Some Ethnic Studies paradigms have become entrapped within, and sometimes indistinguishable from, the mandates of liberal multiculturalism, which rely on a politics of identitarian representation beholden to US nation-building and capitalist imperatives. On the one side, as Ethnic Studies has become more legitimized within the academy, it has frequently done so by distancing itself from those very international social movements that were the triggers for its genesis. On the other side, Ethnic Studies departments have always existed at the periphery of the academic industrial complex, and they have been further marginalized through funding cuts in the wake of the 2008 global economic crisis. In our current moment, regional governments and states have labeled Ethnic Studies departments as threats and sought to remove teachers, students, and programs engaged in critical analyses of global structures. While some may advocate the peremptory dismissal of identity or the wholesale embrace of identitarian nationalism, CESA seeks to construct an open dialogue around white supremacy, settler colonialism, capitalism, and heteropatriarchy, as well as militarism, occupation, Indigenous erasure, neocolonialism, anti-blackness, securitization and the policing of borders, the normalization of punishment and prisons, anti-Islam, etc. We consider it necessary to consistently strive to expand the conceptual parameters and transformative capacities of Ethnic Studies. CESA does not romanticize social movements or prescribe a specific relationship between scholars and activists. Still, we call into question the emphasis on professionalization within Ethnic Studies and the concomitant refusal to interrogate the politics of the academic industrial complex or to engage with broader movements for social transformation.
CESA, while building bridges beyond the academy, locates itself within the neoliberal university as a site of contestation. We do this to counteract the tendency of seeing the academic industrial complex as radically removed from the world and to situate the university as one location among many for political struggles. CESA came into existence in 2011 as part of the effort to accelerate confluence of conversations and actions between and within academic and activist communities, to take stock of the trajectory of social movements and community organizing in social and political thought, and draw from communities of color, transnational, and indigenous writers, teachers, and students who are simultaneously practicing within community and activist work even while in academic spaces.