Volume 52   Number 2 Spring 2019

Special Feature:  Decoloniality and Positionality

Edited by Breana Johnson, Tarell Kyles, and Mari Larangeira, Pacifica Graduate Institute


Colonialism and resistance to it, began in the 15th century with the imposition of European cultures and geopolitical powers upon Indigenous cultures. While simultaneously carving up land and bodies in terms of the material exploitation of non-European entities, colonialism also resulted in a sort of “carving up” of human consciousness and psyche. These fracturing processes, which culminated in European settler-colonies within the non-European world, the near annihilation of indigenous peoples, and the genocide and enslavement of Africana peoples has led to a paradigm shift of a most horrific kind: a global colonial matrix of domination that continues in the ongoing exploitation of the Global South by the Global North.

The colonial matrix of power (Mignolo & Walsh, 2018) can be described as a web; the first element is the linear and dichotomous colonial/modern trajectory that Eurocentric Tarell_Kyles.jpgconsciousness and the Christian vertical relationship with God cut through the more cyclical cosmologies and ontologies of non-European peoples. This domination or centering of European/Western religious, and later “scientific” paradigms has been called “progress.” With the establishment of the colonies, Europe constructed what DuBois (1903) would later refer to as “the problem of the 20stcentury…the colorline,” adding this vertical axis (the color line) to the horizontal-linear axis of progress (coloniality/modernity). We might say it caused a break in the nature of consciousness and led to the theorization (a decolonial act of resistance) of not only a “double consciousness” for Africana and indigenous peoples, but cracks in our consciousness around issues of gender, age, sex, and the very nature of humanity itself.

Mari_Larangeira.jpgDecoloniality, the conceptual analytic upon which this issue focuses, is a triune best understood as decoloniality/coloniality/modernity. It is a collision of narratives of consciousness, psyches, cultures, power, dehumanization, oppression, resistance, re-humanization, and liberation. The narrative continues and takes many forms, as people of all walks of life invigorate the decolonial aspect of the triune with resistances, healings, theorizations, and knowledge from a variety of positionalities. The aim is to delink away from the scarcity and misguided sense of self-preservation, which have characterized the historical thrust of coloniality/modernity.

This Special Feature of TCP presents a curated application of the three premised concepts of decoloniality - 1) coloniality of power, 2) coloniality of knowledge and 3) coloniality of being - as explored by student scholars within the Community, Liberation, Indigenous and Eco-Psychologies (CLIE) program at Pacifica Graduate Institute (PGI). Colonial domination is in the first place, writes Anibal Quijano (2010), “a colonization of the imagination.” Decoloniality deeply acknowledges the “importance of multiple knowledge systems, such as organic, spiritual and land-based systems” (Hall and Tandon, 2017), not only in their value but also in how they have contributed to the epistemology credited as entirely “Western” or “European” (Quijano, 2010). The articles herein provide insight into personal, professional and communal sites of resistance to coloniality via intrapsychic, interpersonal and/or institutional relations. Our engagement in decoloniality studies is tantamount to our desire to use psychology as a tool for creating a sustainable peaceful world, by creating interventions and scholarship that attune to and address the world’s crises.

For this Special Edition, the editors have attempted to listen and lean into the voices coming from the periphery- those not normally privileged in institutions of graduate-level learning. We place value upon our own ways of knowing and use the academic environment at PGI as a space to engage in a praxis of learning and knowledge production that empowers us in the creation of epistemologies that do not require us to sever parts of ourselves. The CLIE program is committed to including scholarship that empowers silenced voices and subjugated populations. The Depth Psychological roots of PGI support us as we engage with the complexities of psyche, even when that engagement results in a critique of the institution and the scholarship it was based upon.

We cannot engage the discourse of decoloniality without engaging ourselves. The editors approached this work from our own positionalities as a man and women from Black/Africana, Latinx, and European backgrounds, a range of spiritual beliefs, religious experience and occupancies of the color, class and .sexuality spectrums. The process of curating the following articles was both a scholarly challenge and a subjective exploration into the intricacies of professional and personal identities; and the navigation of positionality in the deconstruction of coloniality in the various spaces, sites and places we encounter. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of the editors, though they do exhibit multiplicity-and even the tensions between them are dynamic. The intersections of race, gender, sexuality, class, and geopolitical locations make this a kaleidoscopic task, highlighting the challenges and victories of navigating the world via a decolonial lens. Hence, our collection is complex, and the voices presented are unique and powerful.  

The Decolonial Turn in Black/Africana Psychology

Written by Tarell Kyles and Breana D. Johnson, Pacifica Graduate Institute


The tradition of the Black scholar-activist-researcher is ever more necessary in our contemporary global time-space and is strengthened in its purpose and praxis via the decolonial turn (Maldonado-Torres, 2011). In the broadest sense, African people in the diaspora (Africana people) have taken a decolonial turn for 500 years, shaping the preservation of traditions and cultural practices of resistance and survival. Making what Maldonado-Torres (2013) has coined as the “decolonial turn" highlights the insidious nature of the colonial project and its ability to co-opt ontological, epistemological, and axiological assumptions that lull us into bystander complicity. These Breana_Johnson.jpgassumptions are at the basis of traditional psychology education and training, rooted in the philosophies of science that have supported colonial agendas. While the critique of traditional psychology as a hegemonic science has gained momentum in the field, applying a decolonial lens offers renewed insight. Scholars continue to explore the “modern individualist ways of being that constitute standards of hegemonic psychological standards” as products of coloniality itself. Acknowledging these ways of being and “modern mentalities” within a neoliberal individualist context or what Henick, Heine & Norenzayan (2010) have coined as WEIRD settings (Western, Educated, Industrial, Rich and Democratic) gives us a refined lens to reflect on the impact coloniality has had on Black/Africana psychology.

The decolonial turn for Black psychologists provokes reconsiderations of the praxis and paradigms at the roots of our work. Though earlier traditions in Black psychology have made major advancements in the field, breaking through important barriers in social science research, the field remains influenced by the colonial geo-politics of academia. Ndlovu-Gatsheni (2013) warns, for the Black/African student embedded in the colonial context, the assumptions of their education will encourage them to “…hate their progenitors as demons…be taught that all the knowledge they possessed before coming to school was nothing but folk knowledges, barbarism and superstitions that must be quickly forgotten” (Ndlovu-Gatsheni, 2013, p. 11). Black/Africana psychologists risk a perpetuation of coloniality at a psychological unconsciousness level, in favor of its presumed merits and individual material comfort at the cost of collective transformation and healing. We hope to engage decolonial theory more deeply in our scholarship, to understand what it means and avoid “a romanticized vision of Afrocentricity…” that may,  “…uphold a politics of identity that is blind to the changing contexts and the ineradicable markings of our colonial past” (Akomolafe, 2019).

Black/Africana Decolonial Depth Psychology

Black/Africana humanist, psychiatrist, philosopher, and revolutionary, Frantz Fanon’s work, represents one of the first western professional decolonial turns in Black/Africana psychology. His work is cited as the beginnings of mainstream, academically published Black decolonial thought, predating the Bandung Conference of 1955. Fanon’s engagement of a non-reductionist psychology by prefacing one’s attitude, reengaged a psychology of subjectivity, as he explored the consciousness of colonized people- perhaps the beginnings of coloniality of being theory. His exploration of power relations, meaning making and collective attitudes in the formation of identity within the modern field of psychiatry was monumental (Maldonado-Torres, 2017).  If as Maldonado-Torres (2011, p. 2) suggests, DuBois announced the decolonial turn in the 20th century, Fanon and many others (Mignolo & Walsh, 2018 p.8), articulated the necessity of moving away from objectification and Eurocentric logics and ways of being in the world. We recognize the triune of modernity-coloniality-decoloniality, formulated within its Latin American geopolitical contexts by Quijano (1991, 1994, 1999), Dussel, Lugones (2010), and many others, whose work was built upon and alongside Black/Africana scholars such as DuBois (1903), Fanon (1951, 1963) and Wynter (2003). We appreciate its analytics and advocate for its redeployment as a solute back into the solvent of Black/Africana Psychology.

Maldonado-Torres’ (2017) work focuses on coloniality of being, clarifying how coloniality functions at the ontological level, by rejecting forms of knowledge resulting in epistemicide. He writes:

“ Epistemic and ontological colonization did not happen in isolation or were merely contingent results of the search for objectivity through methodic science. More than mere risks, these forms of colonization were preconditions of the rise of modern psychology and the social sciences.” P 433

As students of historically Black institutions, we found the ontologies at the foundations of our training in social science were often antithetical to the scholarship we aim to produce in Black/Africana psychology. Though attending and existing within institutions historically dedicated to education people of color, the demands of the colonial structure required the production of students whom can adhere to and thrive within the colonial matrix- a matrix vastly opposed to Black/Africana philosophies, epistemologies, ontologies, axiologies, and realities. Our patterns of thought were greatly confined and redirected toward the modernist/colonial paradigm, which requires a constant deconstruction at and beyond the doctoral level. This dynamic of double consciousness within professional-academic space-times, where a Black/Africana cultural context is predominant, often contests with the operating colonial matrix of power, knowledge, and being. We suggest, coloniality also functions on unconscious levels by co-opting Black/Africana psychologists via the axiological dimensions of training in the psychological discipline. We observe tendencies toward colonial-modern values of individualism, progression, competition, hierarchy, domination, and economic gain embedded in traditional psychological training. We recognize this is not the intent of Black/Africana scholarship, yet our psychological analyses can struggle to “delink” from colonial values and mindsets (Mignolo, 2009). Building upon the work of clinical/industrial psychologist, Edwin J. Nichols (1974, 1987, 2004), the decolonial turn would be a reengagement of Black/Africana scholarship that intently stands on values of collectivity, creativity, and tradition. Without a critical and intentional analysis as to the ethical assumptions of one’s training, we continue to perpetuate coloniality through our practice and scholarship, despite our dedication to Black liberation.

Transdisciplinary Epistemic Disobedience

To delink requires approaching research, practices, methods, scholarship and education with a depth decolonial attitude. Exploring the axiological dimension of Black/Africana scholarship is one form of what decolonial scholars describe as “epistemic disobedience” (Mignolo, 2009). Epistemic disobedience is a reminder for Black/Africana psychologists to overtly concern themselves with the study of the philosophical implications of epistemologies, ontologies and empirical practices in the process of psychological knowledge production. In many ways, this is how we see our work at the intersections of the five disciplines we traverse in efforts to further the decoloniality project our ancestors have been forging for centuries.

As Black/Africana graduate students engaged in the discipline of psychology, the Community, Liberation, Indigenous and Eco-Psychology specialization in the Depth Psychology program at Pacifica Graduate Institute has provided us with a transdisciplinary curriculum which overtly explores the decolonial turn, engaging and intersecting five fields of psychology. Depth psychology gives us a Western point of entry to acknowledge the complexity of the soul, while critical perspectives of depth psychology along the decolonial turn invite indigenous psychologies whose conceptions of humanity transcend what is provided by traditional psychoanalytic conceptions of mind, ego, and unconscious. The turn brings us further into the acknowledgment and exploration of an ancient, primordial African Unconscious, traversed by Jung even within his limited European positionality (Bynum, 1998, p.77-79). Liberation psychology urges a preferential option for solidarity with the resistance of the oppressed and marginalized. Indigenous psychologies reengage historic sustainable experiential knowledge systems and recognize the attempts at subjugation of indigenous knowledge by colonial forces. Coupled with eco-psychologies, the decolonial turn moves away from western mind/body dualism and reconsiders land, ecosystems, animals, and other than human beings in pluriversal, mutually interdependent conversation, toward a cosmic sense of psychological health, well-being, and humanity. Finally, critical community psychology provides the practical tools for collective engagement, navigation of systems and the transformation of the daily realities of the subjugated.

If colonial modernist ways of being are embedded within our consciousness and reinforced by our institutions, a critical analysis of the process, theory and thought we engage in our work, particularly as Black scholar-activist-researchers is key to achieving true liberation of Black/African people. As Mignolo and Walsh (2018, p.2) highlight, “We are where we think”; decolonial studies has brought us into awareness of the threads of coloniality beneath the surface of our professional, student and personal identities, urging us to the edges and depths of the psychological discipline, in the CLIE program. An exploration of the struggles of making the decolonial turn in Black/Africana psychology amidst the hegemonic academic system is necessary for creating safe academic spaces for Black/Africana scholarship to truly thrive. With our transdisciplinary lens, we aim to engage decoloniality in and on multiple realms; Mignolo and Walsh (2018) encourage us to think of decoloniality as “contextual, relational, practice based and lived”- as well as spiritual, emotional and “existentially entangled and interwoven...” (Mignolo & Walsh, 2018, p. 19). We hope for Black/Africana psychology to overtly engage topics and explorations of the Black/Africana soul, a reexamination and further theorization of formulations of double/multiple consciousness and research with psychic material, images, and archetypal dimensions of Black/Africana dreams and divinations. These are areas that we feel the hegemonic psychological academic sphere has made “off limits” and superstitious, when in fact, turning our gaze toward the psychological and spiritual change-processes Black/Africana peoples have navigated in the diaspora is liberatory. We believe in a development of decolonial depth psychological perspective which provokes us to re-engage with the Black/African soul toward the realization of our freedom dreams. 


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Indigenous Images on Gentrified Lands: Decolonizing Ecological Praxis through Community Artivism.

Written by Brenda X. Perez and C.A.R. Hawkins Lewis, Pacifica Graduate Institute


In psychology, perception is uniquely important because people are both the subjects and objects of inquiry (Kim & Park, 2006). Community psychologists perceive the relationship between individuals and society as an ecological model of nested micro-, meso-, and macro- systems (Nelson & Prilleltensky, 2010). Ironically, the ecological model rarely integrates the natural environment in its target-shaped image that centers around the individual (Moskell & Allred, 2013). By contrast, Indigenous1 communities have entirely different schemas for how people relate with the environment (Fixico, 2003; Gone, 2016), often expressed as cultural images that link people to the Land, evoke vast relationships, and recall ancestral cosmovisions. Confronted with these different visions of community, we ask: can ecological praxes be decolonized or Indigenized? “Decoloniality,” explained Mignolo and Walsh (2018), “seeks to make visible, open up, and advance radically distinct perspectives and positionalities that displace Western rationality as the only framework and possibility of existence, analysis, and thought” (p. 17). 

One of the primary functions of decoloniality is “border thinking” (Mignolo, 2013). Border thinking, demarcated by the slash symbol, was popularized by Gloria Anzaldúa’s narrative theory “nos/otras” (us/others [we]), which frames “a third point of view… outside binary oppositions… simultaneously insider/outsider” rather than seeing “from any single culture or ideology” (2015, pp. 79, 81). For instance, our co-authorship here (as Brenda/Hawkins) aims to bridge across our individual positionalities i.e., Latina/White, generation X/Y, female/male, hetero/homosexual, 1st/4th generation American, Mesoamerican/ European descent. Sandoval and Latorre (2008) also applied Anzaldúa’s theory to explain how artivism—the “organic relationship between art and activism”—grants “access to a myriad of cultures …requiring the ability to negotiate multiple worldviews” or “meshing identities and uses these to create new angles of vision to challenge oppressive modes of thinking” (pp. 82-83).

This article presents participatory artivism research in Highland Park (HLP),2 the historic Mexican neighborhood of Northeast Los Angeles (L.A.), where registered murals of the original inhabitants are being systematically erased as part of gentrification efforts. Most of the data on gentrification were collected as testimonios: the Latin American tradition of “first-person eyewitness accounts, narrated by those who lack social and political power” (Chase, 2018, p. 555) and remain uncited for their protection. According to Brenda, who was raised in HLP by a single immigrant mother, the neighborhood is a “category-5 gentrification storm” (in Matias, 2018, para. 22): evictions, commercial rent raises, and deportations push families in tears to the curb. The Center for Disease Control (2009) problematizes gentrification “as the transformation of neighborhoods from low to high value,” causing “a housing, economic and health issue that affects a community’s history, culture and reduces social capital” (Definitions section).


However, for prospective homebuyers, this destructive transformation is perceived as progressive amelioration. This difference in perspective is illuminated in the context of settler colonialism, which differs “from other forms of colonialism in that settlers come with the intention of making a new home on the land,” such that “land is what is most valuable, contested, required” (Tuck & Yang, 2012, p. 5) and commodified for profit. The L.A. Basin, originally the ancestral lands of the Tongva Tribe, was invaded by the Spanish in the 16th century then became part of the Mexican Republic until the war ended with the U.S. in 1848. Europe’s Doctrine of Discovery, which endures in contemporary law, allowed invaders “legal cover for theft,” displacement, and property privatization (Dunbar-Ortiz, 2014, p. 198). To make a place their new home, settler colonists “must destroy and disappear the Indigenous” and “this violence is… reasserted each day of occupation” (Tuck & Yang, 2012, pp. 6, 5). Presently, Trump champions “militarization of the border zone between the [U.S.] and Mexico” such that “the Hispanic is rendered as a cultural terrorist of sorts who menaces the cultural integrity of the nation” (Maldonado-Torres, 2008, p. 252), especially in California as a former Mexican frontier. 

In HLP, gentrification is chiefly advanced by wealthy commercial property owners who serve on their local Business Improvement District (BID) under contract with the City.3 The North Figueroa Association that controls the BID in HLP conspired with councilmen and Department of Cultural Affairs—whose office claims to preserve city murals—to “clean up” HLP by erasing registered murals. Williams (2008) specified that “art vandalism… assaults the social order by targeting objects that embody shared cultural meaning” (pp. 595-596). Longtime HLP residents were particularly outraged and heartbroken by the whitewashing of Resist Violence with Peace, the iconic mural by John “Zender” Estrada from 1993 depicting a sacred Aztec warrior (see Figure 1). Brenda mobilized a peaceful candlelight vigil for the devastated HLP community, then led a community arts protest against a BID-sponsored retail event on Figueroa Street that excluded the legacy Latino businesses. Brenda later founded Restorative Justice for the Arts (RJFTA) as a grassroots artivist platform to protect the many murals that are endangered because their Indigenous images stand in resistance to settler colonial gentrification.

Sacred imagery opens “the possibility of learning or remembering history, ancestry, medicine, language, and other forms of ancient knowledge through visual culture” (Zepeda, 2015, p. 120). Murals make these images literate for everyone, acting as portals or “fissures through which Indigenous life and knowledge have persisted and thrived despite settlement” (Tuck & McKenzie, 2015, p. 61). We look to a community’s own “images and physical objects… as socially situated narrative texts” (Chase, 2018, p. 547) that can guide our interactions and interventions. Mary Watkins (2014) explained that wall art, and graffiti specifically “use the surface of the walls themselves to undo the exclusionary logic that created them. The words and images on these walls direct our attention to what such walls would have us notsee” (pp. 226-227). In HLP, community murals illustrate the symbols, rituals, heroes, critical histories, futurities, and many “human-animal and human-plant relationships” (Fixico, 2003, p. 76)—the spiritual landscape that commercial terrain would have us not see (as in Figure 2).


Importantly, the oppression of these ceremonial practices are as a root cause of Indigenous mental illness and cannot be cured using the methods from the same cultures behind colonial oppression (Gone, 2016). This insight led us to question the limitations and ethics of employing the ecological model in Indigenous contexts. Ecological perspectives make visible the interdependent relationships between individuals and their environment. It is often assumed that the psychological group and self are universal and translatable concepts (Smith, 2012) instead of determined according to culture and thinking styles. Fixico (2003) explained that, “unlike Navajos who think about all relationships, the linear mind thinks about all of things related to him with himself being at the center” (p. 67). Though the ecological model moves toward relationality, the individual is at its center because Western paradigms see knowledge “as being individual in nature” (Wilson, 2008, p. 38). To unpack these covert paradigmatic assumptions, Hawkins argued that analyzing our own way of seeing community should be as much of a focus of community psychology as studying communities (Lewis, 2018).

Without this reflexivity, ecological thinking risk homogenizing alternative senses of community to fit a standardized image, not unlike the process of gentrification. Participatory action research is often considered a remedy for the colonial impositions of community researchers. However, truly decolonizing methodologies requires delinking from the manufactured narratives and “epistemic assumptions common to all the areas of knowledge established in the Western world” since colonial times (Mignolo & Walsh, 2018, p. 106). After delinking, decoloniality leads “to the reservoir of the ways of life” (Mignolo, 2013, p. 133). This reservoir is more than an ecological metaphor; it is a pluralistic ecology of knowledge (Sonn, 2016) that is culturally multidimensional as well as systemically multilevel. Therefore, in our community psychology research, we inquire into what the typical levels of analysis omit, such as cosmology, seasonality, mythology, interspecies connections, ceremony, and spiritual well-being.


1We follow the movement of decolonial scholars to capitalize the word “Indigenous” in those cases where the word “Western” would also be capitalized.

2We use the original “HLP” in resistance to new abbreviation “HP” being used by gentrifying businesses. As Smith (2012) recounted, “renaming the land was probably as powerful ideologically as changing the land... Indigenous cultures became framed within a language and a set of spatialized representations” (pp. 53-54).

3For a full review of the racism, lack of accountability, and spending liberties of BIDS, such as permission to pay for private security teams to police neighborhoods, see “Business improvement districts as a force for white supremacy in twenty-first century Los Angeles,” available at


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Ayotzinapa: We Will Not Forget

Written by Santos Lopez Chavez, Pacifica Graduate Institute

On September 26, 2014 near Ayotzinapa, Guerrero, Mexico, a group of 43 normal school students were kidnapped, murdered, and then disappeared, by what many believe was an operation of the Mexican federal government and military. Since the event, the Mexican federal government has attempted to silence and cover up what actually happened to those students. Ironically, the students were taken while on an overnight bus trip going to a memorial demonstration in Mexico City, remembering the massacre of hundreds of students that occurred on October 2, 1968 in Tlatelolco Plaza. The student victims of 1968 were advocating for their rights and opposing the newest education reform that president Enrique Peña Nieto had approved. The massacres in 1968 as well in 2014, were intended to silence students speaking against the government and an elite class of Mexican politicians implementing practices that support the coloniality of power and knowledge.

The story of Ayotzinapa is now being publicized by an original documentary film produced by Enrique García Meza called “Ayotzinapa El Paso De La Tortuga” that was released on Netflix, on March 14, 2018. The film addresses what happened in the state of Guerrero, Mexico on September 26, 2014, the government attempts at a cover-up, and the massive resistance of the families and communities in Guerrero and the rest of Mexico since the murders. In my perspective, “Ayotzinapa El Paso De La Tortuga” is not only a film that addresses corruption and coloniality, but also shifts paradigms about the ongoing resistance and highlights the trauma and memorial of the families of those students that have not been accounted for. The documentary depicts the wide speculation about the Mexican government’s desire to terrorize students for holding onto their native traditions, voicing their concerns, and fighting for social justice.  The students have become perceived as a threat to the PRI political party (Institutional Revolutionary Party) because they have been questioning abuses of power by the politicians; the education afforded the students a more powerful voice than intended. The PRI as a political party has a legacy of oppressing the people of Mexico. The Normalista students are not an exception as they continue to question their elected officials and government. The murders near Ayotzinapa have had the opposite effect to silence: thousands of people, both nationally and internationally have been in the streets demanding accountability and refusing to forget what happened.

The education system in Mexico and many other nations has been colonized by the needs of the market and politicians who have attempted to control the skills and knowledge people learn. In addition, many politicians and government institutions across the world are attempting to privatize the education system and create an education system that benefits corporate profits. Often, students are required to memorize standardized information rather than allowing their creativity to reach full potential. Freire (2000) in Pedagogy of the Oppressed, addresses how the current education system plays a role in teaching individuals to memorize but not to learn concepts; “Banking education treats students as objects of assistance…banking education inhibits creativity and domesticates” (Freire, 2000, p. 83).  In other words, colonial education systems are structured to produce individuals who learn how to work mechanically but do not question the nature of the system. Given the resistant values of the normal school, this has not been possible, because the school administration, the other students, and the families of the disappeared have refused to be silent about the disappearances and have demanded an accounting through national and international channels.

Enrique Peña Nieto has constantly attempted to colonize the indigenous people of Mexico, especially the groups of the South closer to the border through the use of legislation. This neglected part of Mexico lacks the resources to make their land more productive. It is believed the Mexican central government has neglected the Southern region because the people have practiced ongoing resistance to the government’s attempts to exploit their culture and natural resources. The people of the South experience extreme financial hardship and the work of the populations has been undervalued.  In 2012-2013, Enrique Peña Nieto passed an educational reform bill that would change the public educations system of Mexico. The bill standardized education based on the principles of the capital of Mexico, not taking into account certain areas, especially those in the South that have different languages and different levels of education and needs. Many students in rural areas in Mexico do not have adequate access to nutrition and early on in their lives, are needed to help with household duties. The education reform does not take into account the variables that might affect the ability of children to learn the standardized material, nor the learning of practical skills of agriculture as a valid form of knowledge.  Many of the Normalista educators did not agree on standardizing the education system and the lack of consideration for the limits and lack of resources in certain poor and indigenous communities. Normalista students as well as established educators have been opposing the education reform that was signed by President Enrique Peña Nieto. The education reform gives the department of education the right to grade educators by means of measuring students’ academic performance and firing teachers whose students do not score high on the standardized test. Teachers trained at La Escuela Normal Superior de Mexico (ENSM) protested the education reform. This demonstration highlights coloniality of power and knowledge through the imposition of Eurocentric education practices on indigenous people.

ENSM is a publicly funded education institution for teachers that will teach in rural areas as well in marginalized and Indigenous communities. I was familiar with ENSM, through an associate I met a few years ago, who was studying to become a teacher at the normal school in Jalisco Mexico. She shared how it was a difficult school to get in because it was intended to train the best teachers to teach in public schools. Many of the students that attend the university themselves come from marginalized communities. The victims of the massacre near Ayotzinapa, Guerrero, attended a similar normal school. The students of this institution both study and work the land to help their families survive and remain united with the values, languages, and cultures of their local communities. The elite political class has a negative view of the students’ choice to continue to farm as they are educating themselves to become teachers at rural schools. 

Maldonado-Torres (2016) addresses the role of state education systems in colonizing individuals and communities. Maldonado- Torres (2016) states “Universities become centers of command and control, which make them easy to militarize when opposition rises. Many students feel choked and breathless in this context” (Maldonado- Torres, 2016 p.3). In addition, he mentions the struggle to liberate and decolonize the universities is mostly composed of young students. Against the student movements, the government uses censorship, defunding of programs, and rankings by the most conservative faculty. “In the most successful cases, limited measures are implemented, but then contested, sometimes for years, until administrations can successfully undermine them or eliminate them with reference to new financial crises or one-sided reviews and rankings” (Maldonado-Torres, 2016, p.3 ). The new education reform plans to reset standards for recruiting teachers that are familiar with and committed to a standardized education system.

Since the Ayotzinapa case went public, many international journalists and the United Nations Office on Human rights have investigated. Historically, students in Mexico who opposed the Mexican government, especially the views of PRI and the way they govern, have been silenced. The past incidents of violence have not received media coverage; the most powerful television station in Mexico is affiliated with the elite political class. The politicians and political parties, through violence and massacres, have terrorized students as well as oppressed, marginalized, and Indigenous communities. Along with silencing and forgetting about the past tragic events, the current regime has not allowed the nation to heal. The group of students murdered near Ayotzinapa in 2014, were not only studying to become teachers, they were also becoming advocates of social justice and decoloniality in their communities; they wanted to empower regions that have been marginalized and neglected. Maldonado-Torres (2016) stated that this is a movement of the youth who want to recover what has been taken away from them through colonization and bring back educations where you work in partnership (Maldonado- Torres, 2016 p.3). Through the courageous documentary tracking the commitments of families of the disappeared and the demonstrations of thousands who refuse to forget, the night of September 26-27, 2014 will forever be remembered and will always leave a scar on the presidency of Enrique Peña Nieto.         

As a Latino/Hispanic student, I was raised in a marginalized community where we are offered limited opportunities for advanced education due to the increasing cost of education in the United States. I find myself often asking whether I want an education, or do I want to continue to help and support my family? Do we all have equal access to education, or would legislation, testing, and rising tuition fees be a way to keep certain groups or individuals from pursuing advanced education and break the cycle of poverty? How much of my identity and values do I have to give away to succeed in higher education?  We need a free public education system that allows access to all students regardless of family incomes, and respects the values, ways of life, and local knowledge that will liberate us to create communities where we can thrive and feel secure. The struggle for decoloniality of knowledge is happening not only in rural Mexico, but in the United States and in marginalized communities all over the world.



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Breaking through Barriers: A Decolonial Approach

Written by Deborah Najman, Tierra Patterson, and Archana Palanippan, Pacifica Graduate Institute


As three individuals who identify as women of color, we present lived experiences on encountering microaggressions in spaces we expect to be safe. Mainstream psychology often places the onus of coping from stressors produced by an oppressive system on the individual; this paper posits the necessity of a decolonial approach that redirects the focus from the individual to social transformation. Coloniality is a process and system that minimizes and classifies the colonized as “less than human beings” (Lugones, 2010, p. 745). This dehumanization can be compounded the encompassing of multiple marginalized identities, also known as intersectional identity. Crenshaw (1991) asserts that intersectional identity, such as being both women and people of color, creates a complex marginalization that shapes lived experience (Crenshaw, 1991, pp. 1241-1242).


Tierra_Patterson.jpgPierce (1970) defined microaggressions as overt or subtle forms of racism experienced in daily life that can stem from subconscious hostility toward racial groups (Hernández & Vllodas, 2019, p. 77). Often, when people of color attempt to address microaggressions, they are met with “white fragility”, a product of coloniality. White fragility is the result of an unchallenged white perspectives, that leave a hegemonic society without the social muscle to develop constructive dialogue about racial privilege. When confronted with racial stress, this lack of social muscle results in defensive behaviors, and unconscious attempts to maintain the colonial construct of white privilege (DiAngelo, 2011, p. 54-58).

In this article, we will explore how we recognize racial and gender biases in our daily lives and the struggle to discern how to safely confront these expressions of bias that dehumanize and proclaim power over women of color. Philips, Adams, and Salter (2015) suggest that decolonial responses can help protect people in marginalized communities from persistent violence, while simultaneously bringing awareness to hegemonic groups of their subconscious biases and patterns of perpetrating dominance (p. 376-377). Our stories are about resistance to microaggressions and can be understood as an intrapsychic decolonial response to navigating the violation of our sense of identity and integrity. In our self-examination, we challenge the additional demands imposed on us by the colonial system to prove ourselves worthy in relation to the hegemonic structure. This harm that we regularly face and endure needs to cease and desist.

Confined by Corporate America

Being a woman of color has always been a significant part of my identity however, I never felt solely defined by my race until I began working in corporate America. In this setting, I was not defined by my gregarious, bouncy and positive nature. I was only a black woman. My intellect, passion, and belief that I can change the world was translated as aggression, anger, and intimidation. Me, the woman who avoids conflict, was labeled as “threatening” and “unsafe”.

Three weeks after starting my dream job, my supervisor informed me that I was going to be transferred to another team. Unbeknownst to me, she heard there was tension on our team. As the change was communicated and rumors of tension continued to surface, I was approached by the co-leader of a multidisciplinary team, who reported she felt intimidated by my questions during meetings. She did not “feel safe with me” in a room. The crossing of my arms due to the cold temperature in the conference room and the habit of shaking my leg were interpreted as anger by my white supervisor and resulted in disciplinary action.

How do I make myself smaller, as I must be too tall? More presentable, as my hair must be too curly? More passive, as I must be too direct? Less intimidating, as I must be too confident? How do I become less ethnic, less black? With the subsequent barrage of microaggressions, I found myself questioning every interaction and becoming hyper-vigilant about how I was being perceived. As a result of a work environment laden with microaggressions, I found myself experiencing anxiety and a loss of self, while being financially confined to the job. The psychological impact was coupled with physical manifestations, which were all consequences of a racially toxic work environment. The pernicious effects of what I can only label as trauma continues to affect my self-image (Lui et. al., 2019). Confronting my perpetrators was met with fragility, minimization, and double-bind messages. The colonial system that I was working in was unsympathetic to my experiences. Ultimately, I had to quit. Having allies within the toxic environment who were not afraid to name and witness the microaggressions and racial discrimination, were essential to my coping.

A Liminal Experience: Caught Between Worlds

I am a Jewish Guatemalan woman. My father is a Jewish refugee who landed in Guatemala City after WWII and my mother was raised in Mexico City. We moved to the United States when I was four years old. I am a mestiza, one who lives in the liminal spaces between cultures (Anzaldúa, 2012). For me, living in liminal spaces means I do not fit neatly into any classification. People from diverse cultural backgrounds have tried to claim me as part of their group; aesthetically, I fit into many “boxes”. At times, people have tried to “other” me in order to make sense of what they are seeing when they look at me. Coloniality requires social categorization in order to determine the worthiness of the being in question. During this process of identification, I become subject to great harm.

Many years ago, I was heading to a friend’s wedding in upstate New York. I was offered a ride from the airport by my friend’s uncle who was described as “a little off” but harmless. Being cognizant of the potential for conflict, I spent the first few hours leading the conversation into neutral territory. In the final hour, he began making remarks against Mexican immigrants and Jewish people. I cringed internally. In these situations, I always grapple with the desire to hide safely behind my ambiguous appearance and the need to defend my cultural heritage. He continued his racist monologue while I remained silent, terrified of being “found out” and fearing for my physical safety. We were in a remote area and I had nowhere to physically escape.

Photo_Breaking_Barriers.jpgIt was excruciatingly painful for me to choose silence. I was taught to be proud of my Latin-Jewish heritage. I was trapped in a car with a threatening white man spewing racist venom, only he could not identify me for who I am. I was acutely aware of the of the many ways in which he could assault me as a female-bodied person if he had found me out. When we finally arrived at the wedding venue, I was resolved to have the final word. I thanked him for the ride, cracked the door open and said: “I just want you to know you spent the last few hours talking to a Guatemalan Jew with a Mexican mother.” I ran out of the car and into the safety of the crowd.

How to Make an American Alien

“No, I mean, where are you really, really from?”. This peculiar question is one I’ve heard most often in my life. My first answer, “Right here, born and raised in Ohio,” is never satisfactory. I became accustomed to feeling othered, growing up with my brown skin in a rural, small town, in Ohio. This reliable question, it a damning reminder that no matter how hard I try to belong, I will always be seen as an outsider first.

As an American-born person of color, I am consistently made to feel like an alien in my own home. This homesick alien status even made me “white-wash” myself and anglicize my name for social acceptance, furthering my insecurity and distancing myself from my roots. Regularly receiving this thinly veiled message of “No, you can’t belong” guised in innocent social interaction, is a tax on my sense of self and mental well-being. It contributes to a feeling of diminishment and alienation, a persistent smallness that comes from daily reinforced foreigner status. It is precisely the mundanity of it that has the pernicious effect of constant self-doubt and the internalization of judgement by others. In moments I feel confident and safe, I can call attention to this colonial conditioning. I return the inquiry and ask their lineage in order to witness together the absurdity; how irrelevant our origin of skin color is to this first moment of meeting. It is reassuring when we can laugh and talk about where we call home and why. It is my hope that this not-so-small moment illustrates how a seemingly innocuous question perpetuates perceived differences and illuminates just how we socialize the idea of race and othering every day.

Final Thoughts

The personal stories provided show diverse examples of oppressive situations, in which we, as women of color, were unsafe. In resisting the colonial imposition of white fragility, we had to push through paralyzing fear and alienation forced upon us. What is required is for witnesses and allies to acknowledge when harm occurs and to speak up, in order to raise critical awareness and not normalize oppression (Phillips, et al., 2015). We are using the notion of decoloniality of being as a means of framing resistance to microaggressions. This is a strategy for dismantling western ways of relating to power and being (Maldonado-Torres, 2007; Ndlovu-Gatsheni, 2013). Our resistance to coloniality is to “make visible and open up” other perspectives and other ways of being, that need to be accepted and included by hegemonic groups (Mignolo & Walsh, 2018, p.17). Through our stories, we are reclaiming our power and humanity.


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Lute Books.

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DiAngelo, R. (2011). White Fragility. International Journal of Critical Pedagogy, 3(3), 54-70.

Hernández, R. J., & Villodas, M. (2019). Collectivistic coping responses to racial microaggressions associated with Latina/o college persistence attitudes. Journal of Latinx Psychology, 7(1), 76-90.

Liu, W. M., Liu, R. Z., Garrison, Y. L., Kim, J. Y. C., Chan, L., Ho, Y. C. S., & Yeung, C. W. (2019). Racial trauma, microaggressions, and becoming racially innocuous: The role of acculturation and White supremacist ideology. American Psychologist, 74(1), 143–155.

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Mignolo, W. D., & Walsh, C. E. (2018). On decoloniality: Concepts, analytics, and praxis.  Durham: Duke University Press.

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Philips, N.L, Adams, G, & Salter, P.S. (2015). Beyond adaptation: Decolonizing approaches to coping with oppression. Journal of Social and Political Oppression, 3 (1), 365-387.

Excerpt from a Work-in-Progress "Motherhood is Speculative (Non)Fiction: A Rhizomatic Writing Experimet Examining Motherhood and Matrescence"

Written by Kamee Abrahamian, Pacifica Graduate Institute

Kamee_Abrahamian.jpgI came into existence amidst two layers of denial: as the descendant of Armenian genocide survivors displaced from Lebanon and Syria; and as a first generation Canadian born onto lands painfully colonized through the genocide of indigenous peoples. The writing below is first and foremost personal, drawing from the landscape my intersectional experiences and sensibilities as a queer, diasporic-SWANA mother. I arrive at queerness in the same way as described by queer, feminist scholar of color Alexis Pauline Gumbs (2016), as what “fundamentally transforms our state of being and the possibilities for life” and “does not produce the status quo” (p. 115). It is the lens through which I understand my being in the world, how I build relationships and work in/with communities. And, identifying as queer, feminist, and non-normative has situated me on the fringes of my own cultural community, and on most days, in the world.

As a work-in-progress, this piece will take shape through an iteration of rhizovocality, as put forth by Alecia Youngblood Jackson (2003). She writes: “These multiple entryways for understanding are acentered, nonhierachical, temporal, productive, and exist in the middle; thus, rhizovocality can be neither fully transcendent nor authentic since it has no original departure or destined arrival” (p. 707). This concept of connected fragmentation and perpetual construction and collapse resonates in my experiences as a mother and therefore throughout this work, not only thematically and structurally, but precisely in how I land on this page/screen. I write in pieces, during Saana’s sporadic nap-times and on the rare occasion that I have childcare. It is near impossible to find a moment or head-space to sit with the entirety of this endeavor, or to trace the epic thread that ties it all together. I am constantly tethered to my child and motherhood, much like the moon in its eternal orbit around earth. This is not a disclaimer, but the paradigmatic reality of my current existence. And, it is important to name that the writing below is an excerpt of a larger work that will be further built upon for my PhD dissertation, which is interested in the ways diasporic peoples enact, resist, and persist through/inside dominant patriarchal and colonial ideologies of motherhood, and how they transform normalized conceptions of maternal from the axis of their particular positionalities and experiences.

For the purposes of this article, I will write into one of the aspects of how we (those involved in Saana’s caregiving) are enacting gender creative parenting. We do this by intentionally facilitating an environment and relationships that will allow Saana to arrive at their own understanding and expression of gender. It seems radical, outlandish, and to some folks, downright offensive. It is not a new or novel idea. Gender-fluidity has existed (culturally, socially) in various parts of the world. This is not the place to trace its history, though.

It hit me when I was pregnant. People kept asking the gender of my unborn baby. Although I understand the socio-cultural and political roots of this question, it still struck me as peculiar. It assumes that I am a fortune teller. No one asks what my baby’s favorite color might be, or what vocation they will aspire towards. Exactly as in their gender, I simply do not know the answer to those questions. And, I realize that my choice is the result of my particular positionality. The way my worldview and family dynamics are queered is part of how I resist dominant (violent!) patriarchal and colonial ideologies of gender that are pervasive in the western world in which I grew up, as well as within my own cultural community. I am reminded of queer scholar Jane Ward (2013) who refers to José Muñoz’s (2009) focus on “the importance of hope and futurity for queers of color” in Cruising Utopia. Ward creates links between queer parenting and Muñoz’s urging for queers to “embrace projects that plant the seeds for a radically expanded future” (p. 235), as an expression of “desire for a thing, or a way, that is not here but is nonetheless desirable, something worth striving for” (Muñoz, p. 121). For these reasons, it is important to explicitly name that my gender creative parenting is rooted in my own conception of futurity, and my experiences as a queer, diasporic-SWANA mother who was raised as woman.

I do not claim that everyone should do this. It is not an affront to how others choose to parent. There are an infinite number of ways to parent, all rooted in experiences, positionalities, and various cultural/social practices specific to each family. It is a choice I made for myself and my family. It is my way of resisting dominant ideologies of gender rooted in particular hierarchies of power. You don’t have to understand it or embody it, but you can respect it.

A stranger crosses paths with Saana and I. “Oh, so cute!” then turning to me, “is it a boy or a girl?” I reply, “it’s a person!” smiling politely (the gentlest way I can respond, at this point in my life-learning). Response No. 1: “Yes! Thanks for the reminder.” Response No. 2: “Umm,” they are lost for words, nervous, offended. I believe it is okay to feel uncomfortable. I feel uncomfortable every day, for a multitude of reasons. Discomfort can be a great teacher.

A straightforward question such as “is it a boy or a girl” is profoundly loaded. Moments like this have the potential to perpetuate particular ideologies of gender, how one must instill gender into their children, and how parents are in a particular position to perpetuate the status quo of gender (or not) and the power dynamics involved as such. My response (it's a person) is what I have come to recognize as a micro-resistance, an explicit interruption of dominant conceptions and performance of gender, an acknowledgment and refusal to allow micro-currents of power as it relates to gender determine the docility of my body. In many ways, I have been thinking recently, it is not just a micro resistance either. It is macro in the sense that power as it relates to gender is pervasive and problematic beyond the confines of my family and community. Social transactions between caregivers and others, whether it is other family members, friends, or strangers on the street, are veins through which coded directives are being communicated, it ensures that we as caregivers are going to do our duty in upholding the status quo of gender in how we bring up our children and keep them in check. And, it is also where they can be resisted. 

I have stolen a moment, tinkering on the edge of interruption as Saana is nearing the end of their nap-time. I stepped into my maternal being in the early days of pregnancy with similar thinking as feminist scholar Sara Ruddick (2002): “To claim a maternal identity is not to make an empirical generalization but to engage in a political act” (p. 56). My process and transition of becoming a mother marked the convergence of what had long seemed fragmented and incompatible: my queerness and feminism, my diasporic-SWANA lineage. It foregrounded a sense of futurity for me, as descendant, caregiver for descendent, future ancestors - a fractal process reflected into/onto my work as a scholar, artist, and mother.

I believe that the disruption of my monthly bleeding cycle during and after my pregnancy has halted the bodily rhythm that had given me a sense of time, a compass of time. And, because it is a body-sense, a body that is (sort of?) biologically female, not-bleeding has stopped time for me. This absence of rhythm has impacted me in two very significant ways: it has changed my perception of time, and it changed my perception of my gender. Yes, my decision to raise Saana as gender creative ended up changing my own identification of gender. I think of the words of Grace Lee Boggs that I have read in so many places that its origin is lost to me: transform yourself to transform the world. Gender creative, gender non-conforming -- it’s a family affair.

My personal relationship and expression of gender notwithstanding, my intellectual and critical understanding of gender has become even more complex since I became a mother, and since I began to identify as genderqueer/non-binary. The process looked like this, in a nutshell: The endless minutiae of mothering and caregiving is hyper(in)visible. When I talk about the hardships and challenges of motherhood with my mother and grandmother, they remind me that this is the way things go, that “motherhood is sacrifice” and that it is a “thankless job”. I notice that since I had Saana, I feel physically ill when people tell me that I am a “beautiful woman.” So much of my struggle throughout matrescence is connected to how I am (seemingly) a woman-as-mother - the notion that my womanhood has somehow inevitably led me to my motherhood. I am suspicious. And this is how I arrived at not-identifying as a woman. This is when I began liberating myself from binary conceptions of gender and all its trickery.

In Notes Toward a Decolonial Feminist Methodology: Revisiting the Race/Gender Matrix, Xhercis Mendez (2015) writes of gender as historically reconstituted and racialized throughout colonial relations of power. Mendez refers to Maria Lugones’ (2007) colonial/modern gender system, which claims that the colonization of the Americas “introduced many genders and gender itself as a colonial concept and mode of organization of relations of production, property relations, of cosmologies and ways of knowing” (p. 186). Mendez continues, “how we understand ‘gender’ makes a difference not only for how we frame our contemporary relations, but also for what we will consider to be necessary ingredients for re-imagining our various communities in liberatory ways” (p. 55). This lands like a truckload of gravel in my already-muddled pool of thoughts-- Saana has woken, this is as far as I can go for now.


Gumbs, A. P., Martens, C., & Williams, M. (2016). Revolutionary mothering: Love on the front lines. Oakland: PM Press.

Jackson, A. Y. (2003). Rhizovocality. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 16(5), 693-710.

Lugones, María. "Heterosexualism and the Colonial/Modern Gender System." Hypatia 22, no. 1

(2007): 186-219.

Mendez, X. (2015). Notes Toward a Decolonial Feminist Methodology: The Race/Gender Matrix Revisited. Trans-Scripts, 5, 41-59.

Muñoz, J. E. (2009). Cruising utopia the then and there of queer futurity. New York: New York University Press.

Ward, J. (2013) Radical Experiments Involving Innocent Children: Locating Parenthood in Queer Utopia. In: Jones A. (eds) A Critical Inquiry into Queer Utopias. Palgrave Macmillan’s Critical Studies in Gender, Sexuality, and Culture. Palgrave Macmillan, New York.

Researching While White: Self-Criticality in Decolonial Allyship

Written by Jonathan Rudow, Pacifica Graduate Institute

Jonathan_Rudow.jpgTo approach a framework of decoloniality within a field founded upon a Eurocentric, patriarchal worldview requires us, as researchers and practitioners, to turn our critical lenses inward; honestly and fearlessly deconstructing our own positionality, identity, and intentions. I will position myself clearly, to begin, as a straight, white male, raised Catholic in the predominantly Christian society here in America. I will employ terms such as “we,” “us,” and “our(s),” which are meant to locate myself and others within the field who hold similarly centralized positions. As we attempt a shift toward decolonial praxes and methodologies–opening space for indigenous ways of knowing and being in the world and allowing ourselves to be led by them rather than merely providing them an insincere, momentary spotlight–we must recognize the self-reflexive work that belongs to us. Part and parcel of determining what work is ours to do is a recognition of what is not. Maori scholar Linda Tuhiwai Smith (2012) shares the uncertainty harbored by many in indigenous communities surrounding the place of Western academics conducting research focused on their epistemologies or contexts, stating that while there are many researchers who can handle such questions [i.e., critical questions posed by indigenous activists such as “Whose research is it?” and “Who will benefit from it?”] with integrity there are many more who cannot, or who approach these questions with some cynicism, as if they are a test merely of political correctness (p. 10).

The tendency of white researchers to remain at the table of decolonizing efforts in the field, utilizing allyship as a politically-corrective lens, can be detractive to the ambition of decolonization itself. It can both defend the need for white voices to “legitimize” the work and subjects the process to biases implicit in the white, or Western, worldview. Smith (2012) shares that the difficulty inherent in our attempts to decolonize research is that to a large extent, theories about research are underpinned by a cultural system of classification and representation, by views about human nature, human morality and virtue, by conceptions of space and time, by conceptions of gender and race. Ideas about these things help determine what counts as real. Systems of classification and representation enable different traditions or fragments of traditions to be retrieved and reformulated in different contexts as discourses, and then to be played out in systems of power and domination, with real material consequences for colonized peoples (p. 46).

Therefore, to better understand how we as practitioners and researchers within the field–and more particularly, as white allies striving toward decoloniality–can approach truly transformative outcomes, we must start with a self-critical exploration of our own whiteness, how it is socially constructed and upheld, how we live into it, how it is experienced by people and colleagues of color, and how it instills foundational assumptions in our understanding of, and approach to, the work of decoloniality. To appropriately contextualize this discussion, I will provide some personal accounts of encountering and grappling with my own centrality and how it has led me to turn my attention away from conducting research with indigenous communities and other communities of color. Instead, I will focus on the construct of whiteness.

To begin, I must share that I have a history of volunteering and conducting small-scale research projects within cultural contexts outside my own. Particularly, I have done so with members of the Diné (Navajo) peoples on the Black Mesa reservation land on several occasions, as well as with people who have developmental disabilities living at the Sristi Village in Southeast India. When I began my doctoral studies at Pacifica Graduate Institute, I was ensconced in new-age idealism and savior-complex conceptions of what allyship meant, how it was to be enacted, and what my role was in “helping” communities I deemed in need of my presence and what I saw to be my own “expertise.” My deepening purview of the concepts of colonialism, imperialism, neoliberalism, white privilege and the social construction of race–guided by the mentorship of Pacifica faculty, and their ongoing decolonial work–led me to focus my doctoral work on Critical Whiteness Studies and Critical Race Theory. As my research into these fields has expanded, the inner work necessary to deconstruct and understand my own relationship to whiteness–and other centralized aspects of my positionality–has led me to revisit the fieldwork I’ve conducted in others’ cultural contexts, as well as explore the daily microaggressions I perpetrate.

Reflecting upon how I perform my whiteness brings images not only of the moments I prefer to remember (i.e., instances of clarity, of verbalizing my own and other whites’ failings, and attempts made to correct these), but also examples of these failings–daily reminders of the longitude and depth of the work. It evokes images of fumbling glances shared with people of color I pass on the street; undue considerations of whether I should look away–to evade the impact of my white gaze–or whether I should stare with well-intended ferocity, attempting to communicate “I see you, I recognize your personhood,” as if this were mine to give. This neurotic flailing represents fragments in my daily experience of what Marilyn Frye (1992) labels “whiteliness.” Frye connects performances of masculinity, and its relationship to maleness, with foundational expressions of whiteness, stating:

“The masculinity of an adult male human in any particular culture is also profoundly connected with the local perceptions and conceptions of maleness (as ‘biological’), its causes and its consequences. So it may be with being white, but we need some revision of our vocabulary to say it rightly. We need a term in the realm of race and racism whose grammar is analogous to the grammar of the term ‘masculinity’… I will introduce ‘whitely’ and ‘whiteliness’ as terms whose grammar is analogous to that of ‘masculine’ and ‘masculinity’” (Frye, 1992).

Frye’s invocation of masculinity, in its most toxic forms, as an entrance into the understanding of whiteness, in its most toxic forms–read, whiteliness–invites us to explore the ways that power differentials are exercised in relational spaces through assertions of one’s maleness or whiteness. Feeling into other occurrences of my own whiteliness, I am brought back to my work with the Diné peoples at Black Mesa, in which I inadvertently asserted my position as a white male academic by presuming my research agenda was in some way “helpful,” despite a lack of participatory organization of the research approach and methodologies. This was a moment of failure, in which I acted as one of the Western researchers Smith (2012) warns us of, unable to hold the critical questions she posits with integrity; subjectivizing rather than decolonizing.

Reflecting further upon the research I conducted in India, I imagine walking through the rural town setting leading to the Sristi Village. I can recall feeling the gazes of people emerging from their doorways, or pausing their tasks to observe me, to watch how I comported myself. I remember feeling a deep sense of agency, an ability to move through their place without seeking permission. Though I had been invited by a citizen of their town, it was not each of their decisions. Philosopher George Yancy speaks to this feeling of agency, describing a young white girl, Carla, who in her young age was already stretching the limbs of her whiteness; he states:

“For Carla, this orientation is expansive and colonial; it gives her a sense of indefinite spatiality. She is always already given the ‘right’ and the ‘absolute freedom’ to demarcate her white space and to ostracize those who don’t ‘naturally’ belong in it. Indeed, she comes to inhabit the world spatially in the mode of an ‘ability to do’ or the ‘capacity to do’” (Yancy, 2012, p. 24).

I recall this sense, as Yancy puts it, of indefinite spatiality, in these moments. Even then, without any in-depth, self-reflexive analysis, I could feel a capacity of mine–truly, a consequence of my being–in which my presence “Othered” these persons on their own land, in their own homes.

“It is in these moments that I feel the most useful to the cause of struggling with race, in the way Yancy asks of us. He exposes his deeper reasoning for this call to struggle, stating that rather than approaching the problem of race/whiteness as a lived experience, as a site of shared vulnerability, as a site of differential cash value, my fear is that white philosophers will treat critical discourses around race/whiteness as sites of intellectual mastery, as forms of mastery that do not involve deep personal risk, like being able to rattle off various philosophical movements and thinkers (from, say, Jacques Derrida) in Western philosophy” (Yancy, 2012, p. 27).

I fear becoming that figure, the white intellectual who wishes to “master” my whiteness for personal gratification and academic glory, rather than for true and sustained change to the structures of power that sustain it. It is imperative that we struggle in these ways with the centralized aspects of our positionality as academics; and, as Yancy reminds us, make concerted efforts toward personal risk and vulnerability. To do so may require us to step aside in some cases, to opt out of the limelight of presumed expertise; and in other cases, to step into–in the way self-criticality of our own performances of whiteliness or masculinity require. To approach research in a way that de-centralizes our own positionality, that advances a decolonial framework, we must be willing to become the subjects of our own inquiry; to be unapologetically vulnerable in the way feminist philosopher Alison Bailey (2015) suggests, “where vulnerability is defined not as weakness but as a condition for potential” (p. 40).


Bailey, A. (2015). “White talk” as a barrier to understanding the problem with whiteness. In Yancy, G. (Ed.), White self-criticality beyond anti-racism: How does it feel to be a white problem? (pp. 37-56). London, UK: Lexington Books.

Frye, M. (1992) Willful virgin: Essays in feminism, 1976-1992. Retrieved from

Smith, L. T. (2012). Decolonizing methodologies: Research and indigenous peoples (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Zed Books.

Yancy, G. (2012) Look, a white!: Philosophical essays on whiteness. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.

Accessibility and Decoloniality: Using Students’ Tensions and Struggles in the Community, Liberation, Indigenous and Eco-Psychologies Specialization to Imagine a Decolonial University

Written by Maryam Tahmasebi, Mari Larangeira, Stephanie Knox-Steiner, Chenoa Siegenthaler, and Ross Dionne, Pacifica Graduate Institute





















This paper presents a modified Participatory Action Research (PAR) conducted primarily by twelve third-year graduate students in Depth Psychology, Specializing in Community, Liberation, Indigenous and Eco psychologies (CLIE) at Pacifica Graduate Institute (PGI). The research goals were to understand 1) the experiences of accessibility in the CLIE program for students engaging decolonial pedagogies within the structure of a private graduate institution and 2) to engage in a visioning process of how decolonial praxis could be engaged at PGI policy-making in relation to students.

Decoloniality involves a de-centering critique of the modernist/colonial structures and paradigm and a search for alternatives to it that are grounded in reclaiming our humanity (Maldonado-Torres, 2016) and valuing ways of knowing other than the Western, Euro-centric paradigm (Castro-Gomez, 2013). This project builds upon several years of student-faculty praxis at Pacifica, turning our inquiry on decoloniality towards the institution itself. During the 2015-2016 school year, the Students of Color and Racial Justice Allies (SOC/RJA) groups created a set of goals and analytics for racial justice values in the CLIE classroom (SOC/RJA Groups, 2016). The following year, the groups created recommendations for anti-racist/decolonial curricula (SOC/RJA Groups, 2017). Building upon these initiatives and our ongoing inquiry on decoloniality, in 2018 some students (Group Two in this research) engaged in a participatory action research (PAR) project with Dr. Roderick Watts as part of a Liberation Studies in Action class that focused primarily on program curricula, pedagogy, and classroom experiences. One aspect of this current project led by Group Two was to further that 2018 project by engaging the research at the institutional level. Group One, however, focused on accessibility and tensions experienced by students.


The twelve co-authors of this paper formed two groups of six co-researchers. One group focused on accessibility to higher education and the other group on visions for a liberatory praxis. The two groups conducted focus groups designed to explore the stories, feedback, visions, and recommendations of nine first- and second-year students enrolled in the CLIE program during the 2018-2019 academic year. This project was an “adapted” form of PAR as only the twelve co-researchers from the third-year cohort conceived the following research questions:

  1. What has been your experience with accessing higher education at Pacifica in terms of financing your education? (Focus Group One)
  2. Do you think it is accessible -- why or why not?  (Focus Group One)
  3. What would a university liberated from coloniality look like? (Focus Group Two)

The six co-researchers on each team collectively transcribed, coded, and analyzed the data that was gathered in the focus groups. They then decided on final themes/codes as a group. In an ideal PAR process, all of the participants would have been engaged in the analysis and interpretation of the data. Given that this research project was conducted within time constraints and limitations of a research methodology class, first and second-year students were not engaged at all stages of the research process.



Findings from the combined analysis of data gathered in the two focus groups suggested the following themes that overlap and interrelate on a number of levels.


Pacifica’s overall cost of attendance, for-profit business model, rigid residency policies, and limited support in acquiring funds to alleviate costs render the institution financially inaccessible to many potential students. Students expressed frustration at the lack of assistantships, fellowships, work-study, and compensated training opportunities that are typical of many doctoral programs. Pacifica’s for-profit business model disqualifies students for funding opportunities available to students at public universities. Students expressed respect for the faculty and deep interest in working with them but also disappointment in the relative lack of mentorship and co-writing opportunities.

Psychological Toll

For many students, attending graduate school with insufficient financial support requires them to engage a multitude of strategies that require resilience, agility, and resourcefulness leaving them feeling overextended and internally conflicted. For students who are parents, particularly mothers, institutional policies that prevent children from remaining on campus overnight require them to either leave the child/ren at home, which is especially traumatic and disruptive for breastfeeding babies, toddlers, and children struggling with attachment; or bring them and stay overnight off-campus. The compounded burden of navigating these sorts of decisions takes a toll on students’ overall psychological well-being.

Student Positionality

Students come from various backgrounds. Some felt that their voices are typically silenced in the academy in the U.S. Their socio-economic positions are connected to their experience of inaccessibility. Students who were best positioned to afford PGI expressed that they benefited from available opportunities such as a matching grant. Students who were impacted by colonial structures that have blocked financial mobility for generations were likely to not have access to qualified sponsors for the grant or co-signers for supplemental loans. 


Policy concerns were most observable in contexts around the accreditation requirement of one’s physical presence on campus for courses, policies regarding students’ children on campus, and housing options and their costs during academic sessions.

Positive Visions and Shared Leadership

Although Group Two’s research question sought to elicit visions of a university liberated from coloniality, much of the discussion centered around challenges that students face, which indicates that until the challenges above are addressed, it is difficult to implement such vision. However, a repeated recommendation from multiple participants focused on shared leadership. Suggestions included increasing student voice through student government and/or associations in order to effect systems and policy change at both the specialization and institutional levels to increase accessibility and transparency around financial, curricular, and class scheduling decisions. Figure 1 depicts the emergent themes that were arranged in a model that represents a vision of a liberatory university. Liberatory_University.png




This research highlights the complexity and tensions involved in implementing a de-coloniality-focused curriculum into a private institution of higher education. The CLIE faculty at Pacifica are well aware of these contradictions and challenges. In a recent article, Watkins, Ciafolo & James (2018) clearly articulated how pursuing de-coloniality in higher education is a paradox requiring humility, solidarity, clarity of intention, and critical dialogue.

Recommendations gleaned from the focus group discussions included increased support around on and off campus work (and/or work-study) possibilities, increased scholarship opportunities, institutional transparency regarding financial decisions, and shared leadership. 

In that spirit, we end here with three recommendations: (1) Plan for one program evaluation session per year, during a on-campus session, in which all CLIE students, core faculty, and key administrators participate; (2) Create a CLIE funding position or add responsibilities to current position(s) that functions with student participation and support. (3) Give PGI students a seat at the table in decision and policy-making at the Institute.

Our recommendations are not uncommon as graduate student funding and student councils are fairly commonplace in public institutions.  However, programs that focus on decoloniality and decolonization are not common at other institutions. We hope that in sharing our experiences in these conversations, we may contribute towards not only a vision of a decolonial university but of actions to support that vision.


Castro-Gómez, S. (2013). The missing chapter of empire. In W. Mignolo & A. Escobar (Eds.), Globalization and the decolonial option (pp. 282-302). New York, NY: Routledge.

Maldonado-Torres, N. (2016). Outline of ten theses on coloniality and decoloniality. Foundation Frantz Fanon. Retrieved December 10, 2018 from:

SOC & RJA Groups. (2016). Racial justice values for CLE classrooms. Hearing Voices (Spring 2016), p. 18-19. Retrieved from:

SOC & RJA Groups. (2017). Guidelines for an anti-racism/decoloniality curriculum. Hearing Voices, (Spring 2017), p. 42-43.     

Watkins, M., Ciofalo, N. & James, S. (2018). Engaging the struggle for decolonial approaches to teaching community psychology. American Journal of Community Psychology 0:1-11.