Melissa Phruksachart (prook-sa-chart) is LSA Collegiate Fellow in the Department of Film, Television, and Media at the University of Michigan. She teaches and researches across Asian/American studies, women of color and transnational feminist politics, and U.S. minority film and media. She recently answered a few questions about her article in Feminist Teacher, titled “On Mentoring Future Faculty of Color.”
What did the project MFFC aim to accomplish?
MFFC’s aim was primarily to get a group of students through graduate school. Its main intervention was the recognition of “diversity” or “of color” as an epistemological and not demographic project. We cohered around supporting graduate students who were working at the intersections of minoritized fields like ethnic studies, black studies, queer studies, and decolonial thought. We focused on advancing scholarship that engaged these minoritized intellectual traditions, rather than on collecting and promoting non-white bodies per se. One of the primary ways we built this community was through a lunch and lecture series where we invited a prominent scholar of color to give a public talk on their latest their work in addition to a closed lunch session where they spoke about their experiences in the academy with students.
Can you discuss why it is so important to have programs like Mentoring Future Faculty of Color (MFFC) for graduate students and faculty?
It’s still entirely possible to take a course on the Victorian novel and not engage with empire and slavery. It’s still entirely possible to do an undergraduate major in film and not see a film by a single black filmmaker except for Spike Lee. (I could go on.) In the liberal humanities, knowledge outside the universal position of “man” is still relegated to the last two weeks of the syllabus. Minoritized interdisciplines operate as a critique to that universalism. MFFC offered a space for making more formal what is often informal: the networks of support and conviviality that arise among the minoritized (both horizontally between peers and vertically between faculty and students) in environments that normatively center the intellectual output of white men.
How did the college campus become, as you put it, “too much of a home” for the MFFC community?
As MFFC created spaces of intellectual and professional support, it shifted its members’ relationships to the institution. Instead of only feeling alienated on campus, we felt a sense of community with each other, too. Our shared critique of the university paradoxically constituted the reason we spent more time there. As I mention in the article, we found campus a good space to meet because it was centrally located and did not require us to buy food/drinks in order to occupy space for unlimited amounts of time. We also had access to wifi, bathrooms, printers, and other basics. Would investing in communities outside of or adjacent to school have been a better use of our time?
Now that the MFFC has disbanded, what next steps would you suggest to continue the efforts of the project?
The efforts of the project continue as its members move on to new institutional spaces. MFFC disbanded in part because many student members were graduating, and in part because of its institutionalization: it became clear that MFFC was becoming a valuable promotional tool for the English department and the university (three years after the bulk of us graduated, it’s still being advertised to prospective students as an interest group on the English department website). Institutionalizing the group within student government meant that even when we decided that the rubric “MFFC” no longer met our needs, MFFC still retained a paper life that played out according to student government bylaws: we discovered that because we had chartered as a student group, it was not possible to formally disband. This calcification within bureaucracy allowed for the blind institutional reproduction of diversity work and opposed the vision we had for the university.