This quarter (Spring 2007) I was very fortunate to be given the opportunity to teach a course on "Race and Labor" at UCLA. The class was for upper division undergraduates, and was cross-listed under Sociology, Labor Studies, and Afro-American Studies. Eighty students, mostly people of color from a variety of groups, were enrolled. We still have one more week to go, plus finals and papers to grade, but I am starting to reflect on the class with a view to thinking about how I might improve it next time. This was the first time I taught this exact topic, though I have come to close to it in teaching such classes as "Racism in American Society," "Inequality and Social Class," etc., so I need to do a thorough evaluation of what worked and what did not. Helping with this evaluation will be the teaching assistant, Anthony Ocampo, and Lola Smallwood Cuevas, the staff member of the
I am not going to describe everything we tried to do in this class, and want to focus on one aspect now. Maybe I'll examine other aspects another time in this column. The feature that I want to focus on today concerns class projects. We decided that we wanted the students to engage in some form of action-project that addressed the issue of race and labor. With Lola's help, we invited some guest speakers to make presentations to the class about their projects so that students could see if anything interested them from these choices. I am going to describe three of the four that were selected.
Given that students, especially students with working class backgrounds as was common in this class, are likely to be working as well as taking a full study load, it seemed best not to expect them to have to do a lot of traveling for on their projects—even more so in
1. Student Admissions. UCLA experienced a scandalous drop in African American enrollments last year. As a result a coalition was formed to try to turn it around. AFSCME is part of the coalition, and its project is to see if the door to admissions can be opened for campus workers and their children. Our class could help to investigate this possibility, and find out whether workers or their families would be interested in using it.
2. Student Workers. UCLA employs student workers in certain jobs (food service, bookstore) with a view to paying them below union scale. An organizing drive was going on with this group of workers and, indeed, several of the students in the class were active in it already. The goal was to help with the drive.
3. African American/Latino Issues. The union is aware that Latino immigrants are being employed on campus as a way of cutting or stagnating wages, while African Americans (and Chicanos, it turns out) are losing positions. The charge for this project was to find out what exactly is happening to Black workers on campus. Have they suffered job loss? Do they face discrimination in employment? The goal is to see if AFSCME can put affirmative action language into the contract to provide fair job allocation (see my last column).
Tomorrow we will start the process of having the project groups make presentations to the class about what they did and what they learned. I wonder if any of you, dear readers, have tried this kind of thing in your classes? Wouldn't it be fun to share our experiences?
Edna Bonacich teaches at UCLA.