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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Which Neither Devils nor Tyrants Could Remove: The Racial-Spatial Pedagogies of Modern U.S. Higher Education

  • Author(s): Singh, Vineeta
  • Advisor(s): Gore, Dayo F
  • et al.

This dissertation traces U.S. higher education’s contemporary ‘diversity problem’ to 1865 and the racialized and gendered notions of the public good, social mobility, citizenship, and self-determination that rose in the aftermath of Emancipation. It brings together theoretical and methodological tools from ethnic studies, cultural studies, critical gender studies, and feminist geography to examine higher education as a site of contest in the black freedom struggle, arguing that the modern landscape of U.S. higher education is fundamentally shaped by white ‘architects’ responding to the pedagogical and geographic innovations of black radical traditions.

In the opening chapter I study the history of a vocational institute for black Southerners and demonstrate that education had been a crucial element of the ‘rival geographies’ created by the enslaved, but after 1865 became a technology of enclosure, tying socially mobile black workers to underdeveloped rural areas and respectably gendered occupations. The second chapter looks at the history of a 100-year old community college in Chicago. By tracking changes in the demographics of the neighborhood it serves and relating these to changes in the college’s form and function, I demonstrate how modern U.S. notions of the public good are always-already racialized, while arguing for a defense of the community service pedagogy championed by black neighborhood organizers. In chapter 3 I examine the institutionalization of a student-created ‘Third Worldist’ college in California to illuminate how universities can mold students’ thinking about race and racism away from global political and economic structures to personal identities and individual trauma. The final chapter considers the emergence of an ostensibly color-blind, progressive-minded neoliberalism in the rise of ‘leadership development programs’ like Teach For America. I demonstrate that despite the best intentions of participants, such programs further the criminalization of urban spaces while using the language of civil rights to insinuate the privatization of public services. Throughout I demonstrate how higher education has articulated academic and common sense notions of race, space, and belonging in what I call racial-spatial pedagogies, descriptive and prescriptive theories describing racial difference and how that difference fits in the larger body politic.

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