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Encounter Groups Revisited

We should not act like minorities but should seize power

By Rodolfo F. Acu??a
Published on LatinoLA: January 31, 2009


Encounter Groups Revisited


My last piece on "Encounter Groups" caused discussion; unfortunately most of those with hurt feelings did not bother to email me for clarification. So I will take the opportunity to put my comments into context.

First, the piece was part of an ongoing critique of Chicana/o studies. It was aimed at the California State University Northridge department that is the largest in the United States. Reaching back a decade I have reacted to the "we are number one" mentality of the Mexican/Chicano/Latino community which has compromised identity to be the largest minority in the nation ÔÇô larger than the African Americans. On numerous occasions I have asked so what? What are we going to do
about it?

The CSUN Chicano studies has two dozen tenure track professors and offers 166 sections a semester. Removing the number of classes from the equation, does this reflect service to Chicano and Latino students? How are we advocating for their interests? I have consistently asked this
question and criticized faculty for not going to MEChA meetings or sponsoring extra curricular events for students. It has never been a gender thing.

However, over the years I have heard women faculty members complain about the male members controlling the chair (although the past chair was a woman). Several women have remarked that two-thirds of Chicano studies were female faculties. When I encouraged them to take over, they responded that students are conditioned to respond more to male faculties. I questioned this since very few faculty members have constituencies that are grown, not wished).

The thesis of the article was that we (female and males) should stop contemplating power and taking it. The word "encounter" is a metaphor for that false consciousness that Gramsci talks about. It is summed up in the mural of Ch?® Guevarra pointing at Chicanas/os and saying "You are
no minority!" My article is telling Chicanos in general and Chicanas in particular that we should not act like minorities but should seize power.

However, when and if we take power, we have a duty to others. We have a slew of Chicano politicos today. Most, not all, believe that they got there on their own merit or good looks. I am sorry but many of the younger generation of scholars have the same attitude. They conclude
that they are scholars because of their hard work.

I get frustrated for example when I hear that faculties complain about the size of their offices and not having a window. The reason for this is that we have large areas for students to lounge in, practice music and a computer lab. It does not seem to register that this contributes to a feeling of community and directly impacts enrollment which justifies their jobs.

Another theme of "Encounter Groups" is that leadership requires us to grow constituencies. It is not enough to complain about inequality or a lack of power, we must attract and convince others. The example that I gave in this article was Rosa Furumoto who works with MEChA and has kept the anti-war movement alive on the CSUN campus.

I could name other examples of service. Mary Pardo mentors Chicanas and Chicanos. Christina Ayala works with the grad student organization. However, the fact is that we don't have a women's group advancing women's issues. The concrete example is that we do not have a Chicana crisis center.

In the article I took aim at the culture or not only the Chicano Studies department but academe in general. All faculty members want to be on campus two days a week, have a mornings or afternoon schedules, and have a nice office that we use two hours a week. What I lament is that we have bought into this culture. Shouldn't we as a community talk about these things especially when many of our students need role models, guidance, and tutoring.

We once use to criticize the gringo professors for complaining that minority students were ill equipped and blamed the public schools. What is our responsibility?

I have always considered teaching in Chicana/o studies a trust. If it were not for Chicana/o studies I would be another two bit academic hustler looking to teach as few hours as possible. The areas of studies have been very good to me. I honestly say I was a good citizen within this community. I therefore have the duty to remind it that we are here to serve the people. I am still hopeful that under a Chicana rule a dawn will come and that we shall serve the people. .

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