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Fronteras: Western History Conference panel tackles issues on academic freedom, reproductive rights and immigration

From left to right: Tyina Steptoe; Norma Martinez; Jeff Blodgett; Jessica Luther; Aimee Villarreal
Marian Navarro / Texas Public Radio
From left to right: Tyina Steptoe; Norma Martinez; Jeff Blodgett; Jessica Luther; Aimee Villarreal

Over 1,300 professional and non-professional historians make up the Western History Association (WHA), a group that aims to cultivate and teach the expansive history of the American West.

WHA held its 62nd annual four-day conference in San Antonio in mid-October.

It featured visitors from all across the country, and hosted dozens of panels on topics ranging from indigenous histories, to climate crises, to discrimination and racialized labor.

TPR’s Norma Martinez co-moderated a panel with Tyina Steptoe, an associate professor at the University of Arizona.

“The Politics of Exclusion and the Protocols of Resistance: Understanding the Political Landscape of 21st Century Texas,” touched on a wide-range of issues including academic freedom in the classroom, the suppression of reproductive rights, and the status of immigration in Texas.

It featured presentations from three speakers: Jeff Blodgett, president of the Texas chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP); Jessica Luther, an investigative journalist who focuses on the intersection of sports and gendered violence; and Aimee Villarreal, assistant professor of anthropology at Texas State University.

Blodgett discussed the role of academic freedom in education, and his views on recent bans that several states, including Texas, have passed on teaching so-called critical race theory.

“There should be a lot of concern,” he said. “We should all be aware of this and we should be engaged.”

Luther — who co-wrote articles on Baylor University’s response to reports of sexual assault by members of its football team and about the toxic workplace culture at the Dallas Mavericks — spoke about the state of reproductive freedom in Texas following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade.

“The state often breaks my heart, in many different ways, but certainly around these issues of bodily autonomy,” she said. “It makes it a scary place to live, even for those of us who don't have to worry about (it) necessarily on a day to day (basis).”

Finally, Villarreal discussed her use of the term “sanctuaryscapes” and how vulnerable people often band together as a result of the current climate around immigration.

“It's ‘sanctuary escape,’” she said. “It's escaping from enclosures of any kind. And we see all of these enclosures happening around us.”

Norma Martinez can be reached at norma@tpr.org and on Twitter at @NormDog1