September 29, 2013
For the second installment in our Get to Know a Steward series, the GAU Communications Committee asked Carlos Medina, steward for the Department of History, several questions about his life, labor, academic endeavors and activism.
Carlos Medina: I am from Chicago, Ill., and I am the first person in my family to attend high school. I am now a second year Ph.D. student in the history department. I got my Bachelor’s degree from SIU in 2009, went back to Chicago to earn my M.A. in history, and then after receiving my M.A. in 2012 I moved back to Carbondale to earn my Ph.D. and study with some of the professors who were so influential during my undergraduate years.
GAU: Why study history?
Medina: I believe that the study of history allows us to realize that the social structures that shape our reality and are often internalized as being natural and necessary are actually the result of historical events and trends. Therefore, we can change them. I believe that teaching students how to properly read and analyze historical events will empower them to apply critical analysis in all areas of their lives and perhaps make important contributions to the world in doing so.
GAU: What area of history are you most interested in and why?
Medina: I am most interested in 19th and 20th century American history, specifically the history of racial and ethnic perception and identity. More specifically, I am interested in how these factors have shaped the history of U.S./Latin American relations. Race and ethnicity are examples of those categories of identification that people have often internalized as part of the natural order instead of recognizing them as the social constructs that they truly are. At the same time, this “internalization” has often supported historical tensions, leading to misled justifications for things like slavery, scientific racism, warfare, etc. I want to delve into the historical forces that create these justifications and discuss their social, political, and often economic origins in a way that makes people question their own long-held perceptions about the world.
GAU: Has studying history informed your activism or work with GAU generally?
GAU: What motivated you to become a steward for your department, and what do you hope to accomplish with GAU?
Medina: Just as I want to break people’s misconceptions about identity and race, I want to assist in helping my fellow GAs fully realize what their work is worth to the university and that they should not accept being pushed around out of fear of losing their position. Too often I have heard horror stories about the GA experience that might have turned out differently had the student been aware of just what GAU can do for them. I want to be part of the process that maximizes their GA experience for the best.
GAU: What do you consider the most pressing issues affecting graduate students today? Can the union help address those issues?
Medina: High student fees. As GAs, we end up essentially paying around two months’ worth of our stipend back to the university to pay off student fees. Life as a graduate student is difficult enough without the added loss of paying some of the most expensive student fees in the country, especially when you look at the breakdown of what exactly you are paying for.
GAU: Historically speaking, what do you think accounts for the decline in unions over the last few decades, and what accounts for the recent spike in graduate student unions?
Medina: I think that the shift away from a manufacturing based economy and toward an information and service based economy has definitely contributed to the decline in unions, as well as a decreased respect for organized labor combined with a lack of urgency on the part of those who don’t want to rock the boat and just keep their jobs. At the same time, I know people who are union members who have been threatened with losing their jobs if they went to their unions to file grievances. I think the rise in student unions, especially in the history department, comes from graduate students witnessing much of this backlash against unions and realizing that it’s nothing new. We have to fight for what we’ve worked so hard to earn in the first place. Graduate students have to spend a lot of time and money to get to the level that they are working as GAs with assistantships, and we have to protect not only our jobs, but our educations. We’re not just working to survive, but to build our futures!
GAU: How important are graduate assistants to SIUC, and how important is GAU to our university?
Medina: Graduate students are extremely important to SIU. The students have more interaction with us than they do with the professors on a day to day basis. In the history department, I know that we do all of the grading and record keeping, lead discussion sections, and deal with the questions, complaints, etc. of upwards of 75 students apiece as part of a three TA team for the large lecture classes. Without us, either the university would have to hire more professors and break up the classes to make them more manageable, or the professors would have to handle them all themselves. This means that they would not have the time to do their own research or teach the smaller upper level classes. Without GAU, who knows how much more work might be piled on top of our current workload, resulting in us not having the time to get our own work and research done for our own classes.
GAU: What are your hopes for your future?
Medina: To earn my Ph.D. in a timely fashion and find employment as a history professor.
GAU: What are your hopes for the future of GAU?
Medina: To grow, stay strong, and inspire a stronger sense of community among graduate students so that we can ensure that GAs are able to do their very best both when it comes to their GA assignments and pursuing their degrees.