Special issue editors Kohl-Arenas and Rodriguez's introduction/editorial.
“The Work of Imagining” is a new Public “column from the Faculty Director of Imagining America. In this issue, Erica Kohl-Arenas (Faculty Director and Associate Professor of American Studies, UC Davis) reflects on her journey to IA and hints at what is to come in the months and years ahead.
This dialogue uses Fred Moten and Stefano Harney’s writings on the “undercommons” as a launching point to discuss our experiences with navigating the neoliberal university. From within our respective institutional contexts, we explore what it means to be a “dodgy scholar,” one who maintains just enough credibility within the system to subvert its purposes and boundaries. We raise questions, for ourselves and for our readers, seeking to engage with public scholarship in an era of precarity. We ask: How are we claiming the politics and experiences of hybrid spaces for ourselves? How does care-based organizing challenge the neoliberal university? How do we draw connections between our academic life experiences and the academy as a whole? And how might we reclaim and resist the cooptation of language and strategies built out of liberation movements by counter-publics? We conclude by asking how we, as a collective, may inform this engagement further.
UC Davis was founded in 1905 as the “farm school” for the University of California (UC) and was officially introduced in 1959 as the seventh campus in the UC system. As a land-grant institution, it has a civic mission focused on experiential learning, experimental research, and extension of knowledge to serve the public good. Recent events have created momentum and signaled increasing support to invest in “engaged scholarship and engaged learning.” This article begins at this crossroads and highlights diverse types of past and present public engagement, assesses the current climate on campus to deepen and expand public scholarship, and shares a number of faculty perspectives about public scholarship and community engagement. The authors reflect on UC Davis’s land-grant tradition and the inherent tensions over that legacy’s contemporary meaning. The article concludes with a discussion of the prospects emerging from a participatory design process currently underway that aims to create a “culture of engagement.”
This article presents the formation and methodology of Taller Arte del Nuevo Amanecer (TANA). TANA is a community-based art program of the Chicanx Studies Department at UC Davis and located off campus within a subsidized housing community in Woodland, California. The formation of TANA, the methods employed within its space, and the challenges to situate the program within an Ethnic Studies department highlight central issues within the debate over how socially engaged scholarship is enacted within land-grant research universities.
As engaged scholars we, Xabi and Natalia, work cooperatively with diverse community groups and community-based alliances, to bring Chicanxs’ and Latinxs’ concerns to the center of attention and to make our research a “political vehicle for meaningfully engag[ing] the world and collectively act[ing] within it . . . in order to name the world and transform it” (De Genova 2005, 25). As scholar activists we promote, in different ways, communities’ interests, health, and safety, and promote justice and the well-being of members of the community. In sum, our research reminds us that the experts on the issues of their community are the members of the community themselves, and thus, we need to identify the knowledge and voices (testimonios) of communities of color — in our case, the hijas de inmigrantes Mexicanos (the daughters of Mexican immigrants) living in an unincorporated rural town — and count them as inside experts when doing anticolonial advocacy scholarship and community interventions.
This article reflects on the Cal Ag Roots Project’s relationship with research in general and then dives into a specific exploration of the methods behind the production of one of our podcasts, There’s Nothing More Californian than Ketchup. This podcast is particularly relevant for this issue of Public because it tells a key story about an interaction between a land-grant university (UC Davis) and the farming, farmworker, and nascent food-movement organizing communities in the surrounding region. My aim is to reveal some of the inner workings of our story production process in order to ask some key questions about how we produce original research — and, hopefully, to open up a new Cal Ag Roots conversation with the academic community.
This paper explores and examines the institutional barricades and borderless possibilities that bring people, policies, and programs together in service of social change. Toward this end, I interrogate scholar-activism from three distinct vantage points that inform my vision of cultural justice: the murder of Stephon Clark, the tensions surrounding authentic community-engaged work, and the vivid “call to arms” by the youth of Sacramento. These kinds of arms reach out, grab hold, and do not let go. It is here, inside the collective pulse of our existence and resistance, that the voices of artists, activists, and academics become harmonious chords in the choir of liberation.
Stories of Solidarity (SOS) is an innovative social-media platform and multifaceted research project that overlaps the humanities, arts, social sciences, and computer science. The working group includes academics, activists, designers, and computer programmers. SOS addresses enormous problems millions of workers face today — including low wages, insecure work, and lack of benefits such as health care — through a new platform with storytelling, solidarity-building, and advocacy at its core.
In times of crisis, unforeseen factors can emerge in conducting public scholarship and research, especially in marginalized communities. Given the current political climate, we bring attention to how crisis creates barriers which can hinder, obscure, and complicate public scholarship, and how crisis is endured by the communities with whom we collaborate. This paper reflects on the experiences of three 2017 Mellon Public Scholars: Mayra, who works with Latino farmworker parents of children with special needs; Roy, who investigates the role of citizenship/legal status in the lives of undocumented Asians/Pacific Islanders; and Alana, who seeks to identify how the homeless population is and isn’t being served by a county’s food bank’s services. Through this discussion we hope to make more salient the challenges of doing public work in underprivileged communities, so future scholars can better prepare for the dynamic situations they might navigate as they tackle their own projects.
After many years of testing, piloting, and aligning with academic partners, the GATEways Project (Gardens, Arts, and The Environment) place-based model and the Learning by Leading™ model have proven results for people and for place. Hundreds of students have gained team-based and leadership experiences in environmental stewardship and environmental education, and dozens of campus landscapes have been transformed into more sustainable, climate-appropriate landscapes. The public space of the campus is now at the service of this educational and engagement program, and the program is now a key feature in planning and creating the campus of the future. Through collaborative leadership, the team has developed strategies for a generative model that overcomes institutional win/lose paradigms, generates external financial support, and is now scaling to other institutions and organizations that depend on environmental stewardship and environmental leadership for their sustenance.
Many generations of people have been moved and motivated by scholar-activist Isao Fujimoto, in his role as a leader for community-based organizing in the Central Valley, in his role as a founder of Asian American Studies and Community Development programs at UC Davis, or simply as someone touched by his stories. This digital-humanities website project represents the “many threads” of Isao’s remarkable lives and gifts in connecting communities, movements, and peoples. The accompanying written narrative presents Isao’s biography, an abstract of an included audio slide show in which Isao tells one of his famous stories highlighting the challenges and perils of engaged scholarship at an institution that has had a contested relationship to agriculture in the Central Valley, and a summary of project trajectory and future direction.