What role should California’s public universities play in addressing borders—transnational, as well as those among and within cities? This essay highlights the need to develop tools that will enable alternative way to produce knowledge—one that aims to co-create with community organizations by combining scholarly, artistic, and activist practices with one another. These images provide glimpses from a near future that has begun to dismantle the barriers within and between Los Angeles and Mexico City, building bridges instead of walls.
Founded in 1919, UCLA is nearing its first centenary, but the university builds on humanistic and liberal arts traditions that are many centuries long and globally diffused. The core disciplines that we recognize today as comprising the Humanities have deep roots in these institutional, cultural, and technological histories. But yet, for all its grand ambitions for reckoning with the world, the university has remained by and large an isolated institution, walled in and often walled off from its surrounding community, accessible to a chosen few, stratified by economic, social, and racial differences, and perhaps too invested in the security of its storied past. The Urban Humanities initiative is an attempt both to apply conventional tools in unconventional ways and to invent new tools by respecting the fundamental virtue of bricks, namely their porous nature. Is it possible to decolonize knowledge? If so, the studio courses it develops will have profound implications for the role of the classroom, syllabus, and for rethinking and developing new knowledge and practices.