UW-Madison Prof. Karma Chavez Pursues Useless Knowledge
The guiding principle of the University of Wisconsin is the Wisconsin Idea, a concept first outlined in 1904 by then-UW President Charles Van Hise who declared, “I shall never be content until the beneficent influence of the University reaches every home in the state.” With the rise of the Progressive Movement, which pioneered populist and socialist reforms, the UW came to view the Wisconsin Idea as a mandate to use its research powers to influence and direct government policy.
Today, the university proclaims: “The Wisconsin Idea is the principle that the university should improve people’s lives beyond the classroom. It spans UW–Madison’s teaching, research, outreach and public service.”
With higher education costs skyrocketing and student loan debt hanging over graduates for decades after college, Media Trackers is launching a weekly feature that looks at individual University of Wisconsin professors and measures their area of research, and the classes they teach, against the standard of the Wisconsin Idea.
Prof. Karma R. Chavez is an associate professor at UW-Madison’s Department of Communication Arts. According to a UW employee salary database maintained by the Wisconsin State Journal, Chavez made $87,224 during the 2014-2015 fiscal year, and has achieved tenure at the school.
Chavez teaches seven different courses, ranging from “Queer Theory” (CA 969) to “Queer Migrations” (CA 610) and “Rhetoric and Queer Theory” (also CA 610).
Chavez takes pride in her work co-founding of the Queer Migration Research Network, and the UW’s Comparative US Studies (CUSS) group. “I work with various grassroots social justice organizations and collectives,” claims on her official UW biography.
The Queer Migration Research Network describes what it does as, “Queer migration scholarship critically explores how sexual and gender normativities shape, regulate, and contest contemporary international migration processes that stem from histories of colonialism, global capitalism, genocide, slavery, and racialized patriarchy.”
In a 2012 essay, Chavez argued that academics and the media should work together to eliminate references to border security when discussing the southern border in the context of the immigration debate, and instead talk about “border militarization.” Chavez claims in her piece that, “President Reagan’s administration was most responsible for rolling out the immense infrastructure that would lead to the most drastic border militarization.” She further claimed that border security efforts use military tactics to control targeted populations along the border.
According to Chavez, the consequence of border security efforts to date has led to the rape of women, including rape perpetrated by U.S. border officials. She cites no proof of this shocking assertion, writing only that, “many migrant women have reported being raped under the conditions of militarization for reasons that would not exist if not for militarization.”
Put another way, Chavez claims that if the U.S. abolishes all border security efforts, women seeking to cross the border will no longer be raped by U.S. border officials or those who ply in the smuggling of humans across the border.
Nowhere on her website does Chavez try to connect the study of “queer migration” to the Wisconsin Idea of “improve[ing] people’s lives beyond the classroom.”
Chavez’ essay on “Border Militarization”: Chavez_Border_Interventions_2012