Sophie in Santa Cruz
A couple years ago, David Horowitz wrote a book called The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America. One of my professors at UC Santa Cruz is listed in it because of her attempt to introduce a feminist practice, which attempts to center women instead of men, into her teaching (she teaches in the Feminist Studies department). “At the time”, she says, “some of my colleagues who were not included were offended.”
In a recent lecture this same professor brought up this book because of the recent emergence of something that could be its little cousin. The website professorwatchlist.org, set up by conservative youth organization Turning Point USA this week, lists professors who are considered dangerous and have “demonstrated liberal bias in their classrooms”. She is listed, again, because of her feminist politics and because of her links to the communist party.
I find myself staring at her smiling picture on the website where she is listed like a criminal. I have been seeing this face in lectures every week since I’ve arrived in Santa Cruz. She always struck me as a particularly kind, compassionate educator. Because she hates grades she takes the time every single week in her seminar class to attach a personal note to our weekly assignments in which she critically engages with our writing, gives detailed feedback and recommends books. She supplements the theory in her lectures with personal accounts of her own political engagements, integrating theoretical concepts in their wider historical context and making them incredibly accessible to an audience that is easily distracted by their cell phones.
Telling an anecdote, of course, will be more convincing than merely reading theory off the lecture slides and perhaps this is the part of her method the rightwing identify as displaying liberal bias. However, particularly in feminism, problematizing the divide between public and private is central to political action. Sharing personal accounts is thus part of a strong feminist political tradition where personal experiences are often foundational for political action. Attacking this method does not level the playing field for unbiased discussion but effectively silences one side of the debate.
One day she told us about her childhood, growing up with a communist father. She told us how her childhood was marked by surveillance, by being careful what she said on the phone, by continually checking over her shoulder because of her family’s politics. Incredible that this would be happening again today.