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.