By Tanisha Bell
Vivian Price, who teaches Interdisciplinary Studies and coordinates the Labor Studies program on campus, has been selected for a Fulbright Scholarship.
The selection will allow her to teach at the University of Liverpool, a community with deep ties to the organized labor movement, in spring 2018. Price plans to teach and do research on the labor movement in England and Europe.
Price, who worked as a union electrician before going into teaching, recently met with the Bulletin for a question-and-answer session. Her responses, which follow, have been edited for space.
The Bulletin: What does your job consist of as a professor in the Interdisciplinary Studies Department?
Price: So I teach in the IDS, and that’s the program for working adults. All of our classes are nights, weekends and online … I’m very orate to involved in the California Faculty Association. I’m here almost every day, but I teach nights and weekends, so I’m here nights, weekends and online too. I am all in, as they say.
We develop curriculum. We hold recruitments and go out to community colleges and speak to students about coming here. We also are involved in fairs, career fairs and things like that … What we do is try to advise our students every semester so they don’t get lost or take classes they don’t need; they don’t wonder what they need to take. We just try to make it feel like a community within a school.
The Bulletin: Before teaching, what was your occupation?
Price: I’ve had many occupations, but my longest occupation, prior to teaching, was a union electrician. I worked in maintenance at a refinery. I worked in construction doing commercial and industrial work. I climbed towers, fixed motors, ran conduit, shops and office buildings.
The Bulletin: What prompted you to become a teacher?
Price: That’s a really good question. I don’t know if I’ve ever been asked that before. The idea to come back after I had a lot of experience in the world. In addition to being an electrician, I’ve also worked in factories, offices, restaurants and a lot of different refineries. It’s kind of like having a chance to use all the outside experience to pass onto the next generation.
I did return after I was an electrician to get my Ph.D. I just got my Ph.D. 17 years ago now. It seems like only yesterday. I was a returning, non-traditional student like many of my students are today. Because of that I started burning with the interest of teaching and doing research. That’s another thing that I’m really interested in, is working with undergrad students and graduate students on research projects, whether it’s on disability and employment, or looking at issues of women in non-traditional trades.
I started a collection here with a number of women in the trades on non-traditional women international. I’ve also, because of the labor fair, I’ve worked with students on documenting the labor fair. It’s gotten a lot of interest, really around the country, on how to create one, so we’re presenting at different conferences. Students and I are working together. I’ve published with students on service-learning, which is another area that I’ve been working on a few years, also internships and field experience for students.
I take students to conferences. I cooperate with students to bring the lens of a student point of view as well as a faculty point of view and collaborate to do research, publish and present … to create events to work with communities. We also work with Watts on finding toxic contamination and the housing projects in the industrial areas.
The Bulletin: How does understanding people, history and politics fuel your teaching and research?
Price: I talked a little bit about my experience, but I was a history major and I got a master’s. I was an archaeology undergraduate and got my Ph.D. in political science. I’m very interested in kind of the continuity and disruption of structures … so I studied a lot about how organizations mobilize people and how movements form.
I’ve been involved in labor and community organizing. Having the historical, academic, information and my own personal experience and my family’s experience as well. My parents went through the Holocaust. My mother lost her parents and many cousins. A few people made it out the concentration camps, out of the death camps. I actually met some of them, and I birthed into a family that raised me knowing that there was injustice in the world and spurred me to do something about it.
My personal family history and my academic learning, as well as my personal experience in the workplace and in the streets, has really shaped the way I create my own pedagogy and my own teaching.
The Bulletin. What emotion did you have when you found out you were being offered the Fulbright Scholarship?
Price: I was amazed and thrilled. I have been fortunate to have several awards for the films that I’ve created and just the satisfaction of seeing people whose voices were featured in the number of documentaries that I’ve made, alone or with my colleague Gilbert Gonzalez. I’ve had really a lot of joy from my own research and creativity. Being recognized on an international level is something new.
Having the opportunity to teach a class that I have created myself, that has to do with labor in the environment and how we’re the labor unions and the labour party, in the U.K., and in other parts of Europe are addressing issues with climate change, that is very important to me. Having the option to do that, is thrilling. The emotion, very exciting.
The Bulletin: What is the significance of the Fulbright Scholarship?
Price: On one hand, that’s sort of an honor to have people recognizing your work. It is so meaningful that they want to elevate it to an international level and people recognize you have to jump through a lot of hoops to do that. That’s the honors part of it; is that just by getting the award, it instills a certain amount of legitimacy in the work that you’re doing.
What I didn’t realize, and what I would tell people, both students and scholars, who are thinking about doing a Fulbright or any other grant, is to look at the fine print. For example, Fulbright offers different types of support, financial support, depending on which country you’re going to, and it turns out that you might have to supplement the salary with your own savings.
The Bulletin: Why is it important for you to teach in Liverpool, England, it being one of the oldest black and LGBTQ communities in the country?
Price: It used to be a big port, and it was actually one of the seats of the slave trade, so it has its history of being center of trade and making a lot of people rich off the insidious practice. Now it’s no longer the center of trade. There’s tourism in the docks, but the legacy of both the slave trade and even non-human commodities being traded in Liverpool. It has shaped the economy, and now people have to figure out what do we do now, and that’s what I’m interested in.
How do labor unions in England and European countries that have a party that speaks for workers, allegedly, how do they think about the kind of work that will be for the next generation? We talk a lot about a just transition. A transition to an economy that honors the earth, that gives people a decent living that are green jobs, that are clean jobs and that pay well that have gender and racial equity.
But what does that mean? What does that look like? Liverpool is one of those cities that has to make really aggressive changes, and it also has a lot of labor headquarters. It is a heartland for the Labour Party, so I think it will be a great place to study the issues that I wanted to study.
In addition, it has its advantage to having a large black community and since I’ve been working with Watts for a long time and have seen a lot of the issues here in our community, I’d like to see kind of the tie between the area they call “Toxteth” and Watts. It’s sort of an auxiliary issue, but the issues that have raised are really important to me. I think it’s very critical. It’s something that I’ve learned so much more about since I’ve taught at Dominguez and since I’ve been involved with the people in Watts.
Going to Liverpool, I want to continue understanding what race means, and in Britain as well. About the LGBTQ, I am a lesbian, my wife is going to come with me. It’s nice to know we’re going someplace where, hopefully, we’ll be welcomed.
The Bulletin: Is there anything else you would like to add before we close out?
Price: I wish that some of my students could come and visit, that would be great. I actually communicated with a colleague who used IRA (instructionally related) funds to bring students to Detroit from one of the CSU campuses. So I thought maybe there would be a chance use IRA funds to bring students to Liverpool, but if not IRA Funds, perhaps there’s something else that is possible.
I think internationalization is very important. I think it’s very important to understand the local and the global. I think travelling and seeing other countries and having a chance to study other societies is really eye-opening and freeing. It makes us understand a lot is possible that we don’t realize.
We take a lot of things for granted that we think it has to be this way, but it doesn’t. I encourage students to travel to conferences, to study and to take the chance to do some international abroad programs.