the 1990s to see what all the controversy was about.

It’s a mixed bag in my view. The book’s main goal is to argue that IQ research is not a sham and that it is a variable of importance for studying life outcomes. This is actually a fair point and it is consistent with a lot of sociological practice, but not its rhetoric. For example, how many models of achievement or status control for “academic ability?” Answer: tons. In the mid-20th century, it wasn’t unusual for sociologists to have a regression with IQ in it, such as Blau and Duncan’s The American Occupational Structure. Even today, many surveys will include measurements of cognitive ability. The GSS even has a verbal test in it so the researcher can adjust for IQ.

But The Bell Curve goes farther than that and makes many dodgy claims. For example, it claims that American cities will become segregated by cognitive ability, which may or may not be true. Then, there is the very short section on group differences – including racial differences – in IQ, which should be treated with great caution. But, for me, most people skipped over the most non-sequitur claim in The Bell Curve, which is that cognitive limits should be the basis of public policy (e.g., cutting social support makes sense since it won’t change IQ and thus behavior). This strikes me as bizarre. If low IQ individuals have limited life course chances, shouldn’t they be the first to get help? Even on its own terms, The Bell Curve stretches a lot of evidence and argument to reach the authors conclusions on policy.

The bottom line is that the university should be a place of free speech, even speech that may disgust us. There is a difference between unpopular opinions or distasteful opinions and truly hateful speech. Murray says a lot of things I disagree with (e.g., his recent move to restrict migration, which is a bad policy) but he is not in the realm of the politician who incites people to violence (e.g., see Trump’s infamous “Get ’em out of here!” moment), the student who loses their temper, the student’s who physically attacked and injured a professor at Middlebury College, or the faculty member who directly calls for brute force against journalists.

Let him speak. Show up if you want to, or not. Either is fine.

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Written by fabiorojas

April 11, 2017 at 12:17 am

open borders day 2017


It is my pleasure to announce “Open Borders Day 2017.” This year, we’ll have an event in Chicago at Loyola University. It will be a panel discussion with three speakers:

  • Alex Nowrasteh of the Cato Institute will speak on the economics of migration.
  • Alexandra Filandra of the University of Illinois, Chicago will speak on racism and migration.
  • Fabio Rojas of Indiana University will speak about open borders as an issue that liberals and conservatives should agree on.

The event will be 1:30pm, March 16 at Loyola University in Chicago. Room: 4th floor, Information Commons. Please come by!!!

Also: If you are in San Diego, drop by the panel called “Is immigration a basic human right?” where GMU’s Bryan Caplan will argue for open borders against Christopher Witman of St. Louis University.

Let peaceful people move freely!

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($5 – cheap!!!!)/Theory for the Working Sociologist/From Black Power/Party in the Street 

Written by fabiorojas

March 9, 2017 at 12:58 am

global resistance in the neoliberal university

Those of you who are interested in fending off growing neoliberalism in the university might be interested in the following international  line-up at CUNY’s union, PSC.
You can watch a livestream of the conference via fb starting tonight, Fri., March 3, 6-9pm and Sat., March 4, 9:30am-6pm EST:
…an international conference on Global Resistance in the Neoliberal University organized by the union will be held today and tomorrow, 3/3rd-4th at the PSC, 61 Broadway.  
Scholars, activists and students from Mexico, South Africa, Turkey, Greece, India and the US will lead discussions on perspectives, strategies and tactics of resisting the neoliberal offensive in general, and in the context of the university in particular.
You can visit this site for a link to the conference program:
Due to space constraints, conference registration is now closed. But we’re thrilled by the tremendous interest in the event! You can watch a livestream of the conference here:  If you follow us on our Facebook page, you will receive a notification reminding you to watch.  
We look forward to seeing some of you tonight and to discussing the conference with many of you in the near future. 



Written by katherinechen

March 3, 2017 at 11:29 pm

is the mla about literature anymore?

Phil Magness is at it again. In a recent blog post, he presented the results of a very simple exercise. Go to the Modern Language Association web site, search for the number panels on specific authors (e.g., Shakespeare or Toni Morrison) and compare with the number of panels you find if you search for topics relating to politically controversial topics like climate change. The results? I will quote Phil here:

So…I decided to take a look. The following rough tallies show the number of MLA 2017 sessions that included at least one paper or presentation on an overtly political topic.

  • 22 sessions featured one or more presentations on environmental justice themes (e.g. climate change, ecology, animal rights/extinction, and resource extraction)
  • 15 sessions featured one or more presentations on “globalization”
  • 39 sessions featured one or more presentations on “postcolonialism”
  • 8 sessions featured one or more presentations on adjunct activism or “contingent” academic labor
  • 10 sessions featured one or more presentations invoking “neoliberalism”
  • 3 sessions featured one or more presentations on the politics of boycotting (usually tied to the Israel-Palestine conflict)

Some of this is standard fare, especially in Critical Theory-infected disciplines. But I was also curious how it stacked up against what most people think of as the scholarly domain of English professors, which is to say the standards of the literary canon. For comparison, here are the number of sessions that include at least one paper on a prominent literary figure’s work:

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Written by fabiorojas

January 18, 2017 at 12:01 am