Address to SEIU-California Conference
October 2017

The following is a talk given by CFA Associate Vice President-North Molly Talcott to a California conference of the Service Employees International Union in October 2017.

Good morning everyone! Buenos Dias!

My name is Molly Talcott, I use the gender pronouns she, her, and hers. And I am a very proud member of the California faculty Association also known as SEIU local 1983! I have been teaching sociology at Cal State LA for nearly a decade. About six years ago, I was teaching one of my usual classes—a general education class on race, class, and gender. The central questions we examine in that class are: How does social inequality get reproduced in our society? Why and how does inequality continue to grow at a system level?

So I have this student in class, and he’s fresh-eyed and energetic. His name is Uriel, and he’s really new to the subject but his curiosity is infectious. He’s kind yet confident, and I can sense his generosity of spirit. As brilliant a student as I sensed he was, Uriel almost did not come to Cal State LA at all. He grew up in South LA, the son of two working-class immigrants, and he went to Dorsey High School, where very few people he knew went on to college afterward. In class, I could see that Uriel’s mind was churning and that his heart was in it. He became a sociology major, noting his newfound ability to make sense of his lived experiences, to understand what he knew intuitively to be true about his life, and the injustices that he, his parents, and his community were up against: the racism, the rigged class system, the xenophobia, the excessive policing in Los Angeles, the school-to-prison pipeline, and the underfunded schools he had attended.

While it was a great privilege to witness his transformation, as it often goes, he quickly became my teacher. Uriel started mentoring first-year students, he helped to form the men-of-color success network, and he earned a Masters Degree in sociology, writing about the experiences of Black and Latino men students at Cal State LA. Now a Ph.D student, Uriel is researching how young men of color are building practices of healing into their lives and their movements. I hope he comes back to teach at Cal State LA someday, so I can continue to learn from him as his colleague.

Students like Uriel—who really are doing life and death work when you think about it—are the reason I’m so dedicated to free public education at all levels, from pre-school to university. And he’s the reason I’m also fiercely dedicated to ensuring that our union stays strong. We damn sure fight for fair wages and working conditions for faculty, but we don’t stop there.

CFA knows that the fight for free education is connected to our anti-racism and social justice work, and to our work at the bargaining table. Last year we released a research report showing that as the students in the California State University system have gotten darker over the decades, funding has gotten lighter. Students like Uriel, who have a human right to an education, are paying more and getting less than ever before in the entire history of the California State University system. This is structural racism and class-ism, and in the state that has more billionaires than any other country aside from the United States and China, we can do better. Much better. How about we spend more on higher education than on prisons in the state? How about funding K-12 schools equally across all ZIP codes? How about creating a budget that truly serves the public good, from cradle to grave?

I’m guessing some of you have heard the saying, “They tried to bury us, but they didn’t know we were seeds,” which the Zapatistas of Mexico popularized. I thought of it last night when our shero, Dolores Huerta, talked about sowing the seeds of change. You see, many forces in Los Angeles tried to bury Uriel, not knowing he was a seed. Cal State LA—through the labor of faculty—brought a sprinkle of water and a touch of sunlight, and now he’s sprouting justice wherever he goes, lifting others as he climbs.

As we say in CFA, faculty working conditions are student learning conditions. And we are committed to fighting for us all. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. Thank you. ¡Si se puede!