So, it's September (well, nearly October, really), which means back to school for many of us. There's this stereotype (not entirely unfounded) of academic institutions as bastions of liberalism. And definitely, an institution where there are a bunch of people immersed in studying the world's problems and their solutions, with relatively flexible schedules and a mandate to engage with the communities around them – well, that's a pretty good recipe for a place that's going to foster all sorts of activism. But academia is also a site of oppression for many people, including those who work or study in the academy, those who are studied by it, and those who are excluded from it altogether.

I know I'm not the only person on this blog who is a student, researcher, instructor, or otherwise involved in a university setting, so I wanted to open up a discussion: What are your experiences with oppression in academia, or of academia as a place for activism and anti-oppression work, or both?.(This question is open to anyone, whether you are, have been, or will be involved with academia in any way, shape, or form, or if you want to offer an outsider's perspective.)

To start us off, here are a few thoughts:
Last week I attended an awesome, sex-positive, gender-inclusive, feminist workshop on sexual assault recently. The facilitator was from the student volunteer-run sexual assault center on campus, which is also the only sexual assault center in the city to offer its services to people of all genders, and not just cis women. They are open to anyone in the city, student or not, and in addition to providing a help-line/support groups/assistance with filing complaints/what have you, they also do outreach in high schools. In short, they're pretty freakin' awesome, and I'm going to assume that their existence is made a whole lot easier by the fact that they're in a university setting.


Another thought. This semester, I'm taking a class across town at another university. It's a pretty amazing class, looking at international institutions (the UN, the World Bank, etc.) from a subaltern perspective, but that's not really my point. What surprised me was that when I got the syllabus, it had an official-looking statement on it about the right of students to vote on the course requirements. Sure enough, after the professor had spent some time explaining the syllabus and making sure all our questions were answered, he left the room and we students were left to discuss the syllabus and vote on it, including any proposed amendments. The professor and an elected representative then signed the agreed-upon syllabus as a binding contract, which we will all abide by – or face disciplinary proceedings.

This is apparently a university-wide policy. How awesome is that?


And of course, the current climate of neoliberal budget cuts and “austerity measures” tend to be bad news for public funding for education. At the same time, the skyrocketing cost of many private institutions has created a sense that higher education should be costly. Which is exactly why the administrators at my university are lobbying hard to raise tuition. Although our fees are actually quite high compared to other institutions in Montreal, the province as a whole has some of the lowest fees in the country – and by extension in North America. Apparently, that means that our fees ought to be raised to meet the national average. (Although if we meet the current national average, that'll just push the average up, which I guess means we'll have to hike tuition again, amiright?)

Academia likes to think of itself as a meritocracy, but there are serious consequences to these sorts of decisions. Among other things, high tuition costs disproportionately favor students who can rely on financial support from their families (i.e. leaving out many queer and trans folks, children of single parents, people of color, poor and working class people, first generation university students, children of undocumented immigrants, etc.) I think we all agree that not having the opportunity for higher education is one way in which systemic oppression is reproduced: access to education – and the associated status, connections, and experience – is a prerequisite for most well-paying or powerful positions. But here's another thing: being excluded from academia means being excluded from the mainstream creation of knowledge; perpetually being the studied, not the studier. This does not, generally speaking, lead to peace, love, and mutual understanding for all involved.

In related news, I just found out that the Chicago City Colleges — whose open-door policy allowed me to take classes there before I was ready to attend a 4-year university — are now restricting admissions. Again, budget cuts are the alleged reason. Why is it that budget cuts always seem to hit those who were struggling most already? Wait, don't answer that.


No discussion of tuition hikes in North America would be complete without referencing the struggles of students in the University of California system, and the March 4th day of action that grew out of them.

And finally, I want to link to two compelling posts I came across in the past few weeks that contributed to my thinking on this issue. Read them!
Carrie Cutler/mouthyb, Guest Post: Standing in the Crossroads. An eloquent, honest post about the author's personal experience of classism, sexism, and harassment as a graduate student at the University of New Mexico.

Kay Ulanday Barrett/brownroundboi, [15+ things I wish i knew in college] broke-ass qtpoc from an immigrant household (the REMIX). Pretty self-explanatory, really. Kay Ulanday Barrett is a poet/spoken word artist/educator with roots in my hometown of Chicago. (I wish I could say I knew hir, but I'm not that cool. Yet.)
Go ahead and post your thoughts, experiences, struggles, and questions below.

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