- Feminist CurrentsDecolonial Responses to the Neoliberalization of the University
For this installment of “Feminist Currents,” we took our questions to the annual meeting of the National Women’s Studies Association (NWSA) in Montreal, November 10–13, 2016. We earlier had asked readers of this journal to discuss the effects of today’s neoliberal political economy on programs and departments in Women’s, Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies and what strategies they have witnessed or envisioned to cope, confront, and survive. In keeping with NWSA’s theme for 2016, we asked roundtable participants to bring a decolonial lens to this question by exploring how decolonial imaginaries and strategies can inform responses to shrinking budgets, requests to quantify feminist pedagogical interventions, and institutional concerns with student credit hour productions. We were interested in how our departments and classrooms can address student and faculty experiences of colonial and neoliberal trauma while responding to forces that question the legitimacy of our work and operate within a market-driven, heteropatriarchal understanding of education.
Days before we recorded this conversation, the 2016 US presidential election shook the world. Our conversation occurred in the shadow of the victory of Donald Trump, an individual considered to be a misogynist, nativist, Muslim-bashing, anti-union, and racist right wing populist, who won the Electoral College despite losing the popular vote decisively to Hillary Clinton, the first woman to gain nomination for the presidency from a major political party. His particular threat to our work haunted the roundtable. What follows is the edited account of presentations and audience comments based on transcripts by McKenzie Campbell, MA student at Eastern Michigan University.
Feminist Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara: What will be the fate of the neoliberal university after Trump? When facts and knowledge have little salience? Will minoritized bodies, genderqueer, trans [End Page 210] bodies, and even cisgendered women be valued for the value added they give to an institution in the kind of individualized manner that commodifies difference, as Amber Jamila Musser so elegantly expresses in “Specimen Days: Diversity, Labor, and the University,” published in Winter 2015 Feminist Formations? She argues that minoritized people are valuable because of their very difference; our presence allows the university to show off its diversity work. As Roderick Ferguson writes in The Reorder of Things: “This new interdisciplinary biopower placed social differences in the realm of calculation and recalibrated power/knowledge as an agent of social life.” This insight repeats anew the point of Ann duCille’s “Occult of True Black Womanhood,” the valuing of minoritized people as holders of magic or “specimens,” as Musser puts it.
We need to ask: what will happen to multiculturalism and the representation of difference in the face of white heteropatriarchy and a white supremacy fearful of its decline, projecting its fears onto the others, a white supremacy that disdains policy, knowledge, empiricism for truths of their flesh spinning out of control from opiates and other hurts in the deindustrialized areas of our country? We saw this in my university, this charge of “feminism is cancer,” this denial of rape culture, this celebration of conquest and genocide in the name of white men; we saw chalking incidents denying the prevalence of sexual assault and we heard about white supremacy rallies. There was a white student Facebook group with a demand for a Hernan Cortez room in our Hispanic-serving institution. Of course, this comment is not to let white women off the hook, especially given their role in giving the election to Trump.
These assaults will require more labor, more unpaid labor for creating spaces of dialogue and empathy to listen to our students and help them gain tools, not just for survival, but to come together across differences to fight for social justice—and value knowledge production that takes account of all our fleshes to produce theory that will make a difference.
Women’s and Gender Studies, Eastern Michigan University: I teach at a regional comprehensive university that attracts a lot of first generation college students, many of whom work thirty plus hours per week and commute to campus. We also graduate the highest percentage of...