Last month, at the commencement ceremony for graduates of Arizona University’s Social and Behavioral Sciences program, professor Sandra K. Soto dared to criticize Arizona’s new anti-immigrant laws. For this, she was repeatedly heckled, as you can see in this video.
She started her speech with a traditional salute: “It is my great pleasure and honor to be among the first to congratulate you on completing your studies at the University of Arizona.” She wished the students luck “at making a life outside of the context of classes, teachers, required reading, libraries, flip-flops, office hours, deadlines, and all-nighters.” She called them “the next generation of leaders, teachers, journalists, and lawyers.” And she urged them to use the skills they learned at college to “help solve a range of social problems.”
Then she got to the nub of the current controversy. “The whole nation is watching Arizona right now,” she said. “Racial discord is being provoked, not solved, by the recent legislation that is horrifying so many of us in and outside of Arizona.” She mentioned both the law requiring police to arrest people they suspect of being here illegally and the law eliminating Ethnic Studies classes. And she praised middle and high school students for protesting these laws.
While she was trying to read her speech, hecklers booed her. At least one called her “bitch.” Another said, “Cut your hair.” Still another called her “disgusting.” The catcalls got so loud that she could almost not continue.
At that point, the dean of Social and Behavioral Sciences, John Paul Jones III, said: “Please, please, civil discourse please. OK, thank you very much.”
Soto concluded by urging the newly minted graduates to “fight for public education. Now that you have concluded your education, please remember to leave the door open behind you so that other students may enter.”
According to the Arizona University website, “Soto is Director of Graduate Studies, Co-coordinator of the Chicana/Latina Studies Concentration, and affiliate faculty of English, Mexican American Studies, and Latin American Studies.” She is also an associate professor of Gender and Women’s Studies.
Soto told Inside Higher Education that “she has received a barrage of e-mail messages, many of them hateful and some of them potentially threatening.”
She added that “she was prepared for some booing, but was surprised by ‘how vitriolic’ the e-mail messages have been since the talk. She said that she will turn over to authorities those that might be threatening, such as an e-mail suggesting that the sender ‘hopes you don't look both ways’ while crossing the street.”
"Overall, I received more positive feedback than negative feedback," tells The Progressive. "All of the feedback I received from colleagues (from both the University of Arizona and other universities) was positive. I have no regrets about giving the Convocation Speech that I gave. Believe me, a lot of thought, discussion, and revision went into the speech before I delivered it."
Matthew Rothschild is the editor of The Progressive magazine.
If you liked this story by Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive magazine, check out his article “Enforced Conformity.”