David Palumbo-Liu calls for more advocacy in academia and introduces his new book

Nov. 18, 2022, 1:37 a.m.

Comparative literature professor David Palumbo-Liu stressed the importance of advocacy moments led by students and faculty, the topic of his new book, at a Thursday talk hosted by the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity (CCSRE).

The conversation delved into Palumbo-Liu’s latest book, “Speaking Out of Place: Getting Our Political Voices Back,” and movements on college campuses across the nation. The book is a compilation of blog posts addressing rhetoric and history of advocacy that he previously published and has since edited to reflect recent developments.

Palumbo-Liu said former President Donald Trump’s nomination at the 2016 Republican National Convention was the impetus for the book. There, to Palumbo-Liu’s alarm, Trump told his supporters, “Only I can solve this. I am your voice,” and the crowd cheered in response.

“I got scared. To give up one’s voice to a clearly demented person with such glee and ecstasy was scary,” he said. “A lot of this book, honestly, is from as you see from the footnotes, previous blogs, but I found this as a framework to draw them all together and update them.”

The Chautauqua — CCSRE’s name for its quarterly afternoon book salons — was the first of the 2022-23 academic year and was moderated by CCSRE executive director David Kyuman Kim.

CCSRE faculty director Paula Moya, who helped organize the talk, described the Chautauqua as an event that “takes inspiration from a series of salon events in which ideas are presented and debated. So David Palumbo-Liu this year is one of our faculty fellows, and it’s an occasion to be able to discuss the ideas in his book.”

Palumbo-Liu opened his talk with a conversation about the country’s relationship with politics and where to go after the challenges to democracy from the Trump administration.

He said the United States has had a history of fascistic values in the past, but the Jan. 6, 2021 riots were the closest the country has come to facism. He called for more dialogue in academia that was attentive to contemporary events and said he has implemented an approach in curriculum since the 2016 election.

Palumbo-Liu also emphasized the rhetoric and power of words. For instance, Palumbo-Liu said the phrase “racial justice” is aspirational and not wholly attainable. He called instead for more realistic and practical goals, such as improving current conditions and focusing on delivering things that can be promised.

Kyuman Kim said he agreed with Palumbo-Liu to an extent but also said it is worth considering the balance between being realistic and maintaining aspirational goals.

After the discussion between Kyuman Kim and Palumbo-Liu, the conversation was opened to the audience.

Penelope Wright-Cotera ’25 asked, “Why is organizing so hard? Why is the institution making it so difficult across this campus where we’re literally isolated? I mean, like, we’re literally here together, and like, I don’t know like that’s going on at the moment here? Like why aren’t we capitalizing on it more?”

English and comparative literature professor Ramon Saldivar, who was in the audience, responded, “You have to have a concrete strategy for achieving that goal. And you have to be willing to spend time on it.”

Saldivar also stressed the importance of teaching the next generation to ensure the movement will outlast individual advocates.

Kyuman Kim added, “You have to self-organize, not wait for the conditions, but understand that you do it on your own time, not the University’s time.”

Palumbo-Liu advised that student advocates prioritize their own well-being as well.

“Take care of your mind and body and then you and only you can be the real judge of this and decide how much energy you can afford to place in certain endeavors,” he said.

Judy N. Liu is a freshman from Fountain Valley, California. She enjoys embroidery, listening to music, and reading as much Agatha Christie and John Steinbeck as she possibly can.

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