The examination of ethnicity and identity – and the oppressions and privileges therein – has permeated everything from pop culture to think pieces to proactive social justice movements. We are surrounded by issues, questions and ruminations regarding race and justice, and certain work being done at The University of New Mexico (UNM) is no exception.
Established in January of 2009, UNM’s Institute for the Study of “Race” and Social Justice draws on cutting-edge thinking from multiple disciplines and diverse empirical traditions to promote clarity about race and racialization, in order to develop strategies for mitigating race-based inequality.
The quotes around the word “race” in the institute’s title are quite intentional. Dr. Nancy López, director and co-founder of the institute and associate professor of Sociology at UNM, says the quotes are there to keep us cognizant of the fact that race is a social construction, and one that matters.
“The quotes are there to trouble common misconceptions about race as biology or genes,” López says, “and to underscore that just because it’s a social construction doesn’t mean we should forget about it or think that it’s not important.”
López goes on to illustrate her point through what she calls ‘street race’ and how it effects our daily experiences.
“The meanings that are assigned to your physical appearance matter a lot more than what your DNA might say or whatever identity you might have,” López explains. “It shapes how you might get treated when you got to vote, look for an apartment or when you walk through a border checkpoint.”
To that end, the Institute for the Study of “Race” and Social Justice works to address racial inequities, create research partnerships and promote equity in health and community viability, education, law and criminal justice.
“The College of Education has taught a Critical Race Theory class here (at UNM) since 2001,” says Dr. Ricky Lee Allen, associate professor in Language, Literacy & Sociocultural Studies (LLSS) and instructor of this course. “Support (for this work) is broad across campus, but the real sort of human resources have come from this (the LLSS) department.”
The institute offers a graduate certificate and hosts a number of events throughout the year. For the first time, and after undergoing a rigorous, competitive application process, UNM in collaboration with the institute, the LLSS GSA, and countless other organizations, student groups, and volunteers, will host this year’s national Critical Race Studies in Education Association (CRSEA) conference from May 30 – June 1 at the UNM Student Union Building (SUB). The mission of CRSEA is to support scholarship and engagement that draws from critical race theory and advances the education of students of color along the entire educational spectrum.
According to the organization’s website, “…the annual CRSEA conference brings together scholars, activists, educators, students and community members who use critical race studies as a tool to frame, examine, document, understand and transform racial inequalities in education and in the broader society.”
The theme for this years’ conference is Land and Knowledge: Indigeneity, Survivance and Healing. Researchers, activists, educators and community members will share work that explores the historical and current sociopolitical lived realities of our society. Discussions and presentations will examine race, racialization, ethnicity and identity – and the inherent accompanying systems of historic and contemporary inequalities and resistance at the individual, community, institutional, and structural levels.
Members of the conference committee see this gathering as an opportunity to present research, share resources, have critical dialogue with fellow students and educators, and to network and connect with community members who are interested in the work of advancing racial and social justice issues within education.
“As a person of color, when I go to a conference it’s to recharge my batteries,” says Andrea Abeita from the Pueblo of Isleta.
Abeita is a doctoral candidate in LLSS at UNM and serves on two Graduate Student Associations and on the UNM GPSA council. She says conferences like the CRSEA are a chance to “talk to other people who are going through the same experiences and struggles that I’m going through. You read the articles in class, and then you actually meet them (the scholars and authors) in person, and you get to see that inspiration and that hope.”
The CRSEA conference is open to everyone who is interested in making a difference in our communities, with the hope of ultimately transforming society. A detailed CRSEA conference agenda is available online.
A half-day graduate and undergraduate student Pre-Conference will be held on Wednesday, May 30, featuring keynote speaker Christine Zuni Cruz, J.D. The pre-conference will focus on the same themes as the primary conference, along with added emphasis on serving the needs of graduate students.
“It’s a holistic approach to professional development,” says Jaen Ugalde with UNM’s Community Engagement Center, LLSS program and volunteer coordinator for the conference. “It’s to help develop an understanding of what we can do, what’s next after we graduate.”
In a press release for the conference, López writes, “As a research one university in a majority minority state with one of the most diverse student populations in the country, UNM has a strategic opportunity to serve as an incubator for high quality interdisciplinary research, teaching and praxis in the area of race and social justice.”
This applies to UNM hosting the CRSEA conference as well as the work being done at the Institute for the Study of “Race” and Social Justice. Without any established funding, the institute relies exclusively on donations and grants to do their work. Apply for the race and social justice graduate certificate (open to anyone with a BA degree or higher) and learn more about the institute’s efforts at: race.unm.edu
The CRSEA Conference is a momentous event brought to you through the efforts of the conference planning committee and a number of generous sponsors. For a complete list of sponsors please see the event flyer.
UNM CRSEA Planning Committee
Co-Chairs: Dr. Nancy Lopez, Dr. Ricky Lee Allen, Andrea Abeita, Ph.D. Candidate
Main Planning Committee: Dr. Vincent Werito, Dr, Kiran Katira, Dr. Barbara Reyes, Jacqueline Alderete, Magdalena Vasquez Dathe, Myrella Rosalba Gonzalez, Glenda Kodaseet, Jaen Ugalde, Froilan Orozco, Jose Azul Cortes, and Neritza Diaz-Cruz