Since the election of Donald Trump, we have so often seen racist and sexist actions denounced by liberals as profoundly “un-American.” Yet this rhetoric ignores the pervasive ways in which racism and sexism are fundamentally entangled into the DNA of all American institutions.
So often, I think we are desperate to believe that our own communities and spaces are committed enough to intersectional justice to be safe from these kinds of institutional prejudice. So often, we want to believe that our institutions will work to represent us, and our values, in the actions they take. All too often, we are severely disappointed.
Just over a week ago the LGBT Resource Center of the University of California Irvine, the university I attend, conducted a series of interviews to fill the position of Program Coordinator. For the last year this position has been held by a polyamorous, autistic, chronically ill, SWANA (Southwest Asian North Afrikan) woman named Marina Eskander. In that year, she has worked tirelessly to help transform the Center into a space for intersectional justice, and to organize counter-events to those organized by radical Republican groups on campus, while also organizing for SWANA-LA/Alliance, an organization which she is instrumental in. Despite her time at UC Irvine, she was still forced to interview for the position she currently held.
On Wednesday, August 9th, it was announced that Marina would be not be returning, a decision that has been met with outrage by the student community of not only UC Irvine, but multiple schools across the UC system and surrounding community.
This outrage is largely derived from the fact that the person who was chosen to replace Marina, although qualified for the position, is both white and masculine aligned. This will result in no women or feminine aligned folx serving on the professional staff of the Center, and will leave the staff composed of a white majority.
Not only that, but the public interviews for this position were moved, in an act of either intentional prejudice or wanton neglect, from during the school year to the finals week of UCI’s summer session, ensuring that the majority of students would not be able to attend, showing their support for Marina.
These decisions on the part of UC Irvine speak to the systemic disposability of women of color within academic institution, and the disdain these institutions show them. While there has been little to no research done on the state of women of color in professional positions in academia, research has found that they are vastly underrepresented in teaching positions. As of a comprehensive study conducted in 2013, women of color represented only 11% of tenure-track teaching positions, and a meager 7% of tenured positions. Compare this with white males who hold 58% of all full-time professorships in the US.
The decision to not rehire Marina for the position of Program Coordinator is especially disturbing in light of UC Irvine’s supposed commitment to diversity. In 2007, the UC Regents adopted Policy 4400: the Policy on University of California Diversity Statement. This policy stated that the schools within the UC system “must seek to achieve diversity among its student bodies and among its employees,” defining diversity as “the variety of personal experiences, values, and worldviews that arise from differences of culture and circumstance… includ[ing] race, ethnicity, gender, age, religion, language, abilities/disabilities, sexual orientation, gender identity, socioeconomic status, and geographic region, and more.”
After supposedly dedicating themselves to this pursuit, the decision not to hire a woman of color who represents so many of these intersections of identity is truly baffling. As is the statement issued by UC Irvine’s Chancellor, Howard Gillman, following the recent events in Charlottesville. This email, sent to all UCI student and staff, concluded by saying “In the face of this terrifying close-mindedness, [UC Irvine] will continue to celebrate and value the diverse talents, backgrounds and cultures that create the colorful fabric of our country and university.” This is a statement that hardly matches their decision to hire a white, masculine aligned person over the only SWANA woman working as professional staff at an LGBT Center in the United States.
It is time that we demanded better from our academic institutions. That we demanded their pretty words about diversity be made more than slogans. To lean on a cliche, it is time we asked academic institutions to put their money where their mouth is.
To that end, the students of the UC Irvine LGBT Resource Center have begun a campaign to have Marina Eskander reinstated to her position. Through a petition and letter writing campaign, we intend to illuminate the administrations blatant disregard of their students needs, as well as the problematic disposability of women of color, particularly black and brown women, within academic institutions.
We ask that you lend your voices to this campaign and help us demand that the administrators of UC Irvine be held accountable for their supposed commitment to diversity, and rehire Marina Eskander to her position as Program Coordinator of the LGBT Resource Center.
torrin a. greathouse (they/them or she/her) is a genderqueer, cripple-punk from Southern California. They are the Editor-in-Chief of Black Napkin Press. Their poetry is published/forthcoming in Duende, Apogee, Frontier, Lunch Ticket, & Assaracus. She is a 2016 Best New Poets, Bettering American Poetry, and Pushcart Prize nominee, and semifinalist for the Adroit Poetry Prize. torrin’s first chapbook, Therǝ is a Case That I Ɐm, is forthcoming from Damaged Goods Press in 2017.