With whom do we do this work?


“The future is neither an uncritical embrace of the past nor a singular conception of what lies ahead. It’s ours for the imagining.Alondra Nelson

“With whom do we do this work? The theoretical here is immediately practical.Maria Lugones

These quotes focus the meaning of our gathering today. My name is Wanda Sue Pillow and I am honored to speak as Professor and Chair of Gender Studies. As Graduates of the School for Cultural & Social Transformation, you have each committed to reimaging futures by engaging with intense coursework in Ethnic, Disability, Gender, and Pacific Islands Studies. You have read about and analyzed the imbrications of race, gender, sexuality, class, colonialism, and status; learned about formations and experiences of identities; structures of dispossession; technologies of power; critiques of purity logics, ableism, patriarchy, and whiteness; and studied equality, equity, and accessibility.

“With whom do we do this work?”

Lugones’ question is key to every Transform course. We utilize the strong analytics of race, gender, sexuality, disability, decolonial, abolitionist, queer, and crip theories; we learn about micro and macro aggressions; study social movements; read and reread Women of Color, Chicana, Indigenous, and Black Feminisms. With whom do we do this work? We do it relationally; you have learned to move theory into praxis in zoom meetings, Diversity Scholars, University and Community partnerships, Gender Justice Scholars, Gender on the Hill, the Utah Prison Education Program, and in course papers, projects, podcasts, ‘zines, digital technologies, and performances. We have gained inspiration from theorists who push us to “imagine otherwise” and activist scholars who remind us that first, this work is our responsibility, and second, as Pat Parker notes: “Revolution is not neat, or pretty, or quick. It is a long dirty process.”   

Perhaps at no other time in your educational career have your studies mattered more. The Covid-19 pandemic has changed the world, however a call to ‘return to normal’ is not our goal. Disparities in infrastructure, housing, clean water and food stability, medical and education access, safety from state violence including separation of children from families and the killing of Black & Brown persons by state-sanctioned police have come into heightened view during a global pandemic. Yet, these disparities were not caused by a virus; these injustices are pre-existing conditions. Perhaps, like myself, you chose to study Ethnic, Disability, Gender, or Pacific Island Studies because you’ve witnessed disparities, violences, and resistance, or you’ve been repeatedly told “you do not fit,” or perhaps you are here because you see injustice and feel a call to participate in and lead change.                     

“With whom do we do this work?”

Transform was created out of this question. The School is a vision and an honoring of interdisciplinarity, intersectionality, and recognition that who we do our work with matters. So what is a degree in Gender Studies, Ethnic Studies? What is a degree or certificate in Transform? It is learning the analytics to understand and change the world; it is learning and practicing how to be in relation with each other differently; it is learning how to survive and intervene in a world that is not making sense or is telling us that we don’t belong. And as Transform students you have learned that this work is needed everywhere.

Graduates of 2020 and 2021, thank you for committing to transformational change. You completed coursework and assignments under extraordinary circumstances and harsh conditions—the fact that you are here today is a reason to celebrate and honor each of you! And we are here to commend and celebrate you! The faculty and School see you, are here for you, and support wherever you choose to take the work. Dr. Edmund Fong’s 2019 graduation comments ring true today and I repeat them here: “When you soar so we will sing–however impossibly high the notes may be. And when you struggle, we will embrace you so that you may rekindle your resolve and your desire. And if you are lost, we will be here to gather you…”

Remember your peers, your readings, your faculty, your familias, your communities—and “do your work” with acts of “festive joy and resistance.” A degree or certificate in Transform IS an act of transformational resistance and reimaging—and the world needs the analytics, relationality, and praxis you have studied and enacted. You are each ready to move toward futures we not only imagine but need and are ready to live in. Claim that knowledge and space when you walk across this stage this evening.

Congratulations Transform graduating classes of 2020 and 2021!

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