Panel Session, “Racial-Colonial Entanglements of Higher Education: Towards Imagining Educational Futures Otherwise”, CESA 2018. Panelists: Sheeva Sabati, Sharon Stein, Session proposal text:
“This roundtable brings together education scholars whose work variously confronts ongoing processes of racialized settler colonialism in higher education. Committed to anti-colonial educational practices and possibilities, we persist in these necessary projects knowing that there is no space of ethical purity within or beyond academe, and no guarantees in processes of decolonization. Given these unresolvable contradictions, we invite a conversation to reflect on the ongoing tensions and difficult learnings across contexts, and to consider the strategic opportunities for organizing between institutional spaces that may “never be home” (Rodríguez, 2012).
We bring critical race and anti-colonial sensibilities to the project of reframing critical conversations about the past, present, and future of colleges and universities in the U.S. and Canada. We do so in recognition that the field of education itself has not always welcomed these conversations and draw inspiration from the work of scholar-activists who have long been engaged in the demythification and reimagination of higher education as we know it (Mitchell, 2013). From their beginnings, universities in the U.S. and Canada have been both materially and epistemologically entangled in the production of anti-blackness, white supremacy, and coloniality (hampton, 2016; Wilder, 2013).
Pressured to account for these legacies, a handful of U.S. universities have offered formal apologies for their participation in slavery. Universities in Canada have responded, albeit unevenly, to the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission about Indian residential schools. However, these responses are shaped by often unspoken conditions that limit what it is possible to say, do, and demand – namely, nothing that would exceed the bounds of liberal capitalist pluralism (Ahenakew & Naepi, 2015; Ahmed, 2012). Further, universities’ accounts of their involvement in slavery and colonialism are often falsely presented as past events rather than structures that continue to produce the present. The need to attend to universities’ continued complicity in the reproduction of racially uneven life possibilities is clear in the contemporary context of privatization and resurgent white nationalism on our campuses, even as we recognize that these are re-articulations of existing, pervasive logics. Simultaneously, we question the limits of what is possible through critique alone. This means asking not only analytical but also methodological and relational questions about how to work across difference toward collective transformation while recognizing: the inevitability of mistakes, the necessity of (generous) critique and (self-)reflexivity, the limits of our understanding, and the possibility that our well-intended interventions might reproduce existing harms or create new ones.
If universities are constantly seeking to move past what is not past, we invite a conversation that interrupts these institutional “moves to innocence” (Tuck & Yang, 2012), without romanticizing our own interventions, by considering the necessarily messy work of unsettling the racial-colonial capitalist logics that shape both the contexts in which we work as well as our critical responses to them. We invite roundtable panelists and attendees to reflect on their work and consider: How might we practice struggles for justice that are attentive to the repetition of colonial logics? What forms of creative or “contingent collaborations” (Tuck et al., 2014) have shaped our work, and what do we continue to learn from these modes of relationality? As “critical” education scholars, how can we learn at/from the bounds of our own disciplinary fields, as well as from cross-disciplinary conversations? What are the questions we find ourselves returning to engage in our work, and what questions still remain unasked about the (im)possibilities of justice in higher education?”