Monthly Archives: April 2012

Bridging the Scholar/Activist Divide

Over the course of the semester, my blogs have mostly been a critical interrogation of various “problems.” There hasn’t been much talk about solutions, and I feel as if it has become way easier for me to critique something than offer up a solution. So I’ve decided to dedicate this blog to a solution, so to speak: ACTIVISM. It’s sometimes easy to become overwhelmed in graduate school, especially if you are studying “social problems”—not only because there are so many—but also because its hard to imagine being able to balance your scholarship and activism. I argue that there needs to be a reframing of the notion of “scholarship,” one that includes, but is not limited to, “discovery (pure research), integration (informed connections across disciplines), applications (service that bridges the world inside and outside of academia), and teaching” (Boyer 16). Thus the full scope of academic work should be legitimized and encouraged to be explored. Unfortunately, most people in the academy maintain a very restricted view of scholarship. Because of this view, being an activist scholar may seem daunting. Although this may be the case, I believe that it is imperative that we, as scholars, have a responsibility to work toward and aid in the project of social transformation, and this mostly takes the form of producing scholarship/ knowledge that aids in this project.

Are You an Activist Scholar?

I got the impression in our last class that we have all (before our graduate school career—when we had more time) worked with organizations that are working toward social transformation at a local or global level, and I know that I once had way more time to take a more “hands on” approach to activism/social justice. Although it seems as if we may never learn how to balance scholarship and activism, it is possible. I found this great framework about how to bridge the scholar activist divide on a blog, “geeks & global justice,” that I wanted to share. This framework is guided by a simple statement: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” There are four parts to the framework:

1. Public dissemination of research/ideas: The case of Open access

2. Civic engagement: Walking the walk

3. Subversive Teaching

4. Norms-based research

Breaking it down:

  1. The activist scholar shares her/his/their knowledge production with the broader community—through public lectures, media interviews, and popular and academic articles. According to “geeks & global justice,” “this strategy counteracts monopolies of knowledge, which Innis identifies as biased idea structures that control and legitimate – or authenticate – knowledge. They further promulgate and reinforce power imbalances within society while at the same time concealing such imbalances.”
  2. The activist scholar “walks the walk.” She/he/they must engage in civic life and be involved in local communities, which can take myriad forms: “joining campaigns, attending demos, supporting student-organized events, volunteering for community groups” (“geeks & global justice”).
  3. The activist scholar, if teaching, focuses on a “revisioning” of the practice of teaching. She/they/he must see teaching as an “ongoing process, rather than a finite action repeatedly taken up” and must consider students as another “link to the ‘real world’” (“geeks & global justice). The classroom becomes “a portal on the world and a terrain for the change-making [the scholar activist] want[s] to provoke” (“geeks & global justice).
  4. “Geeks & global justice” does a great job articulating the last point, so I am just going to copy what they have said: This final strategy for teaching survival is fairly self-explanatory. But then again, maybe it isn’t. As critical, radical, activists scholars, we need to:
  1. Dispense thoroughly with the myth of objectivity. There is no such thing as the objective researcher. No research is unbiased, neutral for nothing touched by human hand, heart or brain lacks subjectivity;
  2. Conduct research on subject matters that matter, where outcomes have social value and use. Research should not be commoditized, nor commandeered by the state
  3. Be human: research should be sensitized to the communities being researched; avoid at all costs establishing a dichotomy of the “knowing researcher” and “ignorant research subjects”; this leads to irrelevant, out of touch work.

Barnard Center for Research on Women: Activism and the Academy 

This week in my feminist methodology class, we watched a discussion about activist scholarship that was filmed at the Barnard Center for Research on Women Activism and the Academy conference. I thought I would share it because I found it to be super valuable and interesting.

There are also a ton more videos and podcasts (all about birding activism and scholarship) available from the conference  here.

How do you see yourself bridging the activist/scholar divide?

Works Cited

Boyer, Ernest L. Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate. San Francisco: Jossey Bass, 1990.

“Geeks & Global Justice.” Web. 17 April 2012.


“Bad Girls” and Gendered Pathways to Delinquency

Meda Chesney-Lind, a feminist criminologist, argues that, “girls in the juvenile justice system were once dubbed the ‘forgotten few’” (19). There has been a large spike in girls’ delinquency, and it is imperative that we understand it in context: “Girls’ capacity for aggression and violence has historically been ignored, trivialized, or denied” (Chesney-Lind 19). Chesney-Lind also argues that in the psychology literature on aggression “shows that boys and men are more likely to be physically aggressive than females, but the differences begin to even out when verbal aggression is considered. Further, adolescent girls may be more likely than boys to use ‘indirect aggression’ such as gossip, telling bad or false stories, or revealing secrets” (19).

It is also imperative to look at girls’ violence within a patriarchal context. Studies of girls’ self-reporting their violence reported higher rates of abuse and victimization, and these girls also reported a greater fear of sexual assault. Specifically, one out of four of these “violent girls” had been sexually abused, and twenty percent said they were physically abused at home (compared with ten percent of violent boys) (Chesney-Lind 20).

Although there has been much recent media sensationalization of girls’ delinquency, girls’ invisibility within the juvenile justice system often leaves them out of the discussion on criminalization and “pipelining.” Meda Chesney-Lind argues that, “what needs to be understood about girls’ delinquency, particularly from a programmatic and policy standpoint, is the clear link between victimization, trauma, and girls’ delinquency” (20). Further, it is important to realize that this trauma hasn’t produced more violent offenses, but it has lead to the increase of traditionally deemed “trivial” or unimportant offenses, such as running away. Relabeling of “status offenses” (running away, needs supervision, etc.) as violent has lead to a dramatic increase in arrests for girls.

One of these relabeling of “status offenses” that Chesney-Lind discusses is girls’ arguments with parents. Arguing with parents has been relabeled “assault,” and Chesney-Lind argues that this is a form of “bootstrapping”: “it facilitates the incarceration of girls, especially African-Americans, in detention facilities and training schools” (20).  Further, the media capitalized on this increase in incarceration of girls in the 1990s, and it aided in the construction of the discourse on “bad girls.” This discourse presents a narrative that does not reflect the lived experiences of those girls who are have been criminalized, and it also does not reflect structural realities that have impacted their criminalization.

Gendered and Raced Differences in Delinquency

Although media attention of girls’ juvenile delinquency has increased over the past couple of decades, the research on policy and programs for “at risk” girls has not. There are gendered differences in girls’ pathways to delinquency and their needs while in the juvenile justice system. For example, research data has consistently pointed to a strong link between “victimization, trauma and girls’ delinquency” (Bloom & Covington 3). Also, running away is the most prevalent risk factor for girls’ involvement in the juvenile justice system (data has pointed to boys and girls running away from home in equal numbers, but girls are arrested more often) (Bloom & Covington 3). Further, recent studies have pointed to running away and drug use as the primary means through which girls cope and survive abusive homes.

As I’ve mentioned before, girls are disproportionately charged with status offenses. They are also more likely to be detained for minor offenses such as “public disorder, probation violation, status offenses, and traffic offenses (29% of girls and 19% of boys)” (Bloom & Covington 4). African American girls make up half of all of those in detention facilities, and only three out of ten cases for African American girls are dismissed (compared to seven out of ten cases for white girls) (Bloom & Covington 5).

Many girls entering the juvenile justice system are placed into programs that were created for delinquent boys (Bloom & Covington 5). There is a need to create effective programs and approaches for addressing specific gendered needs of girls. However, “we must be sure that gender-based services do not become sexist services (e.g. providing less funding for girls because they aren’t as great of a threat as boys, etc.)” (Bloom & Covington 6). According to the Ms. Foundation for Women,

“To be fully effective for girls and boys, the design and operation of a program must consider gender—not in a manner that regards gender differences innate and unchangeable, but in a way that explores the social construction of gender and invites young women and men to challenge gender norms, examine gender privilege, and create balance of power between girls and boys.”

Thus there needs to be a push for the creation of programs that understand the lived realities of girls’ experiences, and are content and context specific. Bloom & Covington argue that programming for girls needs to take place in an environment that is “conducive to a therapeutic change process” and it “needs to deal in a comprehensive and integrated way with the multiple issues that are impacting girls’ lives” (7).

Here’s an example of a facility/program that seems to be doing a better job than most. The Rosa Parks’ Center in Missouri has no guards, no lockdown’s, and it has replaced the prison-like feel of most youth detention centers with dorms. The girls go through intensive therapy, and in the words of one of the girls, they are able to “get to the issues, and get to the core problems.”


What do you think about the push to overhaul youth detention centers/programs? Further, do you think it is just a “band aid” easy fix that doesn’t address the larger structural issues?

In Punished: Policing the Lives of Black and Latino Boys, Victor Rios presents us with a way to conceptualize gender as a “social process that changes based on interactions with specific types of institutions,” that, “in turn allows us to explore how the criminal justice system shapes the development of specific forms of masculinity” (129). Do you think the criminal justice system shapes the development of specific forms of femininity?

Works Cited:

Bloom, Barbara and Stephanie S. Covington. “Effective Gender-Responsive Interventions in Juvenile Justice: Addressing the Lives of Delinquent Girls.” Paper presented at the 2001 Annual Meeting of the American Society of Criminology Atlanta, Georgia, November 7-10, 2001. 6 April 2012.

Chesney-Lind, Meda “Are Girls Closing the Gender Gap in Violence. Criminal Justice. 16.1 (2001): 18-23. Web. 5 April 2012.

Rios, Victor. Punished: Policing the Lives of Black and Latino Boys. New York: New York University Press: 2011.

Girls, Sexual Violence, and Border Politics

Immigration is definitely the theme of my week, and so I thought I would continue the theme with a blog post about a subject that isn’t really written about enough: sexual violence and girls crossing the US/Mexico border. Since this issue is so close to home for those of us who reside in Arizona, it is imperative that we are aware of what’s going on, literally, in our “own backyard.”

Recently, there has been a lot of scholarly work done on sexual violence and woman migrants crossing the US/Mexican border, and there also has been work done on the alarming number of female homicides in Cuidad Juarez. There is a dearth of scholarly research on girls who have crossed the US/Mexican border and have experienced sexual violence. This blog is going to first briefly discuss the militarization of the border and, as a consequence, the increasing sexual violence toward women (and girls), then I will share Yolanda Mendez Torres’ story (one of sexual violence at the borderlands), and I will conclude with talking about the implications of the overwhelming silence surrounding sexual abuse and undocumented girls.

Gendered Violence: Sexual Violence at the Border 

The increasing militarization of the border has exacerbated structural violence (poverty, racism, nativism, misogyny) that is endemic to the region between Arizona and Mexico. This has led to a zone of lawlessness, or a state of exception, at the border, and this has put millions of individuals in vulnerable situations. This vulnerability at the border has contributed to increased sexual violence against women and children that are trying to make the trek across the desert from Mexico to the US, specifically Arizona. According to some estimates, 80-90% of migrant women have suffered sexual violence while crossing Mexico’s northern border (Marrujo 2009). Further, rape has become so prevalent that, in the words of one of regional director of the UN development fund, some women consider it “the price you pay for crossing the border” (Marrujo 2009).

There is a growing number of women crossing the border, I’ve read various estimations, and it appears that almost 30% of all migrants are women. Thus there needs to be more awareness of sexual violence perpetuated at the border because the number of those who are at risk for victimization is only going to increase. Further, a number of factors, including underreporting, fear, and little to no accountability on behalf of law enforcement on either side of the border, will prevent us from ever having an accurate number of those who have been victimized. Also, since large percentages of migrants are likely to cross the border multiple times throughout their lives, the risk for exploitation for any given woman or girl migrant is likely quite high.

Why Sexual Violence?

Sexual violence is defined as being physical and psychological in nature. Olivia Ruiz Marrujo has outlined 3 specific characteristics of sexual violence in regards to migrant women and girls:

1. Sexual violence refers to a physical and/or symbolic offense, which a migrant women or girl identifies as an offense to her sexuality, and by implication, her physical, psychological, and emotional constitution as a woman

2. It refers to abuses aimed at the body of a female migrant

3. Sexual violence is an aggression that transgresses norms

The literature on sexual violence offers a number of explanations for aggressive behavior toward migrant women, but I am going to go over a few of the most common explanations (We have to remember that there is not one explanation. All of these vectors intersect, interconnect, mutually reinforce and constitute each other). For ease of reading and understanding, I have mapped the explanations out:

  • Structural
    • Culture/legacy of domination and colonization that produced extreme poverty and political disenfranchisement.
      •  Domination also renders undocumented migrant women vulnerable by further “othering” them. This is due to their undocumented status, their gender, their poverty, and their national origins.
    • The militarization of the border brings with it hyper-masculinity, colonialism, and patriarchy through which women’s bodies are targeted for sexual assault and other attacks.
  • Culture/practice of violence
    • Legacy and history at the border of the generalized use of violence as a tool of domination and colonial hegemony.
  • Systematic
    • Coyotes, or migrant traffickers, have almost exclusive control over the people who have paid them, and thus they gain access to the bodies of women migrants by default.
    • INS or border patrol officers detain migrant women and commit abuses. 
      • Systematic crimes—because they are emblematic of a larger system of gendered and structural violence

Yolanda’s Story 

In the summer of 1998, 11 year old Yolanda Méndez Torres was raped for the very first time. She lived with her abuser (a 38 year old cousin on her mother’s side) and his wife in a rural coastal town in Southern Mexico. Yolanda was subject to sexual abuse daily, and rumors began circulating about her involvement with her Juan, her abuser (and mother’s cousin). In early June 2000, Yolanda’s maternal grandmother questioned Yolanda about the rumors. Eventually Yolanda’s grandmother decided to file a judicial complaint with “the Agencia del Ministerio Público in Pochutla, A 30-minute bus ride away […] So authorities can open an investigation, get a doctor to examine Yolanda for signs of rape, and interview Juan. Yolanda will be safe and can move into Juana Alonzo’s home down the road, the grandmother thinks” (Chavez et al. 2006).Within days of the complaint being filed, Juan decided to move the whole family to the city of Oaxaca. Soon after moving, Juan decided to make plans to take Yolanda to the United States.

“Within days, the trip is arranged. In addition to Yolanda and Juan, the traveling group includes a man named Emerson, a young teenager named Amber and his older brother Manuel. They are going to America to work, send money home, maybe help their mother build a new house. Nobody knows about Juan’s relationship with Yolanda. He tells Abel she is his niece. Juan promises to pay the coyote the cost for both of them when they reach the United States and he can get help from relatives”  (Chavez et al. 2006).

Once Yolanda and Juan reached Phoenix, they moved into a halfway house for recent immigrants. Juan was in thousands of dollars of debt, and they were forced into indentured servitude until it was all paid off to the coyotes. Yolanda continued to be sexually abused after her journey to the United States, and she was eventually impregnated by her abuser.

After Yolanda’s harrowing escape from her abuser (I will provide the link so you can read the full story), she went to the Mexican Consulate in Dallas, TX (where she was living at the time) for help. Fortunately the consulate provided Yolanda with the resources to press charges against her abuser, but she still remained an “undocumented immigrant, an exile in a land she never chose” (Chavez et al. 2006).  Yolanda eventually moved in with a woman from the Mexican Consulate that helped her case through the system, and the woman legally adopted her, granting her US citizenship.

Because Yolanda was granted citizenship, she had access to resources that would help her deal with the poly-victimization she experienced over the years (each abuse having a cumulative effect on her physical and mental health). She could now access resources for her mental health, and she did not have to live in a constant state of fear (of being deported). Yolanda experienced many benefits once she was granted citizenship, but her story is exceptional. Watch Yolanda recount her story (5 years later) here! That’s a picture of Yolanda and her daughter, Aidelin.

What about those girls who have experienced abuse that are not as lucky as Yolanda? Those girls who are undocumented do not have the same access to services, and many are forced to live in silence and continue to endure their abuse. The idea that many girls (and women) do not have access to resources (and justice) because of their undocumented status is extremely disturbing. It also begs the question, whose lives matter? Does citizenship status take precedence over an abuse free life? Shouldn’t this issue be about human rights?

There is one organization that is doing their part to help undocumented women and girls who are victims of sexual violence.

“The Southern Arizona Battered Immigrant Women Project (BIWP) helps to identify and develop resources and provide outreach and training to organizations that interact with immigrant women who may be victims of domestic violence or sexual violence. The project has established six task forces in Arizona’s seven southern counties: Graham, Greenlee, Cochise, Pinal, Pima, Santa Cruz and Yuma.

Undocumented immigrant women who are survivors of domestic violence face challenges beyond those experienced by other women in the US such as isolation in a foreign country, constant fear of deportation, and believing they are at the mercy of their spouse to gain legal status. In rural areas, limited programs and resources exacerbate these challenges.

The goal of the BIWP is to improve the access to culturally appropriate services for battered immigrant women, thereby ensuring their rights under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), and its mission of safety and empowerment for immigrant women and children victims of sexual and domestic violence” (Center for Rural Health). You can check out more information about the organization here.

One more thing: As I was researching sexual violence on the border, I saw that this issue was being examined through the lens of an anti-immigration and “secure our borders” discourse. I believe that that is grossly misrepresenting the problem. The militarization and hyper-securing of the border is CONTRIBUTING to the increase in sexual violence. Don’t be fooled! Here is a video that is an example of what I am talking about.


Battered Immigrant Women Project. University of Arizona, 2012. 1 April 2012.

Chavez, Stella and Paul Meyer. “Yolanda’s Crossing.” Dallas News, 2006. 1 April 2012.

Marrujo, Olivia T. Ruiz. “Women, Migration, and Sexual Violence.” Human Rights Along the U.S.-Mexican Border: Gendered Violence and Insecurity. Ed. Kathleen A. Staudt, Tony Payan, Z. Anthony Kruszewski. Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 2009: 31-47.