Get to Know a Steward: Ryan Campbell

RyanCampbell thumbnailFor the seventh installment in our Get to Know a Steward series, the GAU Communications Committee asked Ryan Campbell, co-steward for the Department of Anthropology, several questions about his life, biological anthropology, David Graeber, academic hierarchy, democracy, Dr. Susan Ford and humorously bad movies.  

GAU Communications Committee: Where are you originally from, and what brought you to SIUC?

Ryan Campbell: I was born in Wichita, Kansas and spent most of my formative years living near there in a small town called Clearwater, Kansas.  To give you an idea of the size of that community, there were 86 people in my graduating class!  It was the kind of town where everyone knows each other and social norms were strongly enforced.  As a result, the community lacked diversity.  When I entered college, I was exposed to a more diverse group of people.  I think that experience ignited my curiosity about the lives of other people, which I ultimately focused into a career as an anthropologist.

I came to SIUC specifically to obtain my Ph.D. in anthropology.  The anthropology faculty at this institution are world renowned.  I was excited to be taught by and collaborate with some of the most respected names in the field.  Overall, I haven’t been disappointed.

GAU: You’re pursuing a doctoral degree in anthropology. Why should anyone care about anthropology?

Campbell: In the broadest sense, anthropology is the study of variation among humans and our primate relatives.  Anthropologists study all of those things that unify humans as a single species and the things that distinguish us as members of groups.  We examine how our evolutionary history has created great biological and cultural diversity and what that diversity tells us about the nature of our own existence.

As our social world broadens due to our ability to interact as a global community, anthropological insight is more important than ever.  We must understand that cultural differences arise as a response to varied historical circumstances.  Anthropological research provides a foundation for understanding and respecting human difference.

GAU: You noted on your profile page that your focus is biological anthropology. What is biological anthropology all about?

Campbell: We traditionally divide anthropology into four subfields: socio-cultural anthropology, linguistic anthropology, archaeology, and biological anthropology.  There tends to be considerable overlap between these subfields due to some of the unifying principles of anthropological research, primarily our holistic approach to understanding humanity.

Biological anthropology, the subfield where I situate my own research, is primarily concerned with human biological variation, the evolutionary history that gave rise to that variation, and variation within the primate lineage as a whole.  As you might imagine, based on that description, biological anthropologists find themselves researching a wide variety of topics.  You might find a biological anthropologist examining human skeletal remains from an archaeological site to understand the health of a past population, or you may find a biological anthropologist in the forests of Borneo studying the social behavior of orangutans, or you could even find a biological anthropologist studying the seasonal birth patterns of modern pastoralists in Kenya.  It is a broad field of study.

GAU: On the same profile page, you also wrote that your proposed dissertation, with the working title of “Biological Affinity and Activity Induced Long Bone Growth during the Coalescent Period on the American Great Plains,” will assay likeness among folks with “long bone morphology,” and consider whether it “can be attributed to similar culturally determined behavioral patterns, or whether similarities are more accurately explained by biological relationships between individuals.” Have you made any progress yet in discovering whether culture or biology is the bigger determining factor in these cases?

Campbell: We have recognized for some time that humans are biocultural organisms.  Who we are, both physically and mentally, is the result of complex interactions between genes and environment (and I would lump culture in with environment here).  I’m examining just a small aspect of a much bigger question with my research, but what I’m specifically interested in are the effects that changes in activities have on the bones of our arms and legs.  Without going into too much detail, the Plains Indians experienced dramatic shifts in their lifeways at the time of Euro-American contact.  Reduced mobility, for example, coincides with changes in their leg bones, but did reduced mobility cause this change or was there a change in the gene pool?  Answering this question has important implications for using the skeleton to interpret activity.  In general, the activities we engage in throughout the day have a major effect on the bones of our arms and legs, but the effect is limited by our genes.

GAU: As a graduate student studying in your particular area of anthropology, and as GAU co-steward for the Department of Anthropology, do you think union solidarity is more a factor of cultural or biological predispositions?

Campbell: Ha!  Well, since the commodification of labor is a cultural construction, I think the easy way out of this question would be to call union solidarity a cultural phenomenon.   However, I will wade into this a little deeper to explore the possibility that we may have some inherent biological predisposition to form unions.

I think this notion of union solidarity gets at a larger issue.  Is it more natural for humans to work together towards a common goal, a process that may involve compromise, or does our biology demand we serve our individual interests and view everyone as a competitor?

The truth, like most things, is probably somewhere in the middle.  My view would be that we best serve our self-interest by working together, collectively focusing on what is best for the group, whatever that group may be – a labor union, for example.

Humans are gregarious animals, and anthropology has taught us that the cooperation of the group, not competition between individuals, is what has created an advantage for our species.  For those who are interested in the subject, anthropologist Agustin Fuentes recently spoke at TEDx about the important role cooperation has played in our evolution.  All humans tend to thrive when they find ways to work together toward a collective goal.  While I doubt we could ever disentangle whether it is biology or culture that drives us towards group solidarity, our evolutionary history seems to indicate that better cooperation wins out in the end.

GAU: David Graeber, author of “Debt: The First 5,000 years,” who teaches anthropology at Goldsmiths, University of London, and participated in many of the assemblies leading up to the initial occupation of Wall Street on Sept. 17, 2011, was essentially forced to resign from his post at Yale over activist and union related issues. In an interview with Charlie Rose, he said:

While I don’t know what happened, a lot of the students felt that they did. Originally it was the students that began to protest, and the overwhelming conclusion of the graduate students was that it had something to do with my defense of one of the graduate students who was a union organizer, who they [the administration at Yale] tried to kick out of the program.

Graeber went on to describe the incident as ironic, because he said he made concerted effort not to get involved in local politics. “I figured the sensible thing to do in a situation like that was to be an activist in New York and then I would just be a scholar at Yale,” he said. “Because at Yale there’s all these union issues. There’s a lot of very bitter controversy, particularly in my department. And I just figured I would stay out of it. But somehow it became impossible. So ironically actually, I got drawn in largely by what I thought was intellectual integrity. I thought the student was a very, very good student. And she deserved to be defended.”

As a fellow anthropologist, what is your take on what happened to Graeber at Yale? In relation, do you think backlash from University administrations over graduate student union activity or activism is common, and do you consider union activity to be a contentious topic in the anthropology department here at SIUC?

Campbell: Graeber is one of the great public voices in anthropology right now, and although his anthropological work falls outside of my own area of research, I am familiar with some of his writing.  I think his perspective, especially regarding the origin of debt, is refreshing.  That being said, I don’t really know what motivated the administration at Yale to let him go.  Based on what I know of the controversy, it seems like Yale let go of a prominent young academic without clearly articulating their reasoning for doing so.  It could have been related to his defense of this graduate student or his political activism, although I don’t see Graeber as any more radical than many other professors.  I would only be guessing at the “why” in this particular case since the facts were never made clear.  I think that ultimately the decision was a big loss for Yale, since Graeber invites a great deal of media attention.  I imagine, because of his activism, that Graeber could draw in a considerable number of students.

As for how commonplace it is for administrators to retaliate against graduate students for their union activity, I would hope that it never happens, but I fear it probably has on occasion.  I have never personally experienced any negative repercussions for my union activity.  I am lucky enough to be a student in a department where this has never really been an issue.  Anthropologists tend to fall on the side of labor in most cases since we are keenly aware of the power imbalance in a stratified organization like a university.

GAU: In the same interview, Graeber also said: “In academia there’s a hierarchy. And you’re supposed to be scared. You’re supposed to be sort of cowering before people. And I was never disrespectful to people, but I didn’t cower.”

He said there are structures of hierarchy that give some “people complete impunity and power over others,” which can create “a psychological dynamic that is almost sadomasochistic.”

Previously, in the 2006 Malinowski Memorial Lecture, he critiqued the theory of French philosopher Michel Foucault, suggesting:

Foucault’s ascendancy in turn was precisely within those fields of academic endeavor that both became the haven for former radicals, but that were themselves most completely divorced from any access to political power, or increasingly, even to real social movements—which gave Foucault’s emphasis on the ‘power/knowledge’ nexus, the assertion that forms of knowledge are always also forms of social power, indeed, the most important forms of social power, a particular appeal.

Graeber also argued “that situations created by violence—particularly structural violence,” meaning “forms of pervasive social inequality that are ultimately backed up by the threat of physical harm—invariably tend to create the kinds of willful blindness we normally associate with bureaucratic procedures.” He added that bureaucratic procedures are not “inherently stupid,” nor do they just produce stupid behavior, but rather “they are invariably ways of managing social situations that are already stupid because they are founded on structural violence.”

So, from your anthropological perspective, has academia become an enclave of ineffectual intellectuals obsequious or indifferent to the exercise of power, and/or has University become too fraught with iniquity and top-down bureaucratic decision-making – so much so it constitutes structural violence?

Campbell: I’m not sure I would fully agree with the idea that academia is full of “ineffectual intellectuals” who don’t really care about the exercise of power.  That seems a little hyperbolic and undermines the work of those who are trying to effect a change at universities across the country.  Those of us who were here during the last round of contract negotiations witnessed the SIU Faculty Association push back against the administration, which indicates to me that at least some of our intellectuals are concerned about the power imbalance on college campuses and the direction of academia in general.

That being said, the culture of the university does appear to have changed over time.  From my limited perspective, there seems to be a shift away from a model where the university was a center for creative research and teaching to a model where the university is a business selling a product.  I think to a large degree that shift is due to forces outside the university.  I will say, however, that if my training as an anthropologist has taught me anything, it is that there are other perspectives to consider.

GAU: In “The Democracy Project,” David Graeber problematized labor. He wrote,

Submitting oneself to labor discipline—supervision, control, even the self-control of the ambitious self-employed—does not make one a better person. In most really important ways it probably makes one worse. To undergo it is a misfortune that at best is sometimes necessary. Yet it’s only when we reject the idea that such labor is virtuous in itself that we can start to ask what actually is virtuous about labor. To which the answer is obvious. Labor is virtuous if it helps others.  

Could you open up Graeber’s analysis for us?

Campbell: Graeber would like to see a cultural shift regarding how we conceptualize our labor.  He is suggesting a way forward, how we might change our cultural understanding of productivity.  For Graeber, and I tend to agree here, we should conceptualize labor as productive only when it helps others.  Today, we tend to think of those who are not working, the unemployed, as lazy or somehow taking something from the rest of society.  Graeber is saying that not all labor is equal.  Some labor is honorable because it helps others, but there are also types of labor that are exploitative.  We should not reward those that would seek to exploit others and we should not vilify those who choose to opt out of the labor market.

GAU: As co-steward for the Department of Anthropology, do you see Graduate Assistants in your field of study becoming interested in any union activities?

Campbell: In general, I get the sense that most of our Graduate Assistants view the union favorably, but feel that participating in union activities could pull them away from their studies.  I would love to see more involvement from people in our department.  Hopefully, we will see more participation from anthropology GAs in the future.

GAU: At “The PHD Movie” screening GAU helped organize, Graduate School interim dean, Susan Ford, said she watched a “quite humorous” film about anthropology and graduate study many years ago. Have you seen any funny anthropology flicks? If so, have you and Dr. Ford discussed these movies at any length?

Campbell: Dr. Ford is a fantastic mentor, and I have discussed many topics with her at length, but I can’t recall specifically discussing funny anthropology flicks.  In the anthropology department, we tend to associate humorous anthropologically-themed films with one of our emeriti faculty, Dr. Robert Corruccini.  Over the years, Dr. Corruccini has introduced his students to many “bad anthropology” films including such classics as “Quest for Fire”, “Trog”, “Mistress of the Apes”, “Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death”, and Ringo Starr’s masterpiece “Caveman”.  If you are planning on taking an anthropology course at any point, I would strongly recommend spending a weekend reviewing these films as a primer.

Membership meeting piques GA interest, generates responses

By James Anderson

With pizza from Quatro’s atop tables against the wall, alongside a variety of generic soda and a laptop hooked up to a borrowed projector, a town hall ambience suffused the room on the third floor of the Student Center the night of Feb 19.

Those who delivered reports stood and looked upon their colleagues, sharing the same physical space of the room, bound together by the shared roles they occupy at the University and the sense of solidarity that brought them there.

Those Graduate Assistants came together that evening for the GAUnited spring semester General Membership Meeting to hear committee reports, learn about upcoming officer elections, discuss the mid-March Intent to Bargain rally and deliberate with regards to the bargaining agenda.

An earlier GMM was held from noon to 1 p.m. that day, and Matt Ryg, president of GAU, attended both.

Ryg gave the Executive Committee report and highlighted union activities at the evening meeting.

Following initiative from the Executive, GAU filed an unfair labor practice charge against the University on Feb. 10, Ryg said in the report.

The charge pertains to the Graduate School’s announcement that they would no longer approve assistantship higher than a .5 full-time equivalent, he said.

Ryg noted Section 5.3 in the collective bargaining agreement that states an appointment can be up to .75 FTE.

“By unilaterally prohibiting those, it’s a violation of our contract,” Ryg said.

Ryg also reminded those in attendance that while the Executive is composed of elected officers and the chairs of the different GAU committees, the EC meetings are open to the public.

Kevin Taylor, vice president of Communications, updated attendees on what the Communications Committee, which he chairs, has been up to.

Taylor said the monthly e-newsletter, The Advocate, is the way most GAs – the 2,181 who receive union emails – read and see the work of his committee.

The most read article in the history of The Advocate is a piece Benny LeMaster, doctoral candidate in the department of speech communication, wrote for the special Black Friday edition of the newsletter, Taylor said.

Taylor said the GAU website is an enhanced WordPress webpage.

“We’ve modified it, cleaned it up from last year so everything is much easier to navigate and it structurally makes a lot more sense,” he said. “And it’s prettier.”

He said the Communications Committee has borrowed from other organizations and templates to generate the union calendar, “The PHD Movie” fliers, happy hour handouts and other materials.

“We work very closely with all of the committees because we are Communications,” Taylor said

He mentioned that GAU is also communicating through a variety of social media outlets, from Twitter, to Facebook to Instagram, to better engage and interact with members.

The new GAU Member Bargaining Survey, emailed to Graduate Assistants on Feb. 15, is one way interactive method, Taylor noted. The survey will help determine the union’s bargaining agenda.

A set of policy briefs created by the Legislative and Political Action Committee will also be used when bargaining, the subsequent LPAC report stated.

Briefs on wages, fees, healthcare and quality control all drafted by LPAC members were passed on to the Executive, and those policy statements contain sample language that can be used in the next round of contract negotiations to model the future CBA.

GAs who are interested in or already working on other projects related to any of the following, the LPAC report stated, are encouraged to join the committee:

  • Social or economic justice
  • Labor issues
  • Workplace democracy
  • Ideas for direct action or demonstrations
  • Plans for rallies
  • Legislative policy suggestions
  • Community service ideas
  • Civic engagement activities
  • Bargaining agenda items
  • Coalition building strategies to collaborate with other student/University organizations
  • Solidarity with other unions and union causes, like the #UICStrike

LPAC is encouraging the sort of social movement unionism that takes solidarity seriously, and makes broader issues of justice and democracy on campus and beyond issues for union activism too, the LPAC report suggested, as well as issues central to Graduate Assistants.

Some of those central issues include labor disputes and grievances.

Sandy Kim, GAU grievance officer, briefed those at the meeting about what a grievance is, and what the grievance procedure entails.

She said that GAs that think one of their rights under the collective bargaining agreement have been violated should talk to their department steward, who can then either help informally resolve the issue or consult the Grievance Committee.

“Ideally you want to resolve the grievance informally with your department chair or the lowest level administrator before we have to go any kind of formal grievance process,” Kim said. “But the formal grievance process is outlined in the CBA, Article 20.”

Kim said GAU recently reached an “historic settlement” with University Housing, which received some press coverage. She listed several other Grievance Committee accomplishments and on-going work:

  • Helped GAs in the medical school facilitate move to a new lab in Texas
  • Worked with the computer science department and Susan Ford, interim dean of the graduate school, to investigate GA abuse
  • Answered contractual questions for a number of GAs in various departments
  • Filed a class-action formal grievance with the English department that is now at level 3

She said the union initially filed the English grievance with the department chair. That was followed by an appeal to the graduate dean.

Kim said she and a few other GAs, along with Zach Macholz, steward for the English department who has been trying to resolve the departmental issues since last fall, sat down with Chancellor Rita Cheng and the University’s legal counsel to discuss the issues raised in the initial grievance.

The grievance is now “sitting with Chancellor Cheng,” Kim said. “So if the issues aren’t resolved at level three we go to arbitration.”

Jim Podesva, former president of GAU who sat at the bargaining table with Cheng and the rest of the administration during the last contract negotiations, sketched out ideas for the new bargaining committee, which is still being ironed out.

He said, in anticipation of the impending bargaining season, that “if you or you know somebody who is interested in that sort of thing – who you think have talents in that direction, we’d love to have you.”

Not everybody involved in bargaining sits at the table, Podesva reminded everyone. “Most of it is research.”

Patience is a virtue, especially when it comes to bargaining, he said.

“Look, if you think that you’re going to get involved in negotiations, and, by golly, it’s like a Hollywood movie where you’re going to stand up and pound on the table and say, ‘I want no fees, damnit!’ – that isn’t how it works,” he said.

He explained that the bargaining committee does not set its own target, and that the bargaining agenda is determined by members.

Membership has increased 38 percent since last year, and it has grown 17 percent over the last 5 years.

“The trend is curving upward,” said Podesva, who is also the Steward Council Chair.

Earlier, at the Steward Council meeting, he said stewards “are one of the most important assets the union has,” partly because stewards help cultivate new activists in their respective departments, and generally increase GAU numbers.

Those numbers make “all the difference in the world,” he said, adding that in the vein, there will be a unified declaration of the intent to bargain at a rally on March 19 at noon.

“It’s not just going to be three well-intentioned people holding signs like we’re angry or whatever,” he said.

All four on-campus unions will be there, he said, as will folks from unions in the surrounding area.

Dennis Lunt, who helped organize sit-ins to peacefully inveigh against the SIUC administration’s refusal to bargain in good faith during the last contract negotiations – and who earlier in 2011 protested the removal of the philosophy program at Cedarville University – spoke with fellow GAU organizer Jessica Soester about the Membership Committee at the GMM, and at the Steward Council Meeting that preceded it.

Lunt said he and Soester missed the first part of the GMM – and had to leave the Steward Council meeting early – because they were GAs in the College of Mass Communication and Media Arts. They answered questions, explained what the union does and “generally made ourselves visible,” he said. “That’s really our job – to make the union visible and bring some more folks in.”

Lunt emphasized that membership matters. He said the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Graduate Employees’ Organization has been around longer and has larger membership, which is why they have been able to bargain fees down to about $500 to $600 per semester.

The University of Illinois also does not have a minimum credit hour requirement for graduate students with assistantships. However, to have an assistantship, U of I graduate students must be registered for fall and spring semester, and individual departments at the University can have credit hour requirements, the Graduate College at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign said in a phone conversation with GAUnited.

“We’re heading that direction I think,” Lunt said.

He and Soester both said they are happy to meet with department RSOs and can attend other student gatherings later this spring to talk about the union.

Also later this spring, Ryg reminded those in attendance, upcoming officer elections will take place.

The notice for those elections will go out April 21, he said, and the elections will take place May 6.

Ryg also opened the meeting up to discussion about the bargaining agenda.

Kevin Horn, a doctoral student in zoology, suggested trying “to get a GAU office somewhere on campus.”

Natalie Nash, a master’s student studying zoology, said she would like to see some “clarity in terms,” regarding payment of fees.

It is all too easy to come in expecting the fee amount to be for the entire academic year, when in actuality the amount is for just a semester.

Nash said that “getting more clarification on how things are going to move forward,” from the discussion and reports, “and the opportunity to contribute to that,” were some of the better aspects of the meeting.

“I’m hoping to get involved,” she said. “I’m kind of interested in all of the aspects, so I need to find one and prioritize it.”

John Flowers, a doctoral student studying critical race theory and Zen philosophy, said the meeting was informative for GAs not well-versed in how the union functions but interested in the way it works.

“If I had known about this a lot earlier, I would have been far more involved, far quicker,” he said, citing the lack of racial diversity at the meeting as another area with room for improvement with respect to GAUnited activism.

Although he said he’d like to see more diversity in the membership, the union is still “probably one of the better organizations I’ve run into.”

Flowers, who is also president of the Sports Clubs Executive Board at the Student Rec Center, said union participation seems now a “natural outgrowth” of his other advocacy work on behalf of students.

He said his father was a union man when working in the telecommunications industry, and his mother was a member of the Illinois Education Association when she taught high school in the Chicago Public School system. Most of CPS is unionized through the Chicago Teachers Union, which is part of the American Federation of Teachers and not the IEA, but there are certain positions in the system that are affiliated with other unions.

“Union stuff is a thing that my family has done for a long time and it seems to be a fairly natural thing for me to become involved,” he said.

James Anderson is a doctoral candidate and the GAU Steward for the College of Mass Communication and Media Arts. His interests include social movements, alternative media, critical theory, prefigurative politics, horizontalidad, political economy and praxis.

Graduate Student Health Insurance Video Contest

Turl photo

Would you like the chance to win some cash? How about earning a line on you résumé? Here’s your chance! Graduate Assistants United is looking for a one to two minute video that highlights how health insurance is a crucial component to a healthy, viable, and productive graduate education. Contestants are encouraged to take fun, humorous, and sassy approaches to how “minimally compliant coverage” just isn’t the Saluki way. The best videos will be used in GAU’s “Better Health, Better SIU” campaign. So if you want a chance to show your creativity, become a YouTube star, or help your SIU community, send your submission to by March 15, 2014!

First place will receive $25 dollars, and there will be three $5 prizes for second place entries.                                                                                     



UIC Faculty Strike

By James Anderson

After 18 months of bargaining, University of Illinois Chicago Faculty will be walking the picket lines Tuesday, Feb. 18, and Wednesday, Feb. 19., to pressure the University of Illinois Board of Trustees to bargain in earnest and agree to a fair, equitable contract.

Trustee proposals thus far would short change faculty, students and the University as a whole, the UIC Faculty Union wrote in a press release.

The United Faculty Local 6456 also noted in the press release, regarding circumstances surrounding the struggle for a fair contract, that while administrative positions at UIC have increased 10 percent in the last five years, tenured faculty positions have decreased by one percent.

The UIC United Faculty published details on the strike: the picketing, the rally set for Tuesday at 10 a.m., and a light brigade banner that evening followed by a demonstration at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 18 at the UIC Pavilion.

The UIC Graduate Employees Organization, the labor union representing more than 1,400 Graduate and Teaching Assistants at the University of Illinois-Chicago, posted information on how to support the United Faculty strike using social media, including sample Tweets for a “Twitter Storm using the hashtag #UICStrike” Tuesday evening from 7 to 9 p.m.

Lennard Davis, professor of English in the School of Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago, told GAUnited that people can Like the UIC United Faculty on Facebook and follow #UICStrike on Twitter.

Davis and Walter Benn Michaels, also professor of English at UIC who studies literary and theoretical writing and authored, “The Trouble with Diversity: How We Learned to Love Identity and Ignore Inequality,” co-wrote a piece for Jacobin about the impending strike.

In the article, they described some of the developments — and lack thereof — leading to the extant situation:

Historically, the administration of the university was a function of faculty who were chosen to manage the running of departments.  The Dean was Dean of Faculty — chosen by and beholden to the people who actually teach students. But with the bureaucratization of the university and the growth of the university as corporation, deans, provosts, and their myriad vice-provosts have become management. This now-bloated segment of the university makes decisions about the welfare of faculty and students.  A recent study shows that non-faculty jobs have grown by 27 percent while faculty lines remain flat or decreasing.

The term “shared governance” is invoked to disguise this evisceration of power but what it mainly means is that faculty senates can “advise” the administration and the administration can then do whatever it wants. To call shared governance real governance is like saying your dog has an equal say in how your household is run because sometimes when he whines he gets fed.

Read more

James Anderson is a doctoral candidate and the GAU Steward for the College of Mass Communication and Media Arts. His interests include social movements, alternative media, critical theory, prefigurative politics, horizontalidad, political economy and praxis.

SIU students protest living conditions at Menard

A group of protestors, including a contingent from Carbondale, stand in front of Menard Correctional Center in Chester on Thursday in support of prisoners on hunger strike within the facility. The group banged drums, pots and metal objects, as they yelled to employees leaving the prison and inmates conversing through an open window.

CHESTER — A group of students from SIU protested with a noise demonstration Thursday afternoon outside Menard Correctional Center.

The group from SIU, along with protesters from St. Louis, protested the living conditions of inmates who have reportedly been on a hunger strike since Jan. 15, said Nick Smaligo, SIU graduate student.

He said there were about 25 inmates who were involved in the strike initially and nine remain now.

In a written statement from Smaligo and other protesters, he said the hunger strikers reported abusive conditions, including cold temperatures, rodent infestations, filthy cells, inadequate blankets, no hot water and poor access to health care. The strikers also report retaliation from prison authorities, including intimidation and the storming of cells.

“The major problem is the prisons are kept in this high security unit without any idea of why they are in it and without any due process for how they get out of it,” Smaligo said. “That is a significant thing and, as far as I know, that is a violation of federal law.”

Smaligo said on Jan. 27 a number of people went to Menard and did a noise demonstration.


Anyone interested in getting in touch with the protesters should contact

University reaches settlement with GAU

Kyle Sutton of the Daily Egyptian sat down to speak with members of Graduate Assistants United about successfully settling a grievance with the University.

A graduate assistant who filed a grievance against the SIU more than a year ago has reached a settlement.

Graduate Assistants United and the university reached a settlement stemming from a grievance filed against University Housing in November of 2012 by Kevin Ross, a graduate student from Pickneyville studying rehabilitation counseling.

The university and the GAU settled on the amount of a $650 compensation for Ross.

Under the collective bargaining agreement between the Board of Trustees and GAU, a grievance is defined as a dispute raised by an assistant against the university.

When the grievance was filed, Ross was working as an area complex director for graduate and family services of University Housing at Evergreen Terrace.


Angela Davis Recollects Histories, Insists on Transformative Resistance

When Angela Davis was introduced before her talk at Shryock Auditorium on Southern Illinois University Carbondale campus on Feb. 13, the speaker said he struggled to find an adequate way to encapsulate all that the long-time activist and scholar put into practice, but he found an answer – love.

“What could influence such courage, such desire for freedom?” he said seconds before Davis stepped onstage. “And what could inspire others to change the world? And I thought, it was love.”

He said it had to be love that drove Davis during the civil rights movement and throughout many historical struggles.

When Davis spoke she said “you have to act as though it’s possible to radically transform the world,” and she emphasized the importance of recuperating history.

“When I think about the difficulty we have in this country of honestly talking about our history, of talking about the colonization of the indigenous inhabitants, and recognizing that we are a settler nation, talking about slavery,” she said the abilities of other countries, like South Africa, to at least open up that repressed past, “should inspire us to get started.”

Davis said the period from 1865 to 1877 was the “most radical era,” and “the most important era in the history of the country,” because of reconstructive efforts immediately following the official end to slavery.

“We never really abolished slavery,” Davis qualified, noting “something akin to slavery emerged through the punishment apparatus.”

Drawing on Douglas Blackmon’s book, “Slavery by Another Name,” Davis said the nation lacks an adequate vocabulary to communicate the “magnitude of the impact of slavery,” and fully consider it as a “catastrophe with vast implications.”

The “convict lease system,” which started after 1865 perpetuated what Blackmon called “neo-slavery,” Davis explained.

She critiqued media coverage honoring Nelson Mandela, following his death on Dec. 5, 2013, for stressing the anti-apartheid revolutionary’s purported penchant for forgiving and forgetting.

“In all these relationships it was not about forgiving and forgetting,” Davis said.

She said Mandela demanded that people not remain the same and instead advanced the “revolutionary transformation of the self,” and “transformation of social relations.”

Elsewhere called the transformative power of love, these histories of humanization, these histories of slavery and genetic critique of the prison-industrial complex teach us “that resistance is possible,” she said. “Resistance is not only possible, but it is the only legitimate response to these systems and apparatuses of un-freedom.”

“The ideological effect of the criminalization of blackness is still with us,” she said, affirming the connections between slavery and the contemporary criminal justice system. She also affirmed the “link between anti-slavery abolitionism and the link between anti-prison abolitionism.”

After the lecture, during a question and answer session, Nick Smaligo, a Teaching Assistant in the philosophy department at SIUC, asked Davis if she had heard about the prisoners at Menard Correctional Center on hunger strike since Jan. 15., and now reported to possibly have started refusing liquids.

“How do you think the movement against mass incarceration, as the new slavery, as ‘The New Jim Crow,’ how can we – not just as academics but also as individuals as groups on the outside – how can we organize a movement against this really?” Smaligo asked.

“It’s so important to have solidarity,” Davis answered, “particularly when prisoners engage in the only form of radical resistance that is available to them.”

During the question and answer period Davis reminded the audience “how much social justice struggles influence the scholarly universe.”

She said we academics must better “acknowledge the fact that knowledge gets produced outside of the academy.”

“The way in which we conceptualize the world will never actually replicate social relations in the world,” she added, intimating the connection between theory and practice.

And contrary to popular belief, Davis said, many young people today make that connection.

Recent social movements also illustrate the potential for creating “communities of resistance,” she said.

Davis cited Occupy Wall Street as a movement that enabled society “to critically engage with capitalism in such a way that had not been possible since the 1930s.”

“I think we’re still living with the inheritances of Occupy,” she said.

Many students – or indebted former students and graduates – participated in Occupy.

Davis noted during her talk how “public education suffers because it’s not profitable according to corporate measures,” and added that there is an urgent need to recognize interconnectedness to bring a variety of social justice issues together.

“So my answer is organize,” Davis said.

Anyone interested in contacting Nick regarding organizing can email him at

James Anderson is a doctoral candidate and the GAU Steward for the College of Mass Communication and Media Arts. His interests include social movements, alternative media, critical theory, prefigurative politics, horizontalidad, political economy and praxis.