SJSU Social Sciences

Below is a note I sent to the SJSU College of Social Science on April 22, 2021.

Dear College of Social Sciences (CoSS) family-

We are all shocked and saddened by the tragic events in Minneapolis, Minnesota over the past few days. As human beings, many of us are overwhelmed by the complexity of the situation and the intense emotions it has created. As members of an institution that strives for social justice, we may feel discouraged and outraged. And, as social scientists, we are wondering how our disciplines and our knowledge can contribute to solutions.

So began a message I sent to the college a few days after George Floyd was murdered on May 25, 2020. Yesterday – April 21, 2021 – Mr. Floyd’s killer was convicted on all counts of murder and manslaughter. Three posts in my Facebook feed sum my reactions:

“Truthfully, the fact that we HAVE to be so on edge about the verdict, the very real possibility that killing an unarmed Black man in plain view of the world might go unpunished is what makes me sad. And mad.”

“When each count was read I started sobbing, and I felt all of this bittersweet grief, sadness, relief, disbelief, anger – all of it at once. This verdict is so small when you think about it, it should have felt like a slam dunk. The reaction of relief is such an indictment on our country that we have been forced to expect so little. Change needs to come faster. Not another Black or Brown person brutalized by police. Systemic racism needs to be addressed systemically.”

“Actions have consequences. If #DerekChauvin had only complied with #GeorgeFloyd‘s request to let him breathe, or if he complied with the requests of the crowd who told Chauvin that he was killing George Floyd, or if he only complied with the officer who suggested turning George Floyd over he wouldn’t be in jail tonight convicted of murder. So often the victims of police violence are blamed for their own deaths because they didn’t comply. Police officers have the ability to comply as well. They need to comply with their training. They need to comply with the law. They need to comply with basic humanity. They need to comply with their duty to care for those in their custody. I’d only he had complied.”

After reading these posts I decided to get a burger at a Black-owned place in Berkeley to continue to reflect on the day’s events in my spiritual hometown of Minneapolis. [Originally from Atlanta, I now live in Oakland. I am a Black man, for those new to the college who have never seen me while we are in the pandemic]. It was great, as usual, and my heart felt lighter on the drive home. Halfway there, however, I pulled into a left turn lane behind an old Nissan Maxima with temporary tags. Two Black men were the occupants. A new Audi Q3 slowly backed up in front of them when it could not get through the yellow light. The Nissan blew its horn, and the Audi blasted its horn in answer. When the light turned green the cars exchanged horn blasts again. The Audi’s back up lights were still on, so it occurred to me that the Audi would slam into the Nissan when the driver hit the gas. I steeled myself to bear witness and possibly take action if that happened and the police were called. Daunte Wright’s ghost flashed before my eyes. Luckily, however, the Audi shifted into drive, and sped off. I breathed a sigh of relief. At the next light the Nissan turned right, and the Audi and I kept going straight. I let out another sign of relief.

This incident and my reaction connect to a section of a message a BIPOC dean colleague at another institution sent to her college: 

“For the Black members of our community [the verdict and other surrounding events] have deep and painful resonance to every aspect of their lived experience, down to the existential questions they ask themselves every minute that they move through the public sphere and navigate the very real possibility that they will experience violence and even death. 

The verdict today represents a critical turning point in our reckoning at the intersections between policing, public safety, otherizing of Black Americans, racial and social justice, accountability, and the rule of law. But the work is very far from over. One verdict in one case does not change the broken system that is so ingrained in our 400 year history, in the very fabric of American life, and in the daily lives of Black people. There will be more lost, there will be future injustices, and there will be continued pain and grief. 

But I remain hopeful that we are in a new moment in history. The arc of history is indeed very long but today it took one small bend towards justice.”

Let’s all hope that this moment will indeed be a significant turning point in efforts to make the USA live up to its ideals. This includes paying new attention to #StopAsianHate, as well as continuing other efforts to make American society more inclusive and equitable for those who are BIPOC, Jewish, LGBTQ+, and members of other marginalized groups. In the meantime, please take good care of yourselves and each other, and please do not hesitate to contact me with reactions to this message or ideas for SJSU to hasten its goal of becoming an anti-racist multicultural institution.

In solidarity,


A couple of postscripts: 

P.S. #1 Shortly after I got home I received a text message about the shipping of advance copies of my new book Sparked: George Floyd, Racism, and the Progressive Illusion. I co-edited this anthology with SJSU CoSS assistant professors Wendy Thompson Taiwo (African American Studies) and Amy August (Sociology & Interdisciplinary Social Sciences). It will be released to the general public on May 18. It may be of interest to those who’d like more information about the racial dynamics of Minnesota.

P.S. #2 After getting the text I re-watched a digital story by CoSS assistant professor Nikki Yeboah. “Sister, I’m OK” is powerful!

On Friday, May 29, 2020 I sent the following message to the San José State University College of Social Sciences.


Dear CoSS family-

We are all shocked and saddened by the tragic events in Minneapolis, Minnesota over the past few days. As human beings, many of us are overwhelmed by the complexity of the situation and the intense emotions it has created. As members of an institution that strives for social justice, we may feel discouraged and outraged. And, as social scientists, we are wondering how our disciplines and our knowledge can contribute to solutions. I have three thoughts about steps we can take.

First, keep doing the job we are here to do. We are all educators, be we faculty who have direct instructional duties and student mentorship roles, ACCESS staff who advise students about both academic and life choices, or departmental and dean’s office staff who professionally engage the public as well as faculty and students. By continuing to excel in your jobs, you keep SJSU functioning as an institution of higher education that creates and disseminates knowledge about our social worlds and solutions to social problems. Thank you!

Second, many of you are very interested in racial and economic justice issues, which are at the forefront in the developments in Minneapolis (and in other cities around the country in protest of George Floyd’s death). There are many resources on the web about what you can personally do to help. Here are a few links, but there are many other groups and ways you can get involved. Feel free to send me a note if you would like to discuss anything of interest.

Finally, you can continue to educate yourself. Ibram X. Kendi provides this reading list, and certainly others in the college have additional suggestions. In particular, I recommend the article “Your Black Colleagues May Look Like They’re Okay — Chances Are They’re Not.” It articulates why this has been an especially tough week for those of us who identify as Black or African American. You may want to send a note of support to Black/African American friends and coworkers.

Some of you know that Minneapolis is my spiritual hometown. I lived there for 14 years while on the faculty at the U of Minnesota. Although a Southerner by birth and resident of Atlanta, GA from age 2 to 22, I eventually developed a strong identification as a Midwesterner, and now specifically see myself as a Minnesotan…even though I’ve now lived in California for five years. [My Facebook page lists my hometown as Minneapolis.] I’ve been checking in with Twin Cities friends all day today. They are all doing OK, and are working to support each other.

I am also doing OK, as I am energized by helping others get through the difficult times caused by COVID-19 and various social instabilities. And we WILL get through this disheartening period, and then redouble our efforts to make the world a more just and democratic place.

Be well, everyone!

Today (Wednesday, May 22, 2019) marks the start of commencement season here at SJSU: three college ceremonies are on tap today, followed by two each tomorrow and Friday. Then on Saturday special ceremonies are held, such as “Black Grad” for African-American students. Graduation ceremonies are mostly fun, but they can also be nerve wracking. The College of Social Sciences ceremony on Friday should be fine…if it doesn’t rain. Send good vibes!

“Community trauma remains a major issue in marginalized communities,” begins an article on the Pacific Standard website about research on connections between police violence and community trauma. “But there’s still little research to show how police cause mental-health issues—or what can be done to lessen the communal anguish.” I’ll have to speak with the director of the forthcoming SJSU Human Rights Institute about research the institute can conduct in this area.

Today (January 16, 2018) is the second annual National Day of Racial Healing (NDORH). The Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) asked colleges and universities across the country to engage in activities, events, and/or strategies that promote healing and foster engagement around the issues of racism, bias, inequity, and injustice in U.S. and/or global societies. The AACU&U notes, “this is an opportunity for people and organizations to come together in their common humanity and take collective action to create a more just and equitable world.” NDORH is an initiative in the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation (TRHT) effort, a national community-based process to promote transformational and sustainable change that addresses historical and contemporary effects of racism. We did not plan any NDORH activities in the College of Social Sciences this year; that will have to change next year.

Last week on San José State’s campus Sociology Professor Scott Myers-Lipton spoke at a Martin Luther Luther King, Jr. commemoration about “The Kingian Legacy For Today.” Today on MLK Day I thought that it would be appropriate to reproduce Professor Myers-Lipton’s speech as a blog post.

The Kingian Legacy For Today
by Scott Myers-Lipton

I teach a class here at San Jose State on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. During this class, we trace the events of Dr. King’s life from the bus boycott of Montgomery to the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC where he spoke of his dream, to the slums in Chicago where he lived for a time, from Marks, Mississippi, which was to be the starting point for King’s Poor Peoples Campaign, to Memphis, where he went to support garbage workers, and sadly, tragically, where he was murdered.

As you can imagine, Martin’s journey and struggle to build a just society is rich and full of incredible stories of bravery, courage, and sacrifice, and it easily fills up the 30 class sessions over a 4-month semester. Unfortunately, we don’t have 30 class sessions to talk about why Dr. King’s legacy is so critical for us today. I only have 10 minutes, so I will keep it brief, but hopefully memorable.

Let me start by saying that some intellectuals are Marxists, others are Weberian…as for me, I am a Kingian! I am a Kingian because I think Dr. King has the correct analysis of American society, the correct solutions, and the correct method to bring his solutions into being.

First, let me explain King’s analysis of American society. King’s analysis of the US was that racism, economic exploitation, and militarism were inter-related problems that undermined the Beloved Community. King called these 3 inter-related problems “the Giant Triplets” or the triple evils. King would state that, “When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the ‘giant triplets’ of racism, economic exploitation and militarism are incapable of being conquered”.

To see how King saw how economic exploitation and racism were interconnected, King argued that there was a “curious formula”, which dated back to the writing of the U.S. Constitution, which defined a black person as 60% of a human being when determining taxation and representation. Martin would say that this “curious formula” still existed in his times, but it declared Blacks 50% of a person since of the good things in life, Blacks had approximately 1/2 of those of Whites. Of the bad things, Blacks had twice those of Whites.

Now, some people today claim that we live in a color-blind or a post-racial society but I am here today, as a Kingian, to say that the relationship between racism and economic exploitation still exists in these United States, as the “curious formula” still describes today’s America. For example, in 1968, the year King was murdered, the unemployment rate was 5% for Whites and 10% for Blacks. Today: White unemployment is 3.4%, while Black unemployment is 7%. In 1968, 10% of Whites lived in poverty compared to 35% African Americans (a bit more than 3x as much poverty). Today, 8.8% of Whites live in poverty compared to 22.8% African Americans (a bit less than 3x). And right here, in Santa Clara County, the Infant Mortality Rate–widely accepted as an accurate indicator of general health– is 2.9% for Whites and 7% for Blacks while median household income is $101,000 for Whites and $60,000 for Blacks (almost 2x).

As I stated earlier, I am a Kingian, because his analysis of U.S. problems, and the tools that he gave us to analyze it, are still accurate today. King’s “curious formula” gives us an important conceptual tool to understand the interconnection between racism and economic exploitation.

But Dr. King didn’t stop at the relationship between racism and economic exploitation. He also saw how both were connected to militarism. For King, militarism was an ideology and framework of action based on large military spending and a willingness to use the military to protect the economic interests of the elite. When speaking of militarism, and its connection to racism and poverty, Dr. King said, “A nation that will keep people in slavery for 244 years will thingify them—make them things. Therefore, they will exploit them, and poor people generally, economically. And a nation that will exploit economically will have foreign investments and everything else, and will have to use its military to protect them. All of these problems are tied together.”

I believe that Dr. King would look at today’s military spending, which in 2018 will be $824 billion dollars, and he would question why we are spending so much when the US government spends just $50 billion on low-income housing assistance, or $70 Billion on food for low-income families. As King stated, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.”

So to be a Kingian, we must embrace King’s analysis of the problem, and at the heart of his analysis are the Giant Triplets and the Curious Formula. But to be a Kingian also means to embrace King’s solutions to America’s problems, which means we need to implement an Economic Bill of Rights. Dr. King had concluded that American Capitalism was flawed since it did not provide enough living wage jobs for its people. King called the historic 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voter Rights Act superficial changes, since they had done little to change the economic conditions of Black Americans. King said that that the movement needed to evolve from Civil Rights to Human Rights.

In response, King proclaimed: “Now our struggle is for genuine equality, which means economic equality. For we know now, that it isn’t enough to integrate lunch counters. What does it profit a man to be able to eat at the swankest integrated restaurant when he doesn’t even earn enough money to take his wife out to dine? What does it profit one to have access to the hotels of our cities, and the hotels of our highways, when we don’t earn enough money to take our family on a vacation?”

King felt that the best solution to solve the problems caused by racism and economic exploitation was an Economic Bill of Rights. First put forward by President Franklin Roosevelt in his State of the Union Address in 1944, an Economic Bill of Rights is composed of several important economic rights, most importantly, the right to a job, the right to a living wage, and the right to housing. In his last book, Dr. King argued that we needed a contemporary Economic Bill of Rights to supplement the Constitution’s Political Bill of Rights.”

In an article published 8 days after his assassination, King stated, “We need an Economic Bill of Rights. “This would guarantee a job to all people who want to work and are able to work. It would also guarantee an income for all who are not able to work.” In fact, the demands for full-employment through a massive public works program, a guaranteed income at middle-class levels and the creation of 5 million low-income homes were the 3 demands of King’s Poor People’s Campaign that was about to start when he was assassinated.

Today, 43 million people are living in poverty. In California, 23% of Blacks live in poverty, and 19% of Latinos, compared to 10% white. The “curious formula” still exists, and thus, King’s demand for an Economic Bill of Rights is still the correct solution to our nations problems.

Finally, King had the correct method to bring about change. Of course, we all know that King was dedicated to non-violence. But more of us must become knowledgeable about how King focused his non-violent actions on targets to create an environment that allowed for change to take place.

On a personal note, this is what I have dedicated the past decade to. Understanding the “change process”, so as to take the policy ideas that SJSU students have, and to help the students implement them. The title of my new book, Change, A Student Guide to Social Action, has just been released, and it explores how SJSU students have won 12 campaigns in my Social Action class from the minimum wage campaign, to getting air conditioning in Dudley Moorhead Hall, and from getting more printers here at the MLK Library to the student’s most recent victory, which was to get President Papazian to join the Workers Rights Consortium, which will guarantee that our SJSU apparel is not made in sweatshops. Importantly, the book provides a non-violent framework, strategies and tactics on how to bring about change. I tell my friends that the book is Kingian, with a feminist flair!

In conclusion, King’s call to us is clear: we need to engage people in a massive assault on poverty, racism, and militarism by implementing an Economic Bill of Rights, and paying for it by reducing our military spending. I encourage you to become engaged in this great Kingian work!

The Consortium of Social Science Associations (COSSA) website recently posted a chart on the 2018 College and University Rankings for Federal Social and Behavioral Science Research & Development funding. Covering fiscal year 2016, San José State ranks 22nd on the list of combined federal research and development expenditures for social sciences, psychology, law, communications, and social work. This is ahead of our neighboring research powerhouses, Stanford and the University of California, Berkeley. We have amazing researchers on the faculty!

I am on the Board of Directors for StoryCenter, the world-renowned nonprofit organization that uses innovative story development practices and participatory media methods to support people in sharing personal narratives rooted in their own life experiences. I was recently interviewed about my pathway to become a digital storyteller and digital storytelling advocate. Other board members will be interviewed later; this group include SJSU College of Social Sciences assistant professor Nikki Yeboah, one of the newest members!

SJSU Political Science Professor Lawrence Quill has co-written a provocative essay about universal basic income with Hasmet Uluorta, an Assistant Professor of Political Studies and International Development Studies at Trent University. They discuss how technology might enable a system of universal basic income and transform the function of government. For example:

Turning welfare provision into an app that tracks and monitors behavior means you can do away with many of the bureaucratic elements of the state. Of course, this would mean giving technology companies access to the entire database of citizens within a given territory, along with other data such as immigration records. This would arguably swap one form of paternalism for another. But where some observers see Big Brother, the tech entrepreneurs who wish to alter the behavior of people for the common good see “captology” or “persuasive technologies,” and substitute “surveillance” for “using apps to change the behavior of people for the better.” Thanks to phones and other wearable technologies, such “intimate surveillance” is now so pervasive that this participatory panopticon is the norm for a generation who have grown up knowing only the reality of Internet life.

Quill and Uluorta conclude, “The idea that poverty, like other social and political problems, can be solved by turning to technology and reducing the power of the state is a potent one with deep philosophical roots. We should keep this fresh in our minds when debating policies that herald privately owned technologies as the solution to complex social problems.” Well said!

Last week faculty and staff returned to SJSU for the fall semester. Classes started on Wednesday (August 23, 2017), and the next day the President gave her annual Fall Welcome Address. She started the address by discussing the August 11-12, 2017 violence at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville surrounding marches and rallies by White supremacists. I also discussed the protests and counter-protests at the conclusion of the College of Social Sciences welcome event, on Monday, August 21, 2017. See below for the transcript.

To close, let me read two brief items to you.

(1) The first is a note I sent to the college the day after the November 8, 2016 U.S. elections:

Dear Social Sciences Family-

Many of us are shocked and saddened by yesterday’s election and our nation’s deep divisions. It seems that across all aspects of the political spectrum many actions were driven by ignorance and fear instead of knowledge and hope. As we process these results two social media posts by colleagues may be good to keep in mind: 

 “Out of touch. Like me, you are out of touch with the majority of our country if you did not vote for Trump. (I am not a Hillary supporter either….so I am even more out of touch than most.) Whether or not you are right, does not change that we are out of touch. That said, the best route forward is not to vilify those who don’t think like us, nor condemn them as stupid or ignorant, but instead to understand how and why the majority came to be so different from us.”

 “Being a teacher/writer/advocate has never been more important. Let’s fight for the next generation. I’m fired up and ready to go.”

 In these challenging times let’s remind ourselves of our mission to help our students and the broader community create more complex and nuanced understandings of their social worlds. Our work matters more than ever now.

 Warmest Regards, Walt

(2) The second was the start of an article from last week in The Chronicle of Higher Education (“Teaching Newsletter, August 17, 2017”):

The violent demonstrations by white nationalists this past weekend at the University of Virginia have brought renewed attention to one of higher education’s biggest challenges: fostering civil dialogue in class. 

There’s no shortage of guidance available. Groups like Project Pericles, the Association of American Colleges & Universities, and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities’ American Democracy Project have been working to help students engage in constructive conversations, especially during fraught times.


When the students return on Wednesday many will be extremely anxious about the futures. From undocumented students worried about their ability to stay in school and study, to students of color wondering if they are safe when formerly closeted bigots are emboldened to openly express their hate, to the increased unease of all students about their economic futures in the midst of worldwide upheaval, the next few weeks will be difficult times.

I know that many of you are already making changes to engage the challenges we will face. For instance, at least two Assistant Professors rewrote their syllabi after the atrocities in Charlottesville. And the SJSU  Fall 2017 Faculty Professional Development Series on Whiteness and Race is more timely than ever. I applaud and thank all who have already thought deeply about how we can move forward to build a better society.

I know that many more instructors will use tools such as those listed in the Chronicle article. Others will develop and powerfully implement new ideas over the semester. In the development I encourage you to draw on the collective experience and wisdom of your colleagues. Together we are stronger.

Earlier in this event we discussed new investments in our Ethnic Studies programs. There are also other social justice proposals in development that will help us create more democratic societies. Our work as social scientists is crucial in that endeavor.

So, on the one hand this concluding note could dampen a traditionally celebratory event, but on the other it is a testament to our vibrancy. When I started as CoSS dean two years ago one of the Chairs remarked, “Collaboration is in your DNA!” Well, I was drawn here because collaboration is an essential component of the college as a whole; collaboration is in our DNA. Tough times are ahead, but we will collectively generate ideas that will get us through the current mess as we build better places on the other side. I look forward to the journey with you all. Have a good semester!