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There is [always] work to be done


As I write this note, people are still at the polls voting in the U.S. midterm elections, their choices promising to shape local and state politics for the next two years, if not longer. And by the time that you read this, most electoral races will have been decided. The outcomes, including here in Illinois, will tell us to what extent the forces organized against reproductive rights, critical race theory, racial diversity in children’s books, affirmative action, transgender rights, workers’ rights, prisoners’ rights, and voting rights have managed to make inroads. It’s also a moment for us to remind ourselves about the critical role that public universities can play in educating, mobilizing, and growing new actors who ultimately shape our political futures. Undoubtedly, there is still work to do and I hope that we will spend the coming days and weeks talking with each other about how best to use our time and energies.

As I think about the recent “Reproductive Freedom for All” artmaking event that took place at UIC over the past few days and on the eve of the elections, I am reminded that our students want—need—for us to create spaces that affirm their humanity while also engaging them on the issues of local and national import. They want to know that we care how they are experiencing the current political climate. They want the campus to be a space where they learn—both inside and outside the classroom—about how they can act toward justice and stand in solidarity with others. They do care about bodily autonomy, and they made that known through their choices at the event. Queen Hibbler’s “I Am The Boss of My Body” and Rebel Betty’s “Defend Bodily Autonomy” designs resonated with students. Queer and transgender students said they felt affirmed by the messages. Over and over again, students commented that they were surprised but also happy that such an event took place on the campus. They got voters’ guides, totes, t-shirts and Plan B, and were excited to pass the word along to their friends. It was almost overwhelming to bear witness to their joy and to watch them relish being seen. For everyone who showed up, sent students, shared the event with your networks, and sent good vibes, you made something special happen at UIC. As we continue to create these intentional spaces for celebration, affirmation, and engagement, it is worth remembering that a key part of the work of higher education lies in using its resources to make social change. Our students are telling us that they want the university to be more proactive and forward-thinking on issues of bodily autonomy. We ought to listen.

Challenges to Affirmative Action

Last week, the Supreme Court of the U.S. listened to arguments about whether affirmative action policies and practices—in the form of race-conscious admissions programs—should be continued at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina. While one is private and the other public, both are predominantly white institutions whose histories are deeply intertwined with U.S. plantation slavery. The lawsuit was brought by a conservative group called Students for Fair Admissions and accuses Harvard of discriminating against Asian Americans; for North Carolina, they argue that the admission policies, intended to produce a more diverse incoming class, violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. Comprehensive coverage and a synopsis of the issues can be found here. Similar to the Dobbs decision, it is widely expected that the majority of the Supreme Court justices will decide that race-conscious admissions programs should be discontinued. This decision would hurt all students of color and indigenous students, groups that have been systematically excluded from predominantly white institutions. Conversations about affirmative action and diversity are somewhat different at universities like UIC which have been able to count on a diverse pool of students who apply. And yet, while we celebrate a diverse student body, we should also be clear that the lawsuit is a referendum on the argument that diversity in higher education is an important, and even necessary, part of all students’ college experience. UIC’s Asian and Asian American communities have put out a statement that rejects the racist tactics used by the plaintiffs and that reminds us that affirmative action is a question of racial justice, affecting the ability of all minoritized groups to gain access to higher education. In the months ahead, I hope that we will take up this issue about diversity and white supremacy in higher education and consider questions such as: how do these debates and changes in educational policy affect women of color as students and as faculty? What would it mean to have a truly diverse and inclusive UIC campus, where faculty and administration more closely reflect the student body?

Reproductive Injustice

Denial of reproductive justice comes in many forms. Dr. Julie Maslowsky, UIC faculty member in Public Health, has coauthored an important article about the devastating impact of the Dobbs decision on adolescents.

A recent report from the National Partnership for Women and Families notes that Latinas are the largest group of women of color to be negatively affected by the Dobbs decision. The states that have banned or severely limited access to safe and legal abortions are also the states where more than forty percent of Latinas live in the U.S. Taken together with the newly released data on the changing landscape of abortion care, and information from the Turnaway Study, this report helps us see how limiting Latinas’ options about determining when and whether they have children has long-term and costly effects that are detrimental to individual and family wellbeing.

This week, and during Native American Heritage Month no less, the U.S. Supreme Court is preparing to hear arguments in the federal lawsuit Haaland vs. Brackeen, which threatens to overturn the Indian Children’s Welfare Act. Indigenous feminist scholars have long pointed out that targeting Indigenous women and children is a familiar course of attack on Native American sovereignty; this federal lawsuit follows in that tradition.

I hope that our students are learning about these issues in their courses and through social media. More than ever, conversations about law and social policy demand an intersectional lens. Understanding how minoritized and Indigenous women and children are differently, and negatively, affected by challenges to legal protections helps us know where to direct our energies and what to say. Whether it is access to education, or the right to having, raising, and being raised in a family, there is much at stake in these elections and court cases. In spite of the outcomes, we know that building solidarity across communities and movements is as important now as it has ever been. Let’s do more of that.

Take care of yourselves and each other,

Natalie Bennett