[An Open Letter to] Women of Color in Academia,

Dear GWSS 577, Women of Color Collective, People and scholars of all genders who are (or have been) Conditionally Accepted and thus Presumed Incompetent,

excerpts from the book Power Politics by Arundhati Roy, South End Press, 2001


… in the midst of putative peace, you could, like me, be unfortunate enough to stumble on a silent war. The trouble is that once you see it, you can’t unsee it. And once you’ve seen it, keeping quiet, saying nothing, becomes as political an act as speaking out. There’s no innocence. Either way, you’re accountable. [Emphasis added]

[Alma — thank you for the gift above — you shared it with us on Nov 5, 2012 via email– and I flagged it in my email (thinga ma bob) because I wanted to come back to it. I thought I was able to SEE then, but I realize now after all this time, that now I am able to see the silent war inside of me.]

Oh, oh oh, oh — how I have missed you. Despite our distance, you are near and dear in my heart. I am so grateful to Angela for this course and creating a CRITICAL MASS[1] of US, starting one small group at a time, and having that evolve, morph and grow with so much love, in between, near and far.

I am beginning to appreciate the depth of intention in the HOW Angela designed the course and HOW we were able to be make space for each other, while building trust, being VULNERABLE. You each made me feel as though the people and processes were the priority.

I am writing to you, now in my final and seventh year and with your permission I would like to include this conversation as part of my dissertation. [Respect, Consent]

The beginning of the current phase of transformation started when I was getting ready to give the TedX a year ago but I did it really start there? I have been thinking that it was the case, but in putting things into perspective, the seeds where planted with each of you. And Angela[2] was our master gardener.

Anne Balsamo said — “Who you learn with is as important as what you learn. Learning is a relationship, not just something that can be measured by outcomes or formal metrics.”

And though I guess I have always known that, being able to return to you and come full circle, only to know that this will continue to be a PROCESS OF BECOMING, as A VERB which is the way Robin Wall Kimmerer writes in Braiding Sweetgrass.[3]

How are YOU doing? How are YOU and all of your identities and all your relations doing? Despite not seeing/checking in on regular basis, we are still in conversation. So I want to share with you some GIFTS and catch up. Ricky is now 22, he’s finishing things up at community college in Oregon and is wrestling again. He’s finding his way and we are in the best place we have been. Greg is well, still patient as ever with me (and I am learning to see him too). And there is a new member of the family that some of you have met, our daughter who is amazing, curious and strong — now 16 months young. Assigned female at birth, I am working hard to create a safer world for her and others whose socially defined identities are undervalued. (She’s not on Facebook which causes a whole lotta chatter among family and friends, but I trust you understand why I may feel the way I do, given my area of study. Here’s a picture of us for you to enjoy.)

I wanted to write to you because we have built and earned each others TRUST. The HOW of my process of dissertation is the PRODUCT of my dissertation, showing and MAKING VISIBLE the PROCESS. [4]

After our time together in 2012, I still did not know what or HOW I would proceed in my doctoral studies, coming from education, living and breathing contradictions, beginning to understand the ACADEMIC SYSTEM was hard work but I was stronger because I was not alone. So I told myself after this class, regardless of whether or not I decide to pursue academia as a field, that I would follow my process, I would work center the most vulnerable or marginalized identities AND I would learn about violence and women — in order to minimize my chances of reproducing it.

Let me be clear, today in 2017 just like in 2012 when we met, I am still imperfect and making mistakes along the experimenting way. However, I continue to learn the ways of non-violent communication and aim to center my work to most vulnerable or marginalized socially defined identities because I wanted to have clear and present the limitations and challenges we face.

When I set out on the Latina Tech Project, I hesitated making Starting where we are my research, because I was afraid that the dissertation needs, would interfere with my ability to center the women. [5]AND given that I had a choice in the WHAT and HOW I designed my original research, I decided I did not want to ADD another layer of distance between the women and what was best for them. After all, we already had grant requirements from the City of Seattle, institutional limitations and all those had more power and privilege than the women and students I was collaborating with. It just did not make sense for me at that time. And thankfully, I had received funding from GO-MAP which meant I had the time and opportunity to use my RELATIVE position (and privilege) to be able to CENTER THE WOMEN in the project and remove as many institutional barriers as I had control over — as possible.

Here are the themes that are emerging that I would like to share with you. It is a conversation with each of you and Freire, bell hooks, Arundhati Roy, Joe Kincheloe, Leila Villaverde, Cynthia del Rosario, Charlotte Cote, my friends and mentors that are part of the Indigenous Information Research Group, friends from FemTechNet, folks connected with Engagement Scholarship Consortium, Shepard Symposium on Social Justice, academic mamas, The National Center for Institutional Diversity and a whole binder full of women of color in the academy. It is with you that I am not alone. It is with my ancestors grounded me, that I am here. And with my students and with my children and the future generations in my mind and in my heart, I write to you today.

When I first began at the University of Washington, I did not know where I fit. In one of my first courses at the Information School, I was reading about the philosophical foundations of my field and it was self-evident that I did not speak THAT language. But I learned to read, understand the context, limitations and audiences that was addressed in each journal article or study I read. And the colleagues I have meant along the way and in my cohort, have helped to unpack some of the thinking. It was well into my doctoral work, that I understood, why I didn’t understand all that was going on in Donna Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto, partly because I was not formally trained in feminist theories and partly because they were speaking HIGH theory[6].

“Indeed, the difference between critical constructivism and objectivism rests on the willingness of critical constructivists to reveal their allegiances and to admit their solidarities, their value structures and the ways such orientation affect their work (Coben, 1998; Cary, 1998; Carlson, 1997; Carlson and Apple, 1998 as cited in Kincheloe, 2005) [Bold added].

Which is why YOU each have been so instrumental to getting to where I am. Every choice I have made in the design, practice, teaching and sharing of my scholarship — reveals my allegiances. It is no secret. I orient my engaged scholarship in direction of YOU –my friends, mentors, in and out of the academy, Mujeres Sin Fronteras, my family, former and current students, and my community.

In my proposal I wrote –

Giving testimonio enables the participant to reflect upon their papelitos guardados or experiencias protegidas, stories and experiences that may otherwise have been silenced or gone untold (Delgado Bernal, et al, 2012). [7]

This letter serves as ‘mis papelitos guardados’, my ‘map of consciousness’ of navigating the academy and investigating race, gender, power and privilege.

I knew something powerful was happening when I walked into that room with each of you there. I began noticing the PHYSICAL room. A [class]room that was not built for us, not designed with our approaches, and technologies in mind. Not our bodies, not our radical minds, spirits grounded in strength, perseverance, love and creativity. Not designed with our kind of PEDAGOGY in mind. And we persisted. We made the clucky projector, sitting on top of the cart on wheels work for us, even though it was TIED to the WALL with a THICK, HEAVY CHAINLINK and PADLOCK. We transformed the space, to our home. We wrote letters and notes to each other, week after week, and we listened. We listened — Deep inside ourselves and acknowledged where we were, and all the while as we learned about the SYSTEMS. We held space for one another and we persisted again.

This letter serves as a way to reconnect with you, demonstrate RECIPROCITY as well as to MAKE VISIBLE what is SUPPRESSED and EXCLUDED and does not fit within the STRUCTURE.

You see, WE ARE LIVING, breathing, and thriving INTELLECTUALS. Our bodies are erased, suppressed and excluded just like OUR STORIES and OUR PROCESSES as means for survival.

“To assume a position which refuses to seek the structural sources of human suffering and exploitation is to support oppression and the power relations which sustain it (Freire, 1970, 1985; Perry, 2001).” [Emphasis added.]

Let me explain what is happening. I am finding myself writing, thinking and theorizing in my mind, in the car, on the go[8] and mostly in relation to people, actions, technologies, values and organizations and the complexity and simplicity of it all when we have the way to SEE. Let me explain what I mean, I dropped off my car at the dealer to get the oil changed. It is on time (well, kind of, I was 30 mins late to my appointment because I got stuck in thoughts and writing and didn’t want to leave the house yet, not ready to step away), and by ‘on time’ I mean it is within the dealer recommended mileage requirements for oil change (I have never really done that before but I guess I’m grown up, or simply have more resources to do it) because, well, I have the time and money to do it — for the first time in my adult life.

So, car dropped off and I am walking, not my usual mode of transportation, ½ block and I start thinking about the ASSEMBLAGES of what this theorizing PROCESS IS, me AND the heavy weight of the books, the written words, the texts of folks I do and do not know — and the computer, and all the other devices and the technology[9]; digital and analog — just like the stories I carry with me. You see and the stories I carry with me are the gift of the lessons I have received. They are my teaching art and my engagement, my theory is lived, with others, in community, it is light and enables transfer of ideas through critical pedagogies. They don’t cost extra, their only weight is the one on my heart, in seeing that “Until we are all free, we are none of us free.” Emma Lazarus[10]

But I digress, as I am walking, I am also thinking of the training I will offer tomorrow on DIVERSITY and I have the thought — HOW diversity is, well it IS ALL OF US. It is experiences that we have at our disposal, it is accessible; basically the stories we hear, the ones tell, it is the feelings and embodiments of it all. It is what we say it is, because it is my lived experiences. It is not the THEORY, it is the LIVING OF THEORY that comes back to Gloria Anzaldúa, Ruth Behar, Cherrie Morgada, Aurora Morales Levins, bell hooks, Patricia Hills Collins, Freire, it is the ‘I in Science’ and and all those other amazing resources that have and ARE instrumental in some way shape or form. And then I think, ‘ahh, I am going to say that in my workshop tomorrow, yeah’ — that sounds good. I should be writing this down. But I know that NOW, I understand. THAT this conundrum, it feeds right into the HOW and WHY my research and theorization is taking the FORM of the LETTER. Because the FORM or STRUCTURE of the dissertation is fixed. Whereas the FORM and STRUCTURE of my PROCESS, is fluid. It is IN DEVELOPMENT. It is raw and it is unapologetic, just like the violence that we have lived and seen reflected in colonization in historical terms and in contemporary times — it is state violence[11], institutional violence[12], culturally sanctioned violence[13], and prosecutable violence [14]– it IS in society, in our organizations, in our schools, in our homes, on TV, perpetuated via technologies (stories and technologies alike — digital and analog) and the internet too AND it is also in each of us.

We need to be careful, never to stop the PROCESS of BECOMING. We have the tools, frameworks[15], the knowledge, the experiences — no, the one you need to be careful of is the one that lives, breathes and multiplies inside of each of us.

We have the potential to PERPETUATE it with our thoughts, behaviors, actions- in person and via our use, adoption, framing of technologies[16]). So we need to begin and continue to engage in CRITICAL CONVERSATIONS about the –isms and technologies. We cannot wait for the empirical EMPIRICAL RESEARCH to catch up and be documented (and sold[17]) as research-based to SCHOOLS, CLASSROOMS, LIBRARIES and other PUBLIC INSTITUTIONS AND ORGANIZATIONS. We need to continue to RETHINK EDUCATION and the HOW and WHAT we do and teach[18], about WHAT knowledges matter, how they need to be presented, packaged, organized, retrieved, who are the gatekeepers, what does smart sound like and who does it look like, which bodies CAN possess it.[19]

Okay, now I’ve really got to run. But before I go let me show you two more things — make your PROCESSES visible. We need to reproduce what we NEED to find.

I hope you are well. Please take care of YOU and YOURS — and remember that we ARE a critical mass.

On to another topic, for another day.

With love, strength and self care,


I leave you with this:

Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t, YOU’RE RIGHT. [20]

Nike Advertising with Caption ‘Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t, YOU’RE RIGHT.’

We are not alone, find your people and transfer knowledge across artificial boundaries. Be a boundary spanner. And be clear in speaking to your audience.

You are mine.

“Aware of the complexity of the knowledge production process and its inherent uncertainty, critical constructivism becomes an epistemology focused process and its inherent uncertainty, critical constructivism becomes an epistemology focused on the individual’s process of constructing, not reflecting reality. Understanding knowledge production through the lens of hermeneutics.”

Kincheloe defines hermeneutics as “a form of philosophical inquiry that focuses on cultural, social, political and historical nature of research (2005).

Final Group Project, Women of Color in Academia 2012 — My artwork made the front cover of our Binder.
Final Group Project, Women of Color in Academia 2012 — Each one of us submitted a word that connected with us and the ideas we share. [Back Cover] Questioning; Decolonizing; Voice; Purpose; Coalitions; Activism; Justice; Counsel; Support. Thanks Greg for making our vision for this


Balsamo, A. (2015, March). Colloquium on FemTechNet and other experiments. Seattle, WA.

Currently in the works — Critical Pedagogy Summit

[1] I will come back to idea of a CRITICAL MASS later.

[2]Here are two readings: 1) about Angela; 2) from Angela- to demonstrate her INTENTIONALITY. 1) Building Bridges between Feminism and Science & 2) Contextualizing Violence in a Participatory Classroom: A Socially Defined Identities Approach.

[3] Martin introduced me to Robin and her book. Martin was introduced to Robin when we facilitated a session at the 2014 Engagement Scholarship Consortium in Edmonton, Alberta. Martin, Anne, Tracy, Danielle and I facilitated a workshop titled: Information and Marginality: Ethical Issues. Martin and I have been coming back to Robin and the ideas in the book, in our mentor conversations for the last 3 years.

[4] When I began to think about writing, I realized that there was so much that was missing and/or necessary to put together. I was going to need to start with instructions to share with my committee, so we could get on the same page. Similar to when I bring folks together a new learning group or critical conversation. Whether for a day, a quarter, or a year, we need to calibrate and find common ground to embark on our journey together.

[5] We cannot have true digital equity if we have already decided what it looks like, how to get there, who decides what success looks like and if we are prescriptive in what should count as being digitally included want and need.

[6] Thank you Professor Regina Lee. You are amazing and I appreciate collaborating and learning from you. Thank you for being an amazing feminista scholar and educator.

[7] This methodology also supports my desire to show agency (instruction 7 to myself). The instructions to self was inspired by Aurora Morales Levins — in her book Medicine Stories — I choose to write instructions to myself and make visible my process for my committee as. In order to be clear what and how I was moving forward in every step of the design from conceptualization, research design and methodologies, co-creation, co-theorization and delivery.

[8] I cannot remember now — but PhD Candidate and friend, Adam Bell has mentioned a faculty he works with whose scholarship is this area of theorizing on the go.

[9] I just came across this article a few weeks ago — 5 Reasons Why Technology Can Never Be Neutral.

[10] I was thinking of the MLK Jr quote but this one came to mind. I’m sitting at the starbucks and have not bothered to log on to the wifi because I want this to be intimate, like a conversation, except I know it is not exactly like a conversation, because I can go back, and edit, and revisit and reorganize and add to my thoughts. But beautiful elements that we can be free to learn from each other the way we did in our most meaningful times. This reminds me of Storywork — I tried looking STORYWORK on google — and let’s just say we have different ideas of what we mean. I am referring to Jo-Ann Archibald, INDIGENOUS STORYWORK: Educating the Heart, Mind Body and Spirit.

[11] Such as laws and surveillance.

[12] Like institutionalized racism and other structural inequalities. For instance, do we pay livable wages.

[13] People, communities, ways we talk about technology, IT Culture, Microagressions (and Technological Microaggressions) — are some of the ones that I have been thinking about.

[14] This one are things that can be prosecutable. Though it does not necessary mean it will or that the process with have procedural justice. For instance, rape, child pornography, assault, or HATE crimes are examples of prosecutable violence.

[15] Critical Race Theory; Violence; Equity; Cross-Cultural Leadership, Developmental Relationships Framework, Outreach and Engagement, it is #critlib, Academic Freedom, and last but not least it IS Indigenous Systems of Knowledge (Here is the description from our course catalog — LIS 534 Indigenous Systems of Knowledge — Conceptual foundations and comparative analysis of Indigenous Knowledge Organization Systems. Feasibility and use of contemporary knowledge organization mechanisms including thesauri and ontologies in expressing the cultures and artifacts of indigenous peoples. [Emphasis added]

[16] By technologies here, I mean any tool or method that assists people. A story is a technology, ‘Care is a feminist technology’, a pen, paper, pencil, book, laptop, etc.

[17] Check out the works of Michael Apple & Wayne Au — educational policy studies and educational equity.

[18] Also here I think of Howard Gardner and Multiple Intelligences.

[19] I heard Prof Megan Bang speak once at UW and was she said has stayed with me since — what does SMART look or sound like? Would you know?

[20] The Nike quote is one I have also used to guide my process. However, I wanted to know who said it originally. Which of course, let me to an internet rabbit hole and led me to this resource quote. https://quoteinvestigator.com/2015/02/03/you-can/