#COLA Now: A Conversation with UCSC Wildcat Strikers

Our July 2020 podcast features the scholar-teacher-organizers from the University of California at Santa Cruz. Brenda Arjona, Bristol Cave-Lacoste, and Priscilla Martinez are graduate workers who, with their colleagues at UCSC, have been on a wildcat strike for a cost of living adjustment (COLA) since December 2019. They are fighting to reduce the overwhelming rent burden, as well as food insecurity and barriers to healthcare, that they and other precarious workers in Santa Cruz have had to endure — while the UC decided to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on military style policing and surveillance of striking grads. (Fun fact: UCSC claims in its official motto to be the “Original Authority on Questioning Authority”).

Call for a UC Boycott!

A CALL OF CONSCIENCE NOT TO SPEAK AT ANY UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA CAMPUS UNTIL THE ADMINISTRATION REINSTATES ALL GRAD STUDENTS FIRED FOR STRIKE ACTIVITIES
cola or lie
Click to see the collection of #COLA4All memes.

The #COLA strike has been a rollercoaster: it involves a struggle for union democracy, mass firing and loss of healthcare during a pandemic, inspiring coalitions with local workers and students, standoffs with police in riot gear, a *fire* social media campaign that helped spread the strike across the whole state system, and the launch of Strike University and the FUC popular education / speaker series across the UC. They share the story in our conversation. They also reflect on what the strike, and their organizing broadly, has meant for how they understand themselves as teachers and scholars.

UCSC graduate wildcat strikers stand on a tree-lined sidewalk with black signs that spell out in white letters THE RENT IS TOO DAMN HIGH

About this Episode: Brenda, Bristol, and Priscilla

Brenda Arjona and her child pose with protest signs. The sign on the top right reads "UAW on Strike" and the sign on the bottom left reads "Give my mom her job back (and also honk)." It also has a picture of a person wearing a t-shirt that says, "My Neck! My Back! The UC is wack!" We agree.

Brenda Arjona is a third year PhD student in the Archaeology track of the Anthropology department at UCSC. She is also one of the fired wildcats! Her multidisciplinary research centers BIPOC voices, while incorporating queer theory and feminist method, to work toward a decolonial archaeology. As a California historical archaeologist, she is committed to practicing her work in a way that refuses to reproduce — and instead directly challenges — Eurocentric and colonialist norms in research, methodology, and theoretical frameworks. 

Brenda’s excellence in scholarship, teaching, and activism has been shaped through her experience as a non-traditional, Latinx graduate student. A community college alumna and a single parent, Brenda has been deeply impacted by the movement organizing—which is central to her aim to be part of changing how higher education happens, who is represented in its spaces, and who it serves. Also, follow her on Twitter!

 Bristol Cave-LaCoste is a History Ph.D. with a designated emphasis in Latin American + Latino Studies. She is a historian of sexuality focused on immigration law and prostitution in the late 19th early 20th century U.S. Her dissertation looks at forms of policing sexual non-conformity at local and federal levels of state, and how women resisted limitations on their movements and sexual lives. She also teaches a queer history class that explores how queer history gets preserved and circulated in archives and public history spaces. She wants to give a big shout-out to the StrikeU and FUC series organizers across the UC, who have helped so many people analyze their contexts and organize. In her roles as teacher, scholar, and organizer, Bristol believes history can and must mobilize us to create change and often tells her students: if history isn’t making you emotional, you haven’t found the right history yet.  

Bristol Cave-LaCoste stands in front of a "Doomsday Clock" created during the graduate wildcat strike
Priscilla Martinez, UCSC wildcat striker and public history scholar extraordinare, looks sharp and smiles for her headshot.

Priscilla Martinez is a seventh year Ph.D. candidate in History at UCSC, with an emphasis in Latin American + Latino Studies and a specialty in oral history. She is also one of the fired wildcats!  Her work is anchored in nineteenth and early twentieth U.S.-Mexico borderlands history, and her dissertation explores the intersections of indigeneity, mestizaje, nationalism, and citizenship in and around the Mexican Pacific. Her prowess as a public scholar is remarkable, and particularly notable in the three podcasts she hosts. These include COLA-fornia Dreaming (dedicated to the voices behind the graduate student wildcat strike at UCSC), the co-hosted We Should Be Writing (following two Xicana best friends as they process often problematic pop culture obsessions through the lens of their academic training), and — in her role as resident scholar and historian for Tucson’s Chinese Cultural Center —  Tucson Speaks! (featuring oral histories of the city’s Chinese and Chinese Mexican communities). Unsurprisingly, she has a great social media game.

Stories for Better Futures: A Conversation with Kevin Gannon, Act 2

We delve deeper into the status of critical pedagogy in hybrid and online teaching. The transition to remote modalities raises many issues: surveillance of students and teachers, the reproduction of capital for private tech corporations, issues of course adaptation, and the accessibility of online formats. What does a concept like “radical hope” actually mean in the context in which we find ourselves?

Hope in Pandemic Times: A Conversation with Kevin Gannon, Act 1

Tina and Lucia talk to Kevin Gannon in June 2020, on the heels of a spring term in which we saw a mass pandemic-fueled shift to online teaching. Kevin describes the experiences and histories that led him to the field of critical pedagogy and introduces his hot-off-the-press book Radical Hope: A Teaching Manifesto. He talks us off the edge of online-teaching-despair, posing the jarring question: what would it look like if Paulo Freire built a MOOC?

Of Decolonization and Its Metaphors: A Conversation with K. Wayne Yang, Act 1

For our April podcast, Lucia and Tina interview Wayne Yang of UC San Diego. Prof. Yang writes in A Third University is Possible, “To be very clear, I am not advocating for rescuing the university from its own neoliberal desires but rather for assembling decolonizing machines, to plug the university into decolonizing assemblages.” In Act 1, we talk to him about how he came to the work of radical teaching, the circulation of his scholarship beyond the academy, and the wide reverberations of his co-written (with Eve Tuck) article “Decolonization Is Not a Metaphor.”

A Third University Is Always Happening: A Conversation with K. Wayne Yang, Pt. 2

The University of California San Diego is on Kumeyaay land. The chancellor’s house is on an indigenous burial ground. How do universities move beyond guilt and toward a rematriation of the land? How do we teach, and train teachers, in these places with such violent history? How do we live and teach sustainably on this land? Yang, as his avatar la paperson, believes “a third university is possible. We talk about it in Act 2.

Teaching as Bricolage: A Conversation with Shirley Steinberg, Pt. 1

Prof. Shirley Steinberg speaks with us amid a global pandemic. For some of us, this pandemic has exposed what we already new about neoliberal higher education: the proliferation of the banking model of education, top-down power relations, undemocratic classrooms and departments, etc. In her work in critical pedagogy, Steinberg has long been challenging and resisting the status quo.

Righteous Indignation for Change: A Conversation with Shirley Steinberg, Act 2

In Act 2 of our April podcast, Shirley Steinberg talks further about the Freirean foundations of her education theory and practice. She calls on teachers and students to live out righteous indignation in our educational systems and how to create resistance and change. “We have to be in stealth,” says Steinberg, and shed light on how our institutions have failed us. Steinberg finds it important to listen to students, and to engage with youth culture, in order to lead collegially with them.

Reading the Word and the World: A Conversation with Shirley Steinberg

Reading the Word and the World: A Conversation with Shirley Steinberg

 Act 1: Teaching as Bricolage

Prof. Shirley Steinberg speaks with us amid a global pandemic. For some of us, this pandemic has exposed what we already new about neoliberal higher education: the proliferation of the banking model of education, top-down power relations, undemocratic classrooms and departments, etc. In her work in critical pedagogy, Steinberg has long been challenging and resisting the status quo.

 Act 2: Righteous Indignation for Change

Steinberg talks further about the Freirean foundations of her education theory and practice. She calls on teachers and students to live out righteous indignation in our educational systems and how to create resistance and change. “We have to be in stealth,” says Steinberg, and shed light on how our institutions have failed us. Steinberg finds it important to listen to students, and to engage with youth culture, in order to lead collegially with them.

 About this Episode:

For our May 2020 podcast we are pleased to talk with another icon in critical pedagogy, Prof. Shirley Steinberg. She is the Werklund Research Professor of Critical Youth Studies at the University of Calgary, Canada. Steinberg embodies Paulo Freire’s dictum of “reading the word and the world,” as is evidenced in her work in youth and cultural and media studies, anti-imperial education, constructivist theory, qualitative research, critical diversity studies, refugee studies, combatting Islamophobia, and more.

Steinberg lives out her research with her global and local work, in particular with refugees and youth. With her late partner Joe Kincheloe, Steinberg co-founded The Paulo and Nita Freire International Project of Critical Pedagogy which deals with “critical, cultural community, youth and media activism,” and she serves as the Executive Director. She is the founding editor of the journal Taboo: The Journal of Culture and Education and The International Journal of Youth Studies, and is on the board of The International Journal of Critical Pedagogy. She is the author of numerous books and articles in the field of critical pedagogy.

Steinberg is the recipient of many awards, including the Paulo Freire Lifetime Achievement Award for Social Justice and Education (from the American Educational Research Association, 2011). We talked to Prof. Steinberg in the midst of a global pandemic. For some of us, this pandemic has exposed what we already new about neoliberal higher education: the proliferation of the banking model of education, top-down power relations, undemocratic classrooms and departments, etc. In her work in critical pedagogy, Steinberg has long been challenging and resisting the status quo.