Andy Smith is a leading scholar of Native American Feminism. As a founder of INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence, she challenged the “politics of inclusion” and helped define Women of Color Feminism within academia and grassroots movements for social justice. She fundamentally re-shaped the discourse around colonial violence, and was nominated for a Nobel Peace prize with her book, Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide.
She was by far, one of the best professors I’ve ever had and continues to be an important intellectual influence in my life.
When the University of Michigan denied her tenure this week, it showed audacious disrespect for the field of study she helped define and the people whose lives have been changed by it. If it were not for Andy Smith and professors like her at the University of Michigan– Nadine Naber, Emily Lawsin, Sarita See, Maria Cotera and Jayati Lal, there’s a strong chance I would not have finished my undergraduate studies. I think the same could be said for hundreds of other women of color. And thinking back to the community of student activists I worked with at U of M, I knew just as many white men, men of color and white women who also had their minds blown wide open by the experience of learning from these women.
If it weren’t for these women, I might never have been exposed to ideas like “the three pillars of white supremacy,” “intersectionality,” Arab and muslim feminisms, or feminist oral history. I would not have read Borderlands, This Bridge Called My Back, The Salt Eaters, or The Color of Violence. I would also never have thought it was possible to be a brilliant academic and a deeply invested community organizer at the same time.
I think one of the main reasons why U of M is denying Andy tenure is the fact that she is able to be both. Of course there are undertones of racism and sexism at work in their decision. But it also reflects their priorities. By their decision, they seem to be saying, scholarship is only valuable when it is confined to the pages of obscure, academic journals. If it attempts to also speak to people outside the academy, or to those who are most marginalized within the academy, it loses credibility.
Andy Smith’s work transcends the academic/non-academic divide. She has the ability to break down the most complex ideas in language that is completely accessible. She injects humor into places where academics and activists alike would say, it doesn’t belong. She sees the world with an incisive clarity that leads her to draw conclusions that are visionary and often unorthodox to “leftist” thought. The major concepts she helped develop– seeing the Sate as the central organizer of violence against Women of Color, and the Non-Profit Industrial Complex as one of the greatest threats to our movements– are changing the way people act in their daily lives, their organizations and communities.
The truth is that these ideas evolved because of and spite of the fact that she was working within academia. As much as I may find myself hating on academia, I think it is vital that human intellect be given the space to flourish and evolve. In it’s best form, academia offers that space. Andy’s tenure case will determine whether future generations of brilliant community organizers will have the space within academia from which to make the kinds of profound contributions to scholarship and movement-building that she has done.
Statement of University of Michigan Students and Faculty in Support of Andrea Smith’s Tenure CaseCONTACT: TenureForAndreaSmith@gmail.comOn February 22nd, 2008, University of Michigan’s College of Literature, Science and the Arts (LSA) issued a negative tenure recommendation for Assistant Professor Andrea Lee Smith. Jointly appointed in the Program in American Culture and the Department of Women’s Studies, Dr. Smith’s body of scholarship exemplifies scholarly excellence with widely circulated articles in peer-reviewed journals and numerous books in both university and independent presses including Native Americans and the Christian Right published this year by Duke University Press. Dr. Smith is one of the greatest indigenous feminist intellectuals of our time. A nominee for the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize, Dr. Smith has an outstanding academic and community record of service that is internationally and nationally recognized. She is a dedicated professor and mentor and she is an integral member of the University of Michigan (UM) intellectual community. Her reputation and pedagogical practices draw undergraduate and graduate students from all over campus and the nation.Dr. Smith received the news about her tenure case while participating in the United States’ hearings before the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. Ironically, during those very same hearings, the 2003 U.S. Supreme Court decisions that restricted affirmative action policies at UM specifically were cited as violations of international law. At the same time, there is an undeniable link between the Department of Women’s Studies and LSA’s current tenure recommendations and the long history of institutional restrictions against faculty of color. In 2008, students of color are coming together to protest the way UM’s administration has fostered an environment wherein faculty of color are few and far between, Ethnic Studies course offerings have little financial and institutional support, and student services for students of color are decreasing each year.To Support Professor Andrea Smith: The Provost must hear our responses! Write letters in support of Andrea Smith’s tenure case. Address email letters to ALL of the following:
- Teresa Sullivan, Provost and Executive VP for Academic Affairs, LSA, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Lester Monts, Senior Vice Provost for Academic Affairs, LSA, email@example.com
- Mary Sue Coleman, President, PresOff@umich.edu
- TenureForAndreaSmith@gmail.comVoice your ideas on the web forum at http://www.woclockdown.org/