White Attacks on Anti-Racist Academic in Arizona

InsideHigherEducation describes the hostile comments and threats a Latina faculty member got for giving a short 10-minute faculty speech at the graduation convocation recently at the University of Arizona’s College of Social and Behavioral Sciences.

The deterioration of this society’s ability to have a sensible discussion of issues, such as on immigration, has been aggressively accelerated in recent years by the right-wing propaganda machines of prominent radio talk show hosts and Fox news, where information is often less important than a far-right agenda. We are on a downhill slide in this post-post-racial America.

Professor Sandra Soto, Associate Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of Arizona, turned down higher ranked universities to go where there are large Latino populations and numbers of students. She did not realize that criticizing the new authoritarian racial profiling law in Arizona and critiquing the banning of ethnic (Mexican American) studies programs in Arizona schools would get her many verbal threats, including death threats:

She was booed, jeered and heckled, with a few shouting personal comments …. Soto held her ground, and while pausing at times, finished her talk — with many applauding. Soto related her critiques of these state actions to graduation by talking about how their education should prepare them to be “better public citizens.” Since the talk, Soto said she has received a barrage of e-mail messages, many of them hateful and some of them potentially threatening. Many such messages have also been posted on YouTube and on local Web sites that covered the speech. (See links here)

She describes her feelings thus:

“My work is in Chicana cultural studies, so it’s my obligation, if I am going to be up on a stage, I feel it is my absolute responsibility to address these issues.” She said that no one who knows her could have doubted that she would speak out, and that she was prepared for some booing, but was surprised by “how vitriolic” the e-mail messages have been since the talk. She said that she will turn over to authorities those that might be threatening, such as an e-mail suggesting that the sender “hopes you don’t look both ways” while crossing the street. . . . several viewers suggested that Soto “return to El Salvador.” (She’s actually from Texas, where her family has lived since Texas was Mexico, she said, and she’s not sure why she’s been identified as being from El Salvador.)

Marisol LeBron, a Latino Ph.D. student in American studies at New York University, put it this way in a blog commentary:

Queer Chicana Professor (and all-around awesome academic) Sandra K. Soto got booed at the University of Arizona’s Social and Behavioral Sciences commencement. Professor Soto was attempting to discuss the ways that the anti-immigrant measures known as SB1070 would marginalize Latinos/as. Before she could get a sentence out the crowd jeered her. Twitter drama ensued. Most people said it was inappropriate for Professor Soto to use the event as a “political soap box” further highlighting the success of the conservative right in advancing the idea that Universities and institutions of higher education should be depoliticized places where one goes to learn objective truths. … what happened to Professor Soto is just another example of what so often occurs to queers, women, and people of color (or people who inhabit all of those identities) within the academy, they get shouted down and told that they’re advancing a narrow agenda or only telling half the story. … I applaud the stand that Soto and other educators in Arizona are taking despite the attempts to silence them.


  1. Will

    It’s a typical white reaction to issues imperative to today’s troubled times. I hate to say it like that, but it seems like whites continue to prove you right about how they think, act and react in regards to race. It would be funny if it weren’t so pathetic. Thankfully, not all whites are like that, but there’s more than enough to make that point.

    A post-racial society is nothing more than an offspring of a utopian fantasy for those who don’t want to feel guilty inside and are afraid of facing inconvenient truths. Prof. Soto did not get attacked because she spoke on the issue during graduation because it was the “wrong time and place”. She spoke on what needed to be said because it HAD to be said sooner or later and to as many people as possible in that area. It was something that even graduation students needed to hear to help them open their eyes to the real issues at hand. As usual there are weak-minded individuals who hate to listen and learn.

  2. No1KState

    but it seems like whites continue to prove you right about how they think

    Will, I’m not familiar with you (though, I’m quite familiar with racismreview and Joe and Jessie and others), so I’m curious: what are your views on their work and theories on white Americans and whiteness in general?

    • No1KState

      @ Will – Joe and Jessie and the other regular blog posters.

      By the by, to general audience – 7 thumbs down for a simple question? Really?

      Glad to see the review hasn’t changed.

      • Hey No1KState ~ Good to see you back here. Actually, some things have changed at RacismReview since you were here last, and this may explain, at least in part, what the 7 thumbs down votes were about.

        What’s changed is that we – both Joe and I as admins and the community of posters as a whole – are much harsher in dealing with comments from people perceived to be trolls. Now, I’m not saying you’re a troll, but it’s possible that your question to Will asking what he thought about me and Joe, was taken as a troll-like comment by some of the 7 who gave that comment thumbs down. I’m not sure, as I wasn’t one of the 7, and I have no way of knowing who voted that way or what they were thinking.

        You might take a look at this post about the blog admin stuff:

        I look forward to your comments here ~ may they all be voted thumbs up!

      • Seattle in Texas

        Heh heh No1Kstate, wanted to say Hello. I took a break from the site and may or may not come back as a regular…. I’m not a blog person in general. But did want to swing by and say I generally don’t vote on this site and there was no negative vote from me. I always appreciate your thoughts.

        See ya

  3. Will

    Thank you for elaborating, No1State.

    I think what Joe and Jessie are doing here is much needed and very much appreciated. It is not often that one would run into websites or blogs that address the issues of racism like this and many other sites/blogs are committed to do. As a POC it is like a breath of fresh air to come across people who are not afraid of exposing and analyzing racist events that occur on a daily basis in a society which some people claim is post-racial.

    Racism is one of those taboo subjects that many people don’t want to engage upon. However, if this society is to heal, the discussion must place and serious changes must be done. One can not expect racism to vanish by not acknowledging it. It’s like having a deep wound somewhere on your body; it’s something that needs to be healed or else it will fester, continue to bleed, and(or) likely cause death. You can not simply ignore it and expect it to get better on its own.

    Racism is one of this society’s wounds that is fatal along with materialism and militarism. If we continue to ignore these wounds, one day this society will parish.

    I will do whatever I can to also address and fight against racism. It’s great to hear that I’m not the only one fighting.


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