Provost's Corner

Hello My Oakes Folks!

This is my first newsletter as your Friendly Neighborhood Provost, and I am just delighted to be getting to know everyone as we all settle in. I want to tell you a little about myself, and address a couple of things we have lived through as a community recently: the power outages and some hate/bias incidents that affected the college. The bottom line: we are gonna keep on doing us and being fabulous, whatever with the haters!

So a little about me: I am an Associate Professor of Feminist Studies at UC Santa Cruz. I’m trained as a cultural anthropologist, specializing in the ethnography of media and gender and sexuality in Latin America. I wrote my dissertation about how trans and cisgender women in Venezuela use femininity and beauty to imagine the possibilities of their lives. My first book, Queen for a Day: Transformistas, Beauty Queens, and the Performance of Femininity in Venezuela (Duke University Press, 2014) received a Lambda Literary Award Nomination in 2015. My primary research questions concern the role of the imaginary and a process called “worldmaking” in the possibilities of survival for queer and trans people in Latin America. Since that time, I’ve worked to shift the focus in queer studies to be more inclusive of people in the Global South. I have served as editor of the journal GLQ: a Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies since 2014.

My family is from Colombia, and I grew up in Bogotá, Colombia until I was 6 years old. We moved to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where I learned English and stopped speaking my first language of Spanish for a while. When I was 11, my family moved to Portage, Michigan, and I had to drop my Southern accent! I received my BA at the University of Michigan, then after a couple of years of living on the East Coast, in 1994 I moved to San Francisco to be part of the queer Latinx community in the Mission District. I’ve lived in California ever since. My parents are both research scientists, so I grew up in labs and necropsy rooms, and it’s given me a life-long passion for biology, neuroscience, and anatomy. To relax, I enjoy open-water swimming, bicycling, and Latin American music (especially cumbia!).

I hope you are all making it through Fall Quarter, post-midterms, and gathering steam for the final push. To our first-year students, we hope Core has been mind-blowing, and that you are finding your passion as you explore the university. Hopefully by now you all know how to find the Oakes Path in the dead of night, and you’ve built community and friendship in the middle of chaotic power outages this fall.

The outages reminded me of Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower, a book I re-read over the summer (along with its sequel, Parable of the Talents). In this book, Octavia Butler writes about California burning in an apocalyptic landscape while society breaks down all around the main characters. It’s a book we’ve read in Core in previous years, and I recommend it to you.

While our situation was not nearly as bad as the one in Parable of the Sower, nor even as bad as last year’s Kincaid Fire, it made me reflect that when things break down, all we really have is each other. For me, that’s what’s so important about the way we build community at Oakes College, and I felt grateful for the wonderful people here even when we were all running around trying to figure out where to charge our phones!

During the power outage, I saw our staff working hard to make sure everyone was OK, students taking care of each other, and a lot more people hanging out in the beautiful weather, talking to each other. Even in difficult times – especially in those times – we build each other up. We have to do this, because the world isn’t always full of love for us.

Late last week, I got word of a couple of incidents on the Oakes College campus that I know affected people and made us feel unsafe. On Friday morning, we woke up to find that someone had posted flyers and chalked white supremacist slogans all over the dorms. The flyers said “It’s Okay To Be White.” This slogan, even though it might seem innocent to some, is part of a national campaign that originated on 4chan in 2017, intended to spread a message that proposes that white folks are the victims of multiculturalism. The anonymous organizers even suggested that people posting the flyers do so on Halloween, in costumes since it would obscure their identities and not look out of place on that one night of the year.

The message poses that there is some kind of threat that makes it not OK to be white, and this resonates with the feelings a lot of white and white passing folks feel when we learn about the histories of racism and colonization in this country. But these histories, as we have learned about in Core, are not imaginary, they are what happened and how our country was formed. To talk about racism and colonization is to begin a process of healing that this country deeply needs, and only a very fragile sense of identity would take that healing as a threat. You can find out more about the campaign at the Teaching Tolerance website, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center. SPLC is a long-time civil rights organization that keeps track of hate groups in the US, and a great resource if you are interested in topics relating to diversity, social justice, and conflict resolution.

If you saw anyone putting up these flyers, or you know anything about the action, I encourage you to come forward to talk about it with our Student Life or Advising staff. The flyers made people feel very threatened, and unfortunately they are part of a long history of actions that target our campus because we work toward social justice and call out racism. For those of you who felt the pain of seeing those flyers, I want to tell you that all of us on the staff felt this pain too, and we are all here to support you and respond to this incident.

Over the weekend, I also learned about an incident in one of our dorms, in which someone wrote a homophobic slur on the door of some residents. This is a smaller act of hatred than the flyering, but no less impactful. We all know it’s not OK to use this kind of language against others. Many of us proudly take these slurs and make them our own because there is nothing to be ashamed of in being queer, trans, gay, bi, or lesbian. When I heard about this incident, I felt disappointment because I personally have fought for decades to make a world where we don’t have to be subject to these kinds of insults. I’m so thankful to the students who reached out to me and to their CA, who responded to the incident immediately. Our Res Life staff is working with the students affected and the entire dorm to address this issue. If you want some support in working through what happened over the weekend, we want to hear from you.

To whomever wrote that slur, remember that you hate most in others what you hate about yourself. I encourage you to explore what led you to take these actions and take responsibility for them so you can be accountable to your community here at Oakes.

Meanwhile, we are gonna keep on doing us and being fabulous, whatever with the haters! Oakes has lots of opportunities to support your career and your passions, so make sure to join us for them. Our Scientist in Residence, Adriana López, is putting on a bunch of great programs for those of you interested in STEM careers. I especially encourage you to look into the Academic Integrity workshop because my goal is to have NO cheating or plagiarism incidents at Oakes this year.

We have a couple of wonderful activist/scholars coming through town, so if you’d like to have breakfast with trans abolition activist Dean Spade on Nov 14 or Chicana feminist education scholar Dr. Christine Vega on Nov 18, sign up and make that connection! 

With all my Oakes Love,

Provost Ochoa