Issue Brief: The State of the Housing Crisis

CJ Trowbridge



Issue Brief: The State of the Housing Crisis

The lack of affordable housing is a pervasive, escalating, global crisis driven in part by NIMBYism, speculative investments, and a lack of development. This is a social problem because the troubling social condition has been clearly outlined, and clear solutions exist for each underlying problem. NIMBYs use land use restrictions such as single-family zoning, height restrictions, and density restrictions to allow wealthy white people to artificially inflate housing costs, push out minorities, and prevent migration into their neighborhoods. An another front, speculators are holding vacant the very housing which is critically needed because they want to artificially inflate rent by reducing supply; there are currently over 46,000 vacant homes in the bay area. (Pena) There are about half that many homeless people in the bay area, at just 28,000. (Anthony) Lastly, developers are not building enough homes to meet the needs of cities. For example, at the current pace of housing development, Redwood City projects that it will meet its 2040 housing needs in 2880. (MTC)

The overarching problem of a lack of affordable housing is pervasive throughout the world, and it’s getting worse. Marginalized people are bearing the brunt of these problems across the globe, “While the advantaged members of the knowledge, professional, and creative class have enough money left over even after paying the cost of housing in these cities, it’s the less-well-paid members of the service and working classes who get the short of end of the stick, with not nearly enough left over to afford the basic necessities of life. They are either pushed to the periphery of these places or pushed out all together.” (Citylab)

Land use restrictions such as single-family zoning and height restrictions allow wealthy white people to artificially inflate housing costs, push out minorities, and prevent migration into their neighborhoods. In The Sunset district of San Francisco today, no one may build anything higher than fifty feet. (SF Gov) This means that despite the abundant availability of land, most of it is zoned for small, low density homes rather than large apartment buildings which could house many times more people.

All around the world, speculators make the housing problem worse. They buy distressed properties or even perfectly fine properties. They remove existing tenants and hold the property vacant. Eventually, they hope the demand will go up and cause the price to increase to the point where the speculator can make a significant profit from selling the property. This means that all they are doing for the community is raising prices on properties because of their personal greed. There is no benefit to anyone but themselves, and the people they removed from the property are now likely priced out of their own neighborhoods. In California, almost all homeless people are homeless in the same neighborhood they grew up in. (Marbut) There are currently over 46,000 vacant homes in the bay area. (Pena) There are about half that many homeless people in the bay area. (Anthony) In many cases, homeless populations exist in those neighborhoods because speculators forced them out of their homes before inflating the prices and reselling the properties to wealthy new owners who vote to deny services to help the people whose houses they are now living in. In one recent example, a group of homeless mothers in Oakland occupied one of these vacant speculator-owned homes. With broad community support, they were eventually able to acquire legal ownership of the home! (Elassar)

During the progressive era, the government decided to give trillions of dollars to certain kinds of people to fund the construction of the suburbs. Programs like FHA and the GI bill gave trillions of dollars in loans to people who would never have been given loans in the past. This funded the creation of the suburbs by now-wealthy primarily white people. They left the cities in a period we now refer to as “white flight.” Despite the fact that the GI bill and FHA gave loans primarily to white people, the racism of the home loan programs was extended into a policy called redlining. Tracts were described by lenders on a scale of how many people of color lived in the tract. If there were too many people of color then the tract was outlined in red on the map. Redlining meant no loans would be offered there, or to people who lived there and wanted to leave. Predictably, this led to a long period of decline and decay in the inner cities, where the white people had trapped most of the people of color. (Race, The Power of an Illusion)

Never fear because Urban Renewal was here! In the mid twentieth century, redlining was banned, but the damage it had done to urban communities of color was intense and pervasive. The US government responded by allocating enormous amounts of money to bulldoze those neighborhoods and allow white people to build new homes there which could then be used to exclude people of color from their neighborhoods, or in some cases rented out to them so they could now rent where they had previously owned. At the same time, public housing was also being demolished and replaced with private for-profit housing. Today there is no public housing left in San Francisco. Throughout the country, 90% of the housing demolished during Urban Renewal was never rebuilt. Two third of those displaced were black or latino. (Race, The Power of an Illusion)

Today in San Francisco, there are many programs intended to create “Affordable housing” as an alternative to public housing. When the phrase “Affordable housing” is capitalized, it means there is a subsidy involved. Programs like HUD’s Section 8 will cover the cost of rent for a small number of very-low-income renters with certain characteristics. Other programs will cover part of the cost for certain kinds of renters. There are few to no “affordable housing” options for most people. When this phrase is not capitalized, it means housing which costs less than 30-50% of people’s income. San Francisco basically thinks about only two categories; market rate housing and subsidized housing. Market rate housing is when a two-bedroom apartment costs $4,520/month. (Rent Jungle) This is affordable only if someone is earning $108,480-$180,800. This means you have to earn in the 76th-90th percentile for market rate to be affordable. (DQYDG) This tells us that for the vast majority of people in the city, there are no affordable housing options.

Developers are not building enough homes to meet the needs of cities. Cities are required to work with the state to project their housing needs on a regular basis through a program called RHNA. Cities are not, however, required to actually make sure that amount of housing gets built. For example, according to SPUR, at the current pace of housing development, Redwood City will meet its own projects for its 2040 housing needs in the year 2880. (MTC) If this sounds like a joke, it’s because this problem is so enormous and so out of control and so poorly managed by cities, that there is no longer any way to sugar coat these numbers.

Fixing this problem will take changes to land use restrictions which disempower NIMBYs and speculators while enabling massive redevelopment to take place. We need a lot more units, and we need them everywhere, not just in someone else’s backyard. We need units in EVERY back yard, and we need to replace single family homes with large high-density apartment buildings or we are going to continue to see enormous numbers of people on the streets and few to no affordable options available to most people. This crisis will continue to escalate until action on these points is forced down the throats of the people standing in the way. We can already see examples such as the one I mentioned in Oakland where people are beginning to rise up and demand change, even if it’s in violation of the unjust laws which allow a privileges few to perpetrate this crisis on the people.




Works Cited


Anthony, Kate et al. Homelessness in the San Francisco Bay Area: The crisis and a path forward. McKinsey & Company. Accessed 2020-02-24. industries/public-sector/our-insights/homelessness-in-the-san-francisco-bay-area-the-crisis-and-a-path-forward

Citylab. The Global Housing Crisis. Accessed 2020-02-24. 04/the-global-housing-crisis/557639/

DQYDJ. Income Percentile by City Calculator in 2019.

Elassar, Alaa. “Homeless mothers with Oakland’s ‘Moms 4 Housing’ have been forcibly evicted from a vacant home they were occupying.” CSS. Published 2020-01-15.

Pena, Luz. ABC 7 News. There are an estimated 46,000 vacant homes in the Bay Area, but why? Accessed 2020-02-24.

Marbut, Robert. State of Homelessness. Presented 2015-04-07.

MTC. When Will Bay Area Cities Reach Plan Bay Area 2040 Housing Targets? Accessed 2020-02-11. plan-bay-area-2040-housing-targets

Race, The Power of an Illusion. California Newsreel.  April 2003.

Rent Jungle. Rent trend data in San Francisco, California.

SF Gov. “Zoning Map – Height/Bulk Districts.” City and County of San Francisco. Accessed 2020-04-01.

Sexism: An Ameliorative Approach

CJ Trowbridge

Feminist Moral Issues


Sexism: An Ameliorative Approach

In this essay, I will argue that Kate Manne’s account of misogyny as the enforcement mechanism for systemic sexism is persuasive as a novel deontological framework for ameliorating the impact of sexism by changing the way we talk about it. To defend this claim, I will show that her argument overcomes one of the main challenges facing feminist ethical arguments by providing not just an epistemic system but a deontological system.

In her book Down Girl, Kate Manne argues for a prescriptive redefinition of misogyny under an ameliorative lens, “if we want to change the world, we may need to conceptualize it differently.” In the past, arguments about systemic sexism have focused on convincing people that it exists.  In these arguments, systemic sexism is typically presented in the form of disparate impact which is aligned with gender as a result of aggregated microaggressions. The impact is the focus rather than the microaggressions. There are several problems that emerge from what Manne calls this “naïve approach.” First, as an inductive argument, it’s easy to find anecdotes which purport to refute it. In reality this is not how to refute an inductive argument, but it convinces many people to accept their predetermined conclusion that systemic sexism is either not real, not important, or not their problem. Secondly, the attention is focused on the impact rather than on the microaggression that causes it. Manne’s argument moves the attention onto the microaggressions and into the deductive form which can not be refuted as easily.

Marilyn Frye’s Birdcage Theory says that systemic sexism is made up of lots of little pieces that come together to form a problematic system which works like a birdcage; no one wire is the one holding the bird down, it’s all of them working together. You could even remove a wire or two and the bird would not be free. It’s the cage that is the problem, not the individual wires. This is metaphor for many things in society which work together to keep women subjugated. The challenge in making arguments based on this theory is that they are inductive arguments. For example, “Trump is a sexist.” It’s easy to point to anecdotal counter-examples like his several female employees or his relationship with his daughter. These counter-examples don’t really disprove the claim but they muddy the waters enough to make further discussion difficult or impossible. This claim is unlikely to change minds.

Manne offers a radically different approach for how to think about the problem and how to articulate claims about the problem. She says that instead of making an inductive conclusion, we should make a deductive conclusion and instead of talking about disparate impact, we should about microaggressions which she calls down-girl moves. This simple deontological claim on Manne’s part has radically changed the way I think about social justice in general and I say that as someone who already a degree in that. Because this is such a fundamental paradigm shift, I have prepared a graph which explains how different this is from older ideas about how to talk about sexism. In logic, there are four types of arguments: A, E, I, O. The naïve approach uses forms I and O. The Ameliorative approach uses forms A and E; these forms are very different as we will see.

From my previous example, when I said “Trump is a sexist,” the stated premise breaks apart to include several implied premises;

  1. Trump has probably committed many sexist microaggressions
  2. The impact of systemic sexism on women is caused by the aggregated microaggressions.
  3. Therefore Trump is probably responsible for some portion of the impact of systemic sexism on women.

It’s easy to attack that claim from many angles, but the fundamental problem according to Manne is that we are saying probably. It’s too easy to attack an inductive or “probably” argument. Now imagine instead the claim, “Trump strangled his wife.” The stated premise and implied premise are reversed, and no rebuttal is possible. No matter how many women he has hired or what kind of relationship he has with his daughter, he still strangled his wife.

I feel like I have to include at least a little bit of queer theory in this essay and say that while all systems of oppression are different, they all work the same way. In the case of race, I think a good corollary to Manne’s ameliorative approach is Black Lives Matter. Instead of signs and posters reading, “Black people are disproportionately likely to be murdered by police,” the claim that black lives matter simply assumes that, and it’s much harder to credibly attack head-on.

Beyond just changing the form of arguments used, Manne says that we should talk about down-girl moves rather than talking just about impact of systemic sexism. As we can see in the previous example, this is a very effective way to prevent rebuttal while making essentially the same argument about Trump being a sexist. In Manne’s argument, a down-girl move is a microaggression which has the effect of subjugating or subordinating women. It’s not just about being a sexist; it’s also about putting women below men hierarchically. She argues that down-girl moves “will be such that all or most women are positioned as subordinate in relation to some man or men.” These moves do the work of enforcing patriarchy or the hierarchy of genders with men on top. She gives long lists of examples from things like strangulation to humiliation to threats of violence, especially when the aggressor jumps between universal and specific as ER did in his manifesto. “[Because some women are not attracted to me, I will punish all women by attacking some women.]” This move is more than just a sexist microaggression, it’s also a claim that women are below men hierarchically. She also argues that we should focus on the most egregious down-girl acts when making claims about bad actors. For someone like Trump who has strangled a wife, it might make less sense to focus on discussions of his diction or hiring practices, unless that’s specifically the context we’re talking about.

The strongest objection to the ameliorative approach would be epistemic sexism. If an opponent rejects the fundamental premises of feminism or accepts the gender hierarchy, then down-girl moves, sexism, and misogyny are good things. In these cases, the ameliorative claim, “Trump strangled his wife,” could simply be met with, “She probably deserved it.” In these cases, this person is someone who needs to be convinced of many fundamentals before they are ready to discuss why strangling one’s wife is problematic. If we assume that the ameliorative approach is intended to be used with people who believe women are people who deserve equal rights, then I think it stands up to this objection.

One of the main historical challenges facing feminist philosophers is the fact that it’s difficult to map discussions of systemic issues onto individual situations. For example, it’s easy to talk about how in the vast majority of domestic violence cases, men are the perpetrators. The response might be, “that’s other men, it’s not my problem, etc.” It’s hard to point to specific micro-scale things that should change in order to ameliorate the larger macro-scale claim. Outliers are often used wrongly as a rebuttal for arguments about the wage gap; “there are woman CEOs, therefore the wage gap is the fault of women who don’t earn higher wages by working harder.” An ameliorative response might be to fight for equal opportunity hiring practices in response to hiring managers choosing men instead of women. This would ameliorate the problem by removing the capacity for misogyny to impact the decision-making process. In Manne’s words, the ameliorative approach is about actually changing things and making conditions better for women. If we follow her advice and use better argument forms and focus on egregious cases, we are likely to see conditions improve, and that’s what it’s all about!

Gender Is The Problem

CJ Trowbridge

LGBT Literature


It’s easy to see conflict between people of certain genders as a problem, but what if I told you that gender itself is the root problem and that conflict between gender groups is actually a design feature? Gender says it is a set of discrete categories based on nature which imparts a series of roles and expectations onto members of these categories. Gender affects everyone whether or not we believe in it or accept its dictates about how we are supposed to live our lives. All of us should reject gender in its entirety in furtherance of justice for all.

Gender says it is a set of discrete categories based on nature which imparts a series of roles and expectations onto members. Consider the following bizarre interaction in Stone Butch Blues. A group of people is working hard to develop identities based on rejecting assigned gender roles. One older member of the group dies, and the younger members are expected to ritualistically embrace their assigned gender roles at a funeral in honor of another person who spent their life working to reject those assigned gender roles. It’s a strange and dissonant moment where a group of people who are working tirelessly for decades to develop and expand their right to exist outside the dictates of heterosexist culture suddenly choose to reject all that and do as the patriarchy tells them. In fact, several members of the group don’t even have the “proper” patriarchy-sanctioned clothes to wear, so they end up shunned by others in the group afterwards. This bizarre and contradictory conflict can only exist within patriarchy. This is a good example of internalized heterosexism. People who are steeped in decades of experiences where the heteropatriarchy is trying to force them to conform may choose to reject that conformity, but also internalize deep self-loathing related to their choice to be at odds with what the culture is trying to force them to do. In this example, the group pressures some of its members to conform to patriarchal expectations. This small act of submission to the patriarchy provides a cathartic release while also executing a down-girl move on everyone who has worked so hard to develop an identity of rejecting the heterosexist culture.

The idea that gender is based on nature or some objective measure of reality is called gender essentialism. Academic critiques of gender essentialism abound. If you haven’t read them, you should. In reality, human sexual diversity is enormously complex. There are at least six possible combinations of human sex chromosomes, and dozens of other intersex conditions. By existing in nature, these examples refute the argument that gender is based on nature. There are also many purely philosophical arguments against gender essentialism which we don’t have time in this essay to expound on. Gender was invented by humans as a tool which facilitates the collective theft of power and resources by one group; men. We see many interesting examples corroborating these points in gay male culture. As David points out in Giovanni’s Room, it doesn’t make any sense for Giovanni to expect him to act like a housewife. David chooses to reject the roles and expectations associated with being a woman. It is common for men in all-male situations and environments from locker rooms to gay relationships to weaponize gender and use down-girl moves to demand subordination from one another. This bizarre behavior demonstrates two things which I have already stated; gender is not real, and gender has nothing to do with the sex characteristics of a person.

Gender is a socially constructed set of arbitrary and made-up categories. Gender classifies people into these categories which each have sets of roles and expectations. Until recently women were considered property of men and without free agency, the capability of being self-actualized individuals, voting rights, and the right to own property. This has very recently changed in some liberal and post-liberal cultures, but it remains the law of the land throughout much of the modern world and throughout almost all of the pre-modern world. Systems of identity which are created to facilitate the theft of power and resources from one group by another are called systems of oppression. Gender is part of a system of oppression called sexism where men form a privileged group called the patriarchy which has the power and resources. Other examples of systems of oppression are racism, classism, casteism, ruralism, ageism, ableism, etc. All of these are different but all of them work in the same way; one group is elevated and another is subordinated, one group receives stolen power and resources while one group has them stolen.  The pervasive culture which develops to embrace and enforce gender is called heterosexism or the idea that there are some real set of genders based on sex. Gender is the idea that some people should be doing certain things while others should be doing other things, based on their genitals or on fantasies about what chromosomes are. This belief is fundamentally, necessarily, and inextricably rooted in oppression of one group by another.

The work of enforcing systems of oppression comes from small acts called microaggressions which add up to form the larger system. I like the Kate Mann perspective which is that these can be thought of as “down-moves.” In the case of sexism, they are often down-girl moves which are designed to subordinate women and show them their place is beneath men. We will come back to this.

One good example from the readings comes from David of Giovanni’s Room and his relationship with his father. David’s father has no woman around and therefore the roles and expectations assigned to women parents are simply not conducted. Elements of maternity such as closeness, empathy, nurturing, and care are simply denied to David. His father acts out only the roles assigned to a patriarch; distance, emotionlessness, drunken chauvinism, etc. David’s upbringing and emotional development are harmed by receiving only a portion of the parenting skills which form the complete picture of a healthy relationship between a parent and child; precisely because his father chooses to limit his actions to fit the roles and expectations assigned to his gender while choosing to actively deny David the healthy and important roles and expectations which are instead assigned to the absent mother.

Another example is David’s toxic relationship with Hella. He tries to make it work in order to meet the expectations of people in general and his father specifically. In the end, he destroys that relationship too. This relationship is built on lying about accepting gender roles and expectations while secretly rejecting them. When she finds out the truth, she leaves him.

A third example is Giovanni’s open and vociferous misogyny. He thinks of them as objects, treats them like objects, abuses them physically and emotionally. This is very common for men who have multiple dimensions of privilege. For example, when someone is white, cisgender, affluent, able-bodied, etc, all of those things can combine and amplify one another to provide that person with the perspective that lots of different kinds of people are beneath them, and any one of them may be treated as an object. It becomes more than just a down-girl move. It becomes down-black, down-disabled, down-poor, etc. People performing acts of subjugation will often seek to expand beyond the directly related distinctions. Giovanni frequently includes other things with his misogyny such as adultism. He will call an adult woman a “little girl.” In order to leverage other areas where he has privilege in order to amplify the impact of his down-girl moves. In order to perform his role as a man, he feels compelled to subjugate, belittle, and objectify women.

Gender is not necessary. At some point in the past, people existed as australopithecines. At some point before that, we were shrews. At some point before that, we were microorganisms. The idea that people should live a certain way because of their genitals was invented by people and before that moment we didn’t have gender. Therefore gender is not necessary. We got along just fine without it, and we will get along just fine without it.

Take for example Hella’s contradictory views about gender progressivism and a desire to submit and be a housewife. If she chose to truly embrace gender progress and base her life on these core principles, then the tension and conflict around wanting to submit and be a housewife would be much easier to deliberately reject rather than living a life of quiet desperation and internal logical inconsistency. Why submit to the pressure to embrace the patriarchy and its plans for you when you could instead spend your life dismantling the patriarchy and being liberated from its demands for you? This character’s internal conflict seems to be closely connected with David’s conflict at the door knob. He knows that if he doesn’t leave now then he never will. He knows he has a choice between living an honest life or climbing back into the comfortable lie. He chooses to go back to living a lie, and it costs Giovanni’s life as well as costing the marriage he goes on to try to force with Hella.

In the Stone Butch Blues funeral example, everyone who rejected calls to submit to the patriarchy miraculously survived the experience. Social tension arises as a result, and that’s the cost of living an honest life. Everything from using the locker rooms at the factory to doing the work at the factory which corresponds to specific assigned genders, somehow miraculously continues to function when the people involved reject their assigned genders and do whatever they want to be doing instead of what they are “supposed” to be doing.

There is no case where requiring certain roles and behaviors for one group versus another does not result in a system of oppression. Every action has a cost and potentially a benefit. Costs accrue. Benefits accrue. And systems of oppression make sure that the costs accumulate with one group while the benefits accrue with another group. There is no balanced system; the genders can not be equal if the roles and expectations placed on them are not equal. The people with power and resources will gain more power and resources. The people without power and resources will continue to lose power and resources until the system is dismantled. There is no fix for systems of oppression.

Take for example the case of Molly who entered New York City sleeping in an abandoned car with Calvin. If they had chosen to give up their liberated identities and conform to patriarchal expectations, maybe they would have been a happy straight couple raising children in the back seat of the abandoned car, but they certainly would not have moved into the upper echelons of the city in the next few weeks.

Just imagine then what David and Giovanni might have found together if David had made a different choice at the door knob. Probably Giovanni would not have died and maybe they would have been able to find happiness together. It seems likely that Hella could have pursued the life she really wanted, working on progressive women’s issues instead of submitting to be the housewife of a self-loathing homosexual.

A theme emerges from all of these examples; if we choose to base our lives on trying to fulfill the expectations of our assigned gender roles and expectations, we will have a bad time. If instead, we choose to live honestly and do what we actually want to do instead of what out gender roles and expectations dictate we should want to do, we will have a better time and live happier lives.

Finally, consider Ruth’s painting of the sky in Jess’ room in Stone Butch Blues. Jess can’t tell if it’s day or night. Ruth says that’s the point and asks if it unnerves Jess. Jess says yes it does. Ruth goes on to explain that this represents the internal conflict and the part of oneself that one needs to accept. It doesn’t matter whether it’s night or day. It’s not night or day. It’s something else, it’s twilight. Twilight is not night or day. It is its own thing which exists in its own time and space outside of night and day. The idea that we must choose between whether it’s night or day is a false choice. These are reductive and incomplete categories which people made up. These categories do not include all potential cases. When we feel this tension around which category fits, we should interpret that tension as evidence that neither category fits because both are made up. This is a major theme throughout all queer film and literature including the examples given from this class. This is also the point of this essay. I hope I’ve showed that this point is larger than these stories, and while it certainly disproves gender and makes the case that we should reject gender, the argument is much larger than gender.

Gender panopticism must be dismantled.

CJ Trowbridge

Women’s Studies


Take a trip to the store to buy just about any product and you may notice a surprising fact; the products are gendered. Products from pens to diapers and of course clothes are designed to enforce the gender binary while also doing its oppressive work. (Bond) The gender binary is a lie perpetrated by cultural institutions like religion and the media; this lie says that all people are divided into one of two gender groups. One group is subordinated to the other, and power and resources flow from the subordinated group to the dominator group. In this way, the institution of gender fits the definition of a system of oppression and resembles the institutions of racism and classism. Gender itself is the problem. Gender is made up. Gender exists only to steal power and resources from people in the subordinated group and deliver them to people in the dominator group. Identifying as a man means choosing an identity which exists solely to allow its participants to benefit from the systemic theft of power and resources from people who do not identify as a man. Each of the groups in the gender binary are like jail cells in a panopticon; if we choose to accept the premise that everyone must pick one of two jail cells in the prison of gender, then we are choosing either to steal power and wealth on that basis, or to have it stolen from us on that basis. This is what gender panopticism means. Gender panopticism must be dismantled.

Researcher Casey Bond looked at common gendered products offered in supermarkets everywhere. The conclusion was that even when products are identical in every way except their assigned gender, the prices  charged to people in the subordinated group are often double or triple the prices charged to people in the dominator group. This is a great, concise example of how power and resources are stolen from the subordinated group and delivered to the dominator group; people who identify as women pay more for the same things than do people who identify as men. When gender panopticism invades and corrupts products, it causes price discrimination which benefits the dominator group.

Capitalism is a vehicle for systems of oppression like gender panopticism, but gender panopticism exists on a pervasive basis throughout society. It’s easy to see it in products, but it’s not just about products. Everything from who holds the door open, to who gets promoted, to who stays home with the kids is also doing the simultaneous work of enforcing gender onto people and stealing power and resources from the subordinated group in order to benefit the dominator group. This is deeply unjust, and we have a duty to dismantle the systems that perpetrate this injustice.

Historically, we can see evidence of gender panopticism in things like the wage gap. In 1960 for example, people in the subordinated group made an average of just 60% of what people in the dominator group made. (National Committee on Pay Equity) Today, the number is about 80.5%. We have seen some small historical progress in income, and yet people in the subordinate class are paying double or triple the price for the same consumer goods today versus people in the dominator class. (Bond) Is that progress or regress?

The argument that there is an essence or true inner self which is reflected in gender identities is both racist and classist as Grillo explains in “Anti-Essentialism and Intersectionality,”

The perceived need to define what women’s experience is and what oppression ‘as women’ means has prompted some feminists to analyze the situation of woman by stripping away race and class… This approach, however, assumes the strands or identity are separate… but as the intersectionality critique has taught us, they are different and not just additively. Race and class can not just be subtracted because they are in ways inextricable from gender. The attempt to extract race and class elevates white, middle class experience into the norm, making it the prototypical experience.

There is no true essence of being a woman, nor any true essence of being a man. These are racist, classist, sexist ideas given to us by a culture obsessed with domination and subordination on the basis of any perceived distinction. A common attempt to rebut this fact will claim gender reflects nature and make illiterate reference to XX/XY chromosomes as the sources of the two genders. In reality, human sex chromosomes can combine it at least six ways. (WHO) Most plants have only one sex. Some plant species have two sexes, and others have three sexes. (Armoza) Throughout nature, sex characteristics are highly diverse and do not reflect the human-invented gender binary.

Queer theory offers most of what I’ve articulated up to this point. Foucault gave us the idea of cultural expectations as a panopticon or a prison of identity where we as prisoners enforce the rules on one another. Foucault also talked about the modern punishment being indefinite examination rather than drawing and quartering as was the case in ancient times. (Focuault) It’s not as though something bad will happen to us if we don’t choose to conform. What happens is the constant and indefinite scrutiny and examination of those who have not yet crossed over into rejecting gender as we have. This means that the cost of challenging gender panopticism is the same as challenging the false narrative of the gender binary itself. Foucault calls this “queering”

Judith Butler argues that gender is a performance. It’s a character we play, rather than something we actually are. At the same time, she argues for defending people whose performance is subordinated. For example, murdering women on the basis of their membership in the subordinated gender class is considered acceptable in many places throughout the world. We can work to stop the murder of women while also rejecting the idea of gender as some absolute fact about people. (Yancey)

These theories are part of a larger body of work called Queer Theory. They overlap with others to suggest a potential path forward called queering. Queering is the idea that we can identify and challenge the assumptions and ideas in society which underly and reinforce systems like gender panopticism. (Cohen 438) There is a strong case for queering as well as either allyship or amelioration. On the one hand, we can reject gender panopticism. We can for example, as I do, personally reject the use of pronouns both in my spoken language and in writing, reject the use of gendered products, and reject elements of the performance of gender in our own lives. But we can also work to improve conditions for those who are subordinated by gender. Traditionally, allyship means leveraging privilege to interrupt systems that oppress people. (Bell) But since this means accepting a privileged identity, we can instead practice amelioration as Kate Manne suggests in Down Girl (Manne 55). Therefore, we can dismantle gender panopticism by identifying and rejecting its discourses as well as ameliorating conditions for the people who it is subordinating.

Since gender panopticism is socioculturally pervasive, there are no examples where it has been dismantled, but we can look at examples where conditions are more ameliorated or where challenging the discourses lead to a lesser degree of scrutiny and examination. At Burning Man, for example, I would say a greater scrutiny is applied to people who conform to normal expectations versus people who challenge those expectations. Dressing as a normal-looking man or woman at Burning Man is likely to convey the impression that one is either an undercover cop or else making an ironic statement about gender panopticism by conforming to it.

So too in the underground queer scenes of cities like Berlin and San Francisco, we see the same reversal of the normal trend. Normies are shunned, while people are elevated for challenging or rejecting discourses around gender performance. In many cases though, these challenges are not to gender itself but merely to the person’s accepted gender identity. Someone may cross-dress or become a drag queen and perform the “opposite” of their normal role as a way of exploring inside other jail cells in the panopticon, rather than exiting the panopticon. Less commonly, we see people who identify as “genderqueer” or “nonbinary.” These people actively work to subvert gender discourses and disrupt assumptions about gender and especially about the idea of a gender binary. These people are at the bleeding edge of gender justice, doing the work of dismantling the gender panopticon.

Possibly the best example in popular culture is Janelle Monae, a queer, nonbinary, “highly melanated” artist who makes music, movies, and other art. (Monae 2) Monae’s music videos often contradict discourses around gender. One example is Monae seated on a throne in Django Jane with people of indeterminate gender seated both above and below the throne. (Monae 1) On the subject of gender, Monae has said, “I defy every label and I look at myself as someone who will always stand with my nonbinary people and I look at myself as someone who is constantly growing and does not see myself as someone who lives in a binary way.” (Monae 2) I think Monae’s example is about as ideal as we can get in terms of talking about how to do the work of being outside the binary and actively dismantling the gender panopticon by directly challenging the discourses that it relies on.

I think queer culture is ascendant within the LGBT communities, and that people are starting to see that many of our identities are built on false dichotomies which trap us into sets of discourses around what we are allowed to do and be and want. More and more, it seems like culture is getting more comfortable with stepping outside the jail cells of identity, if only to step into others. The coming wave is one of exiting the jail rather than tiptoeing between cells. Only together can we dismantle all the cells. Only together can we be truly liberated. Only together can we dismantle gender panopticism and all other forms of panopticism and oppression.



Works Cited

Armoza-Zvuloni, R., Kramarsky-Winter, E., Loya, Y., Schlesinger, A., & Rosenfeld, H. (2014). Trioecy, a Unique Breeding Strategy in the Sea Anemone Aiptasia diaphana and Its Association with Sex Steroids Biology of Reproduction, 90 (6), 122-122 DOI: 10.1095/biolreprod.113.114116

Bell, and Pat Griffin. Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice. New York: Routledge, 2007. Print.

Bond, Casey. “7 Weird Examples Of How Women Pay More Than Men For The Same Products.” The Huffington Post.

Cohen, Cathy J. Punks, Bulldaggers, and Welfare Queens. The Radical Potential of Queer Politics. GLQ 1 May 1997; 3 (4): 437–465. doi:

Foucault, Michel, 1926-1984. Discipline And Punish: the Birth of the Prison. New York: Pantheon Books, 1977.

Manne, Kate. “Ameliorating Misogyny.” Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny. Oxford University Press. 2017.  Pp 55.

Monae 1, Janelle. “Django Jane.” YouTube, uploaded by Janelle Monae, 2018-02-22,

Monae 2, Janelle. “I defy every label.” YouTube, uploaded by Associated Press, 2020-01-15,

National Committee on Pay Equity. “The Wage Gap Over Time: In Real Dollars, Women See a Continuing Gap.” Accessed 2020-03-21.

Trina Grillo, Anti-Essentialism and Intersectionality: Tools to Dismantle the Master’s House, 10 Berkeley Women’s L.J. 16 (1995). Available at:

Yancey, George. “Judith Butler: When Killing Women Isn’t a Crime.” New York Times. 2019-07-10.

WHO. “Gender and Genetics.” World Health Organization.

Environmental Problems and Solutions: I have a cautious optimism that some manner of future may still exist for humanity.

CJ Trowbridge

Environmental Problems and Solutions

Midterm Essay

            Environmental problems can trigger an existential crisis in individuals both because of the scope of the problems and the scope of the duty this realization imparts on us. There are a lot of environmental problems from pollution to mass extinctions to sea level rise and so on. When people learn about the scope of the problems, they realize there is an enormous amount of critical work to do, if we have any hope of surviving as a species. It’s too big; it’s scary. It forces people to confront two things. On the one hand, they may die as a result of the crisis. On the other hand, we may literally go extinct because of the crisis.

This realization demands that people ask themselves what they can do to resolve these existential threats. In many cases, the answer is that there is no answer, it’s already too late. At this point, we will have to choose which possible problems to solve while watching helplessly as the impossible disasters play out. This too is too much, it’s too big. It’s terrifying. It causes people to withdraw, to become averse to the problems altogether. “Yuck I don’t want to think about that.” People deny and hide from these kinds of threats rather than confronting them.

Lastly, the duty which is conveyed is so far beyond the scope of what a person could accomplish, that it demands a radical and fundamental reordering not just of human life, but of all the ideas we have about our culture and identity as individuals. This too is just too big for people to confront. Instead, they withdraw and avert their attention and continue playing the nihilistic role of the capitalist dominator who cares only about their own future accomplishments and not their role in the broader unsustainable system.

Building off of my previous answer, Michael Nelson argues that we need to shift the aversion from the problems to the cause of the problems. Instead of people withdrawing and averting from nascent knowledge of the existential threat of the ongoing environmental collapse, they should avert and withdraw from the culture of consumption and domination which is causing the ongoing environmental collapse.

This “great yuck” — as he puts it — is a disgust with the culture that is destroying any potential future of life on earth. He goes on to argue that we will then need a “great no” or a widespread commitment to change the culture and norms which are literally exterminating all future generations of life on earth. Then we need a “great yes” about defining a better way of life which is not just sustainable but regenerative in order to repair the pervasive damage that has been done to the biosphere.

World scientists issued a warning in November 1992. The warning came because a consensus developed among thousands of leading scientists worldwide that many of humanity’s contemporary social and industrial trends were not just unsustainable but potentially unsurvivable. The scientists went public because they thought that informing a broad population about the severity of the problems and the extent of the threat would spur action to resolve the crisis.

The scientists warned that the resources of the earth and the broader universe are limited and must be carefully understood and managed in order to preserve their continued existence and that of humanity. They argued that this process of understanding and managing the earth must be based on science and facts, rather than ideology and economics.

The earth’s biosphere is an enormously complex system which defies modelling and understanding. There are countless unpredictable interactions between many complex subsystems. Often times it can be difficult or impossible to anticipate or predict the impact of changes here to outcomes elsewhere, and vice versa. This fact, combined with centuries of observations about well-understood problems makes it very challenging to have comprehensive conversation and understanding of the problems we face or the best way to address them. This is a big part of why so many people “yuck” at the problems rather than – more justly according to Nelson – at the causes of those problems.

The economic, political, and sociocultural forces at play which produce the externalities we see causing the ongoing environmental collapse are incredibly powerful, distributed, and difficult to challenge directly. Sociocultural change is a slow and difficult process. In the words of Max Plank, “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.” We haven’t even started informing the new generations about these issues in any kind of comprehensive way. It seems unlikely that information alone is enough to convince people to find the much needed “great yuck” and take action to change the fundamental cultural institutions which are actively exterminating all life on earth. It seems unlikely that social change will come in time to avert total disaster.

Luckily there is also a small but growing political movement towards taking accountability for the existential threat of the ongoing environmental collapse. New President of The European Commission Ursula von der Leyen has called a green new deal one of her “top priorities.” Likewise, many politicians and surrogates in America have been floating various versions of this idea for a long time in order to create the beginnings of broad support for taking meaningful action on these threats. Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders has also spoken publicly about his top priority being addressing the threat of climate change with trillions of dollars a year in spending to combat these problems.

Perhaps most excitingly, on the economic front, there is a major shift happening in actuarial science. There is a new perspective in long-term investment from sovereign wealth funds, venture capital firms, private equity, pension funds, and other sources. These funders acknowledge the long-term perspective that the extinction of humanity and collapse of the biosphere are serious threats which should be hedged against. There is a new financial science emerging called ESG or Environmental Sustainability and Governance. The argument of ESG is that if there are two otherwise similar firms with different levels of environmental sustainability and sustainable governance, the more sustainable firm will outperform in the long-term. This has led to enormous shifts in investment away from fossil fuels and into renewables. It has also led businesses seeking investment to plan in the long-term and acknowledge the serious threat of climate change and the collapse of the biosphere.

Though I work in the sociocultural realm, I am personally most hopeful about the potential efficacy of the macroeconomic shifts surrounding ESG and actuarial perspectives on climate change and environmental problems. Whether or not we survive as a species is what’s on the line, and whether we take the rest of the biosphere with us on the path to accomplishing our own destruction. Like the curriculum of this class, I do not expect us to solve all the problems, but because of the systems and movements I have outlined here, I have a cautious optimism that some manner of future may still exist for humanity.

EDC: Queer Activist, Student in Oakland, CA

I have moved to Oakland, CA to focus on getting a degree in Urban Studies at SFSU as well as working on lots of exciting queer activism and housing activism. Here is my updated everyday carry.


I am trying different backpacks and I mostly hate them all. Currently I’m using the basic Jansport I toured Europe with.

Fall 2019: Weekly Intersectional Privilege Event

I am an affluent, white, male, cis, able person who has these privileged identities within the American white-cis-ablist-classist-patriarchy.

I am also a gay, socialesque, atheist which are marginalized identities within American hetero-ancap-christian culture.

I see many gay, affluent, white, cis men forgetting about the fact that they are affluent, white, cis, men. This has led to much of my social activism work focusing on reminding people with marginalized identities of their privileged identities.


During fall semester at Sierra last year, I led a weekly intersectional privilege event in the quad. Each table represented a different power dynamic and offered things for free to the marginalized identity while inviting people with privilege to pay.

For example, at Rainbow Alliance’s table, straight people could pay for coffee while non-straight people got free coffee. At Feminist Action’s table, men could pay for lemon bars while everyone else could have one for free. There were also other tables for other dynamics.

This led to a fascinating phenomena where people got excited about supporting those who they had privilege over. It was at times very hard, but also very rewarding to start these kinds of intuitive conversations. No one who participated could walk away without an understanding of intersectionality and privilege/oppression dynamics.

We had a few malicious white cis male football players who would regularly come through and claim they identified as black trans women in order to get free things from all the tables, and even in doing that, they were forced to internalize the concepts of intersectionality and power dynamics of privilege and oppression. Even the people who tried to troll us wound up deeply understanding the material. Hopefully this will eventually lead to some change for those people.

Across the board I count this event as an unequivocal success that I could not have conceived of without separating my privileged and marginalized identities and acknowledging as much duty to interrupt those systems that benefit me as those that oppress me.

Queer Film History: Compare and contrast Pink Flamingos and Female Trouble

CJ Trowbridge


Queer Film History

Compare and contrast Pink Flamingos and Female Trouble

Pink Flamingos is an excellent example of John Waters’ early work. It is historically Queer in all four ways. Many of the characters are queer. The lead for example describes herself as a lesbian who has, “done everything,” and wants to, “kill everyone, now.” The film’s author and director is a gay man. The film is widely appreciated by a queer audience, and the film presents – albeit absurd – depictions of people contradicting societal norms in ways which appeal to queer people in the audience.

Female trouble is an excellent example of John Waters’ later work. This film is also historically queer in all four ways. It features an almost identical cast of mostly queer people. Its author and director is the same gay man. It is widely adored by queer audiences, and it appeals to queer audiences in a different way from how it appeals to straight audiences.

Both films are deliberately political, especially with regard to the media. I am reminded in both cases of the words of William Gibson, “terrorism is innately media-related.” This trope is touched on in both films. In Pink Flamingos, the antihero expresses laughter and dismissal of the idea that the media may potentially not carry the story of her murder of the marbles, going so far as to threaten the lives of the children of the reporters who are present, in order to obtain her desired coverage. In Female Trouble, the antihero artist proclaims that she will be on the cover of every paper in the country before asking who in the audience wants to be famous and to die for art, before shooting them dead.

I see the main difference in the two films as the character of the antihero. In Pink Flamingos, the main character is a drag queen who has a “son” and a “mother” in her retinue as well as a traveling companion. In the case of Female Trouble, the main character is a woman played by a drag queen. Though the characters are similar, they have this subtle difference.  Also, Divine plays herself in Pink Flamingos, or perhaps an idealized version of herself. In Female Trouble, she plays a character, Dawn Davenport. I think this subtle difference allows the character to expand a bit further than in Pink Flamingos.

In Female Trouble, the members of the antihero’s retinue are less a gang and more a set of believable friends and neighbors. In a way, the second film is more believable, while the first film feels far enough away from reality to be allegorical without being topical. Female Trouble could almost happen, while Pink Flamingos feels like fantasy. After the nightclub scene, I found myself wondering whether Female trouble was based on a true story. I never for a moment thought that about Pink Flamingos.

I loved both of these movies. I see the queer I am in Female Trouble, and I see the queer I would like to be in Pink Flamingos. I think both of these films are queer and historically significant, but I think they offer very different value and purpose to their respective queer audiences.

Internship: Demographic meta-analysis of the Sierra College student body and disparately impacted success of its populations.

Executive Summary

During the fall 2019 semester, I completed a sociology internship at Sierra College. At some point in the last year, I had asked several professors which populations are the most impacted at Sierra College (Which group has the lowest success). I was surprised to learn that no one knew the answer. Further research led me to learn that there was no current way of searching the data for the answer to this question. I set out to create a list of all populations which could be filtered and sorted by success.

The school is responsible for improving conditions for impacted populations. Sierra College’s current approach to closing equity gaps is that three committees work separately on an arbitrary set of less than half of the demographics for which we are reporting success data. None of these committees focuses on intersectional identities. None of these committees is funded. None of these committees has any real power outside of making recommendations.

For nearly all of the most impacted groups, their identities are not addressed by this arbitrary structure, and their success metrics are getting worse, not better.

In many cases, the current system seems designed to hide the problems or make it difficult to see them. The college works hard to exclude third party experts from critical processes and to suppress important data related to the success of impacted populations.

What Is Disparate Impact?

Disparate impact means that people in some groups do not succeed to the same degree as people in other groups do, on average. Equity gaps measure how big the difference is between the lower success of some groups versus the higher success of some other group. In sociology, this is a major field of research. California recently passed new rules which base funding for schools on how well they close these gaps over time.

In sociology, we track several major impacted populations. We know for example that marginalized classes (such as people of color, women, transgender people, and others) will have disparate impact because these groups are suffering marginalization in society. Black people will be impacted versus white people. Women will be impacted versus men. Typically these differences are measured in terms of life expectancy, income, housing stability, etc. In this case we are measuring success at Sierra College for each group.

Who Is Most Impacted?

At some point in the last year, I asked several professors which populations are the most impacted at Sierra College. I was surprised to learn that no one knew the answer. Further research led me to learn that there was no current way of searching the data for the answer to this question. One could, for example, check the success of “gay black transgender students,” but there was no list of all the populations which could be sorted by their success metrics.

During the fall 2019 semester, I completed a sociology internship at Sierra College. The project was to build a new way of analyzing disparate impact. Over the course of the semester, I created a new database which contains all the public success data for all the groups which are large enough to be reported. A law called FERPA says that we can not report the success of populations with a size smaller than ten.

Initially, I tried to execute this analysis through the school’s research department. FERPA became a favorite roadblock which would be raised when I asked questions or asked for data. “[We can’t answer that because the answer could include data about groups with population sizes fewer than ten, so it would violate FERPA.]” When I followed up to suggest that we simply include the population size in the results, and remove any results where the size is less than ten, the response was that this would be infeasible. I quickly decided to simply conduct the meta-analysis myself.

Results and Methodology

My final report is available here. Demographics and population size are listed for all the populations, while success metrics are listed to the right. The data can be sorted by any value, and filters may be used in the search box. Additionally, I have also published the database as well as the tools I built in order to complete this project. Free tools such as SQLite Browser will allow anyone to query and analyze the database further.

The schools’ current equity strategy looks at identities from a non-intersectional  perspective. Sierra College has three committees working on student equity. One committee focuses on race, one committee focuses on gender, and one focuses on sexual orientation as well as gender-identity. None of these committees is funded or has any real power except to make recommendations. I want to repeat this point because it is the critical finding of this research. Sierra College’s current equity committees look at gender OR race OR sexual orientation/transgender. Sierra College’s current equity committees DO NOT look at gender AND race or gender AND sexual orientation. None of the equity committees look at the many other demographics such as foster youth status, income, veteran status, disabilities, homelessness, etc.

The system of looking only at one dimension of identity at a time while not comparing them to others or including multiple dimensions leaves huge blind spots for the people working on closing equity gaps. I see two main problems that come from this  blind spot;

  1. The first major problem arising from this blind spot is that we don’t know what we don’t know. For example, all ten of the most impacted populations are black, but eight of them are also former foster youth. This highly significant factor is not addressed by any of the current equity committees. There are programs for foster youth, and there are programs for black students, but there is no one whose job it is to look at improving conditions for black foster youth. It’s not surprising that for all ten of these populations, conditions are getting worse, not better.
  2. The second major problem is the lack of an intersectional approach to closing equity gaps. We pay a lot of attention to race, but the fact that the most significant factor for black students is an intersection with foster youth status was previously unknown. It’s worth mentioning that none of the equity committees looks at foster youth status. In fact, while the school reports eight dimensions of demographics for success data, the equity committees are looking at only four of them. Several of the state’s required metrics are not being reported at all. (More on that later.) Despite the fact that foster youth status is the most significant factor impacting success of black students, no one is empowered to work on the issues affecting specifically black foster youth students.

This is not just about black foster youth students. Throughout the meta-analysis, we see examples where complex intersectional identities show disparate impact which one-dimensional identities do not. We see hundreds of students whose intersectional identities are not addressed or even observed by the current one-dimensional system. For example;

  • The ten most impacted LGBT groups are all non-white
  • The ten most impacted female groups are all non-white
  • The ten most impacted low-income groups are 70% non-white

In all of these examples, almost all of the intersectional groups show success going down, while success for the corresponding one-dimensional identities is going up. This is a critical flaw in the current system. When white women and black women are categorized together, the average looks like women are doing ok with a 0% change this year. But in reality, black women are seeing low and decreasing success while white women are seeing high and increasing success. The average is inaccurate and ignores the fact that people have intersectional identities.

  • Success of multi-ethnic homosexuals (n=23) went down by 24% this year.
    • Success of homosexuals alone (n=249) only dropped 4%, buoyed by white homosexuals (n=131) which saw a 3% increase in success, while some white subgroups saw success increases as high as 29%.
  • Success of low-income black women who were foster youth went down by 31% this year.
    • Females overall (n=12,594) saw a 0% change in success this year, buoyed by more privileged groups.

My interviews with the equity committee members have highlighted another problem. Since these committees are not funded, they have to spend most of their time fundraising, and then typically, some time each year is dedicated to throwing an event to highlight the problems facing their communities. At no point in the year are these committees actually working directly on improving success. They are focused on community engagement, a prerequisite for success. If these committees were funded, they could focus on the actual work which they ostensibly exist to do, instead of focusing on fundraising. One idea that came up in interviews was that the committees could create proposals for projects or programs which would work to increase success. Then they could be funded by the district to execute these projects, since this is the basis of the district’s funding under the new funding formula.

The value of third-party experts can not be exaggerated in this work. One student organization, “Salaam Sierra” is lucky enough to have a chaplain who comes in to work with them. This person is aware of resources at Sierra and throughout the broader community, they retain institutional memory as members of the organization come and go, and they can advocate for the organization on campus and in the wider community. All student organizations, academic committees, and other groups focused on equity and success should have expert third party representatives to facilitate their work.

On broader issues as well, there are opportunities for third party experts to improve the success of students by partnering with student organizations and equity committees. Examples include;

  • Stand Up Placer, a nonprofit which has been operating for half a century in the local area. They are who the police call for crisis counselling and other services for survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking.
  • Whole Person Learning is a nonprofit service provider for former foster youth in Placer County. After race, this was the most significant factor impacting student success, and while there is theoretically some resources in the pipeline, there is no cohort or student organization on campus addressing the issues that affect this community.
  • Placer County is one of the few counties in the state with no LGBT center. The nearest equivalent is the Sacramento LGBT Center. Rainbow Alliance has already established relationships with its partner organizations at the other colleges in the area, and committees like Spectrum, New Legacy, and Gender Equity would benefit from partnering with organizations like the Sacramento LGBT center.
  • Placer Independent Resource Services is a nonprofit which advocates, empowers, educates and provides services for people with disabilities enabling them to control their alternatives for independent living.

We need independent third party experts to be invited and welcomed and included to participate in engagement centers and student organizations as well as academic senate committees and especially equity committees. Imagine that clubs for example must have not just a faculty adviser but also a community adviser; suddenly the black student union has a club structure which requires them to seek out a community activist or leader who can give them far more resources and support than whatever faculty member had time to be their adviser. As far as academic committees go, it’s unrealistic to expect that we have a committee for each of the 4,000+ impacted populations we are reporting on, but it’s not unreasonable to have a more intersectional set of third-party experts included in the process of addressing impacted success.

Let’s quickly illustrate a far-superior alternative to the current system. Imagine each of the current committees had a member tasked with working on each of the eight demographic dimensions. So now there is at least one person on the Gender Equity committee who is monitoring the success of each ethnic group. For example, not just women but black women and latin women and pacific islander women, etc. Another committee member could be charged with looking at Foster Youth status; how are women who were foster youth doing as compared to those who were not foster youth? Discussions between these two members would be far more attentive to intersectional challenges (while also suddenly addressing all ten of the most impacted populations) than the current model where both members are talking about women in the abstract, and potentially ignoring the fact that there is no woman who is without race or foster youth status.

Opportunities For Further Work

Perhaps the most important piece of future work on this topic could be incorporating more demographics data about student populations. In many cases, Sierra College is not even tracking critical demographics data about student populations. For example, a student is only counted as disabled if they ask for an accommodation which is subsequently approved by the college. A student who shows up for class in a wheelchair while struggling with severe depression but does not ask for any accommodation (or whose request for accommodation is denied) is not counted as disabled according to Sierra College. This needs to change.

Additionally, Sierra College is not currently reporting all the required success metrics as listed by the California Community Colleges. Specifically, there are enormous swathes of data missing from the public website. In some cases, metrics are omitted entirely. For example, there is no mention of the required metrics “number of students who complete nine or more career education units,” or, “number of student who have attained the regional living wage.” In other cases, entire years of information are simply left blank where the data is reported at all.

Additionally, many longitudinal metrics are falsely reported as static by the school. For example, we have no way of determining the success of students who come out as LGBT at Sierra College because the school does not update this critical longitudinal demographic data. Instead the school falsely reports these longitudinal values as static when students enroll, as though these metrics do not change. So a student who comes out as gay or transgender at Sierra will be counted as straight or cisgender for their entire career at Sierra. Since these are already deeply impacted populations, their suffering and marginalization is going completely unreported by the school. It’s not clear to what degree this false and inaccurate reporting may be deliberate. The problem has been raised by interested parties and stakeholders on multiple occasions in recent years, to no change from the school.

Filling in these data gaps and correcting deeply unjust metrics would make important work for future researchers and activists at Sierra College.

Lastly, the work of updating and publishing this data should be conducted by the school’s research department. Students should not have to take unpaid internships and work for months in order to answer basic research questions which the school should already be reporting through its well-funded research department which ostensibly exists for this purpose. Because of the claims made my the research department that this sort of work is unfeasible, and the fact that a student was able to conduct it without any internal access based solely on public data, I have also included all the tools I built to conduct this research so that there is no further excuse not to do this, and to allow other activists and students to conduct further research of their own.

Conclusion: My Suggestions

  1. We need more resource centers and engagement centers which are staffed more consistently and are available for students who need them.
    1. We need more resources and better training so that staff can actually explain them to people who need them.
  2. We need independent third party experts to be invited and welcomed and included to participate in engagement centers and student organizations as well as academic senate committees and especially equity committees.
  3. We need better outreach and research to honestly explore where the problems are and what the best solutions are.
  4. We need more intersectional cohorts. (ie. black foster youth, queer people of color, etc.) Many of the groups identified in this meta-analysis are more than large enough to form a cohort. This would allow students in these populations to build community ties with people like themselves. This is critical for success.
  5. We need to be funding equity committees and giving them actual power and permanent staff. These problems are not going to be solved by inviting untrained staff to volunteer on a toothless and unfunded committee.
    1. We need more equity committees. Having at least one for each of the demographics we are required to report would be a good start. These committees should have members looking outside their core demographic at other demographic intersections which constitute the many populations under the umbrella of their core demographic.
    2. Equity committees need training on intersectionality and on actually impacting success rather than simply engagement. These committees need to be working together and meeting more than biweekly, and doing more than planning fundraisers.

Data: Are Shiftpods Actually Cooler?

Key Findings;

  • Shiftpods are not significantly better than cheap alternatives.
  • No tent performs well in direct sun.
  • No matter what kind of tent you have, putting it under a shade structure is the most important thing for keeping it cool inside during the day.
  • Evaporative “swamp” coolers are not as helpful as simple ventilation.
  • Thermal mass batteries are a simple and very effective tool for normalizing temperature throughout the day.

The Experiment

Lots of people spend time in tents. As a Burner, I am one of them. There is a big problem which anyone who has ever slept in a tent can relate to. That problem is Thermodynamics.

Thermodynamics is a law of physics which basically says that the heat from the sun will eventually get into your tent. What this means for campers is that even on a day where the outside temperature only gets to 80, it’s going to be 100-120 degrees inside your tent. There are basically two ways to fight back against thermodynamics in this case; put barriers in the way which will slow but not stop the heat getting in, or put something in place to absorb or remove the heat.

For a Chemistry honors project, I am studying the effect of various techniques and materials on prolonging that magical sleeping time in the morning before the temperature inside the tent gets too high to keep sleeping.

I will also be comparing fancy expensive tents to the cheapest alternatives in order to see if fancy expensive tents are actually any better. In this case, I have chosen the very popular Shiftpod v2.0 to compare with a cheap tent of similar design from amazon. I have taken to referring to the blue fishing tent as “Blueshift” for simplicity’s sake.

One thing to keep in mind is that this is not the playa. We do have partly cloudy days here in Sacramento, so there may often be sudden spikes and dips in temperature. These cloud effects will reach both tents, so it will be interesting to see how they each fare with them.


This experiment was done in Sacramento, not at Burning Man. Results will vary but systemic error should be low, since both situations include similar variables such as humidity, sunlight, etc and impact from the different mitigation strategies. I’m planning to do a future version of this experiment at the playa during fourth of juplaya which includes more tent types such as a hexayurt and a pup tent.

The tents are not exactly the same size. There may be some differences in amount of heat reaching each tent. That said, Shiftpods are 1200% the price of the cheaper tent. If it’s worth that, this trivial difference should not matter.

Some of the links on this page are affiliate links. I”m a starving student trying to pay for this expensive experiment. It doesn’t add to your cost if you choose to buy things with these links. I just get a small cut to help cover my costs. If you don’t want to use the affiliate links, you can open them in incognito or something like that in order to remove the tracking code.

Sensor Equipment

I am using a custom built multi-zone temperature logger to track the data. The full details of that can be found here.

Phase 1: The Naked Sun

For phase one of the trial, both tents will be in full sun. This photo shows them at 2pm the day before the data shown. They had a full 24 hours to adjust to the environmental conditions before experimental data collection began.
Like any tent, both the Shiftpod and the Blueshift will eventually get much hotter than the outside temperature when in full sun. The way to win at this stage is by staying cooler for longer. This means the occupant will be able to sleep longer and have a better experience with their tent.
In fact we see that the internal temperature of the Shiftpod hits 100 degrees more than an hour before the Blueshift does. At 9:30 in the morning, that crucial time for sleep, we see the Shiftpod more than 15 degrees warmer than the Blueshift. By 10:45, it has passed 100 degrees. The Blueshift doesn’t hit 100 until after 11:45.
Phase 1 Graphics
At this point, I suspected a possible reason for these surprising results. The Blueshift has a single layer of thin waterproof fabric, where the Shiftpod has a thick layer of air-tight insulating fabric. I suspected that this thick insulation could be trapping the heat where the Blueshift will let that heat escape.
This could explain the difference in temperatures, and imply that Shiftpod themselves intend users to take additional measures in order to reap potential benefits of the materials they use. Air conditioning for example would make that insulation helpful rather than harmful. This would also explain why Shiftpod has recently started giving away free “blast shields” or radiant barriers to go on top of the Shiftpods.
I decided to test this theory, so I added another phase to the experiment to compare the difference in temperature inside the tents from floor to ceiling. Here is what I found;
Phase 1 Adendum
As you can see, the temperature between the floor and ceiling in the Blueshift stays almost the same throughout the day. In contrast, we see the heat being trapped inside the Shiftpod. The temperature difference between the floor and ceiling of the Shiftpod varies by as much as ten degrees in the hours leading up to one-hundred degrees. This is very interesting information because if we are able to deal with that trapped heat, we could potentially see benefits from the Shiftpod’s insulation. This will be addressed in an upcoming phase (Phase 4) of the experiment.
In Naked Sun, the Blueshift is the clear winner for morning temperatures. This is the time and setting where the Shiftpod is supposed to shine. Instead we see it falling  behind its much cheaper cousin.

Phase 2: Loose Aluminet

Aluminet is a very interesting material which has found wide adoption among burners, just like Shiftpods. It’s both a radiant barrier and wind-permeable. This solves several interesting problems.

The idea of a radiant barrier is that heat and light will be reflected rather than absorbed, as would be the case with a tarp. The problem with past radiant barriers is that they were solid like a tarp, and with high winds, they become a sail that tries very hard to blow away. Many radiant barrier materials such as mylar are very delicate and will tear themselves to shreds with even the slightest wind.

Aluminet is made of a similar material to mylar, but it is reinforced and braided, so it forms a very strong barrier in the wind, which wind can actually pass through. It comes a wide range of opacities which allow different amounts of light through. I go with 80% Aluminet.

As I mentioned before, Shiftpod has recently started giving out free radiant barriers called “blast shields” which are basically just a non-breathable mylar -like material. The blast shield is basically a cheap and inferior alternative to Aluminet, and the fact that they are now giving them away for free seems to indicate that the makers of Shiftpod are aware of a potential design flaw in this very expensive tent.

Thermodynamics sometimes has a problem with both mylar and Aluminet, especially when they get dusty. Sure radiant barriers will reflect much of the light and heat, but dust will not. If the dust is touching the radiant barrier, then it doesn’t stop the heat from the dust conducting through the barrier and into the tent. Aluminet and mylar are not conductive barriers, only radiant barriers. This means that a dusty piece of Aluminet or mylar will conduct some heat through to anything they are physically touching. For this reason, if the radiant barrier is touching the tent, and it’s dusty, then it will not block as much heat as it would if it were several feet away from the tent, suspended from another structure. This will be expanded on in a future phase of the experiment.

Phase 2 Photo

This photo was taken in the afternoon. As you can see, the Aluminet is hanging from the two tents and tied to the fences. For the purposes of this experiment, the Aluminet is covering the east sides of the tents. This means it will block morning sun, and to a lesser degree the noon sun. The south and west sides of the tents are not covered. (This entire experiment focuses on the morning time.)

Phase 2 Graphics

The addition of Aluminet pulls the curves closer together, and we see the Shiftpod performing much better after an initial heating-up period. But the thickly insulated Shiftpod is still much warmer than the thin and breathable Blueshift. The Shiftpod has two humps when the sun is hitting it straight on, first thing in the morning and then again at mid-day. Between these times, the sun is hitting its edges at an angle. This seems to impact the heat absorption as shown above.

Once we pass noon, the Shiftpod’s thickly insulated roof absorbs the conducted heat from the loose Aluminet, and traps that heat inside the tent. In contrast, the Blueshift’s breathable and un-insulated roof lets the heat escape. Right at noon, we see the Shiftpod suddenly jumps to nearly twenty degrees warmer than the Blueshift. This could be the problem that the makers of Shiftpod were trying to solve by giving everyone free blast shields to block the mid-day sun from cooking their thickly insulated roofs. By comparing the first and second phase data, we see that adding a radiant barrier op top of the Shiftpod does mitigate this problem to a certain extent, but not completely. Eventually the heat gets through since the barrier is touching the roof.

Phase 3: Passive Thermal Mass Batteries

Water as a molecule has a lot of interesting properties. One of these properties is that it’s really good at storing heat energy. In fact, my understanding is that no known material has a higher density of heat storage than water.

This gave me the idea of placing lots of water inside the tent to store and release heat. This would theoretically have the effect of flattening out the temperature curves so that they are closer to the average value throughout the day. I decided to use four five-gallon buckets of water as my passive thermal mass battery. These buckets would be easy to transport and store, and even use as storage for other gear. You could also fill one or two of those large 27 gallon totes and use that as your battery, but that seems like overkill and it would be a lot of water.

As you can see in the photo below, I also put one of my temperature probes into one of the buckets to monitor the temperature of the water so we will see that in the graph.

In order to accurately compare the performance of the two tents, I decided to split this phase into three parts and compare each tent’s performance against the other, then both together. Therefore Phase 3A will test the performance of the Shiftpod with a 20 gallon passive thermal mass battery. During this phase, the Blueshift will just be normal and without any thermal mass battery. Then during Phase 3B, they will be switched. The thermal mass battery will be placed in the Blueshift, and the Shiftpod will just be normal. Then we can compare the performance of each with the addition of the batteries. Lastly, during Phase 3C, both tents will contain the same thermal mass batteries.

In order to get the most accurate data, I let the tents and their thermal mass batteries sit for a full 24 hours before collecting the data as shown. This way we can see the data once the batteries have been well adjusted to the conditions we are observing.

Phase 3A: Shiftpod Only

Phase 3A Photo

Phase 3A Graphics

I was a little surprised by this data. In the first graph above, we see that the thermal mass battery starts absorbing a great deal of heat long before we see a significant change in air temperature inside the Shiftpod. To really see the impact, compare the difference chart to previous phases of the experiment. Only in the pre-dawn hours does the Blueshift take the lead. I am amazed. With the simple addition of a passive thermal mass battery, the Shiftpod now performs better than the Blueshift all throughout the day.

Phase 3B: Blueshift Only

Now let’s look at the next part of the experiment, where the passive thermal mass battery is placed only in the Blueshift and the Shiftpod is just normal without any help from the batteries.

Phase 3B Graphics

We see that the difference curve swings the other way. This is not surprising since the Blueshift is not insulated. I think this test should be compared to the first test in the experiment since that’s the same conditions the Shiftpod is under during this test. In the first test, both tents eventually reached essentially the same temperature, and the Shiftpod was slightly warmer for most of the day. In this test,we see that both tents follow very similar curves, but that for most of the day, the Blueshift is a good 10-12 degrees cooler than the more expensive Shiftpod.

It’s interesting to note that we don’t see precisely the same effect from the previous test (3A) where the thermal mass battery absorbs the heat that would otherwise constitute the curve of it’s surrounding tent. Instead we see a gradual warming throughout the day, and a reduced warming in the surrounding tent.

Phase 3C: Both Together

Phase 3C Graphics

During this phase of the experiment, we saw that thermal mass batteries significantly improved the effectiveness of the Shiftpod, while not significantly improving the effectiveness of the Blueshift. Four buckets of water has a footprint of just a few square feet. You would barely notice these in the tent, and they seem to provide an enormous benefit. Probably you would see similar effects from filling an empty tote with water. This would be an interesting topic for a future experiment.

Phase 4: Active Thermal Mass Battery

In order to increase the efficacy of the thermal mass battery, it seems logical to test adding a fan, pump, and heat sink. This would mean you would need to supply constant power to it, but if it provides enough of a benefit, then this may be worthwhile. I removed three of the buckets for this phase of the experiment, using only five gallons of water in a single bucket. Expanding on this may prove worthwhile but at this point, connecting buckets would be complex. If we wanted to do a larger active battery, then probably a larger container would be more appropriate. This would also allow you to add ice to your container, etc in order to cool the tent even more.

Hanging this from the ceiling also has the added benefit of potentially mitigating that pesky heat-trapping effect in the Shiftpod.

Phase 4a Photo

Pictured above are a 240mm heat sink with two c. I hung the heat sink and fans from the roof of the Shiftpod and put the pump and hose into the bucket. Here is what it looked like in the early evening. (You can see the sun reaching behind the Aluminet to hit the Shiftpod from the afternoon side. This time of day is not part of the experiment.)

Here is the data on the active thermal mass battery in the Shiftpod only;

Phase 4A Graphics

As you can see, the smaller thermal mass battery just isn’t able to keep up. Being active seems to make little difference in terms of absorbing the heat in the tent. This is an unexpected result; very interesting data.

Because we see such a limited effect even with the insulated Shiftpod, and because the larger thermal mass battery had essentially no effect on the Blueshift, it does not seem worthwhile to test an active thermal mass battery in the Blueshift.

Phase 5: Ventilation

As you can see in previous experiments, the temperature inside the tent can be as much as twenty degrees hotter than the outside temperature for much of the day. This suggests a simple solution; ventilation. This can be a problem in dusty environments at Burning Man. In other environments, this may be a better option.

Ventilation & Dust mitigation

I did some experimentation this year at the burn based on Nikola Tesla’s patents for solid state check valves as well as the closely related concept of vortex filtration. The basic principle is that when you have a fluid such as the air, and there is something in suspension, such as the dust, you can encourage the dust to fall out of suspension by forcing the fluid to suddenly change directions.

My idea was to take a section of about eight or ten feet of aluminum duct and hang it so that at least a few feet were hanging loosely and free to flap around in the wind. The other end of the duct would go into the tent, where a powerful fan would suck air into the tent. I set up some other ducts (pic) to maintain constant slightly-negative pressure and pull the hot air out from the top of the tent. This meant that no dust would blow in through these other ducts. The theory was that because the outside piece of duct was free to flap around, the open end would never be facing into the wind. This means that when air is sucked into the duct and drawn into the tent, that air would have to change direction 180 degrees in order to get into the duct. This means the dust would fall out of that air. As far as I can tell, this worked perfectly. I would definitely recommend trying this at the burn.

Phase 5a: Ventilation (Shiftpod Only)

The basic idea is pretty simple. We will have a fan drawing the air out of the top of the tent at 200CFM 24/7. Then an open vent will allow fresh air to enter the tent. This means all the air in the tent will be replaced every five minutes. This is generally considered to be the ideal ratio for ventilation, especially with evaporative cooling as we will see in the next experiment.

Phase 5A Photo

As you can see above in the photo, I have used the same hose from the previous experiment as well as the same 200CFM fan. The direction of the airflow is out of the tent. You can see the duct drawing the hot air from the roof area of the Shiftpod and then pushing it outside the tent. A window is open to allow fresh air to enter the tent, replacing the hot air being pushed out. This photo is for simplicity’s sake, but having the open window be close to the exhaust duct doesn’t make sense. In the actual experiment, only the window opposite the exhaust duct was left open.

Phase 5A Graphics

As you can see, just like the passive thermal mass batteries in Phase 3A, ventilation swings the difference curve in the direction of the Shiftpod. Also just like Phase 3A, this puts the Shiftpod ahead by about ten degrees. Recall that with no assistance, the Shiftpod is a few degrees warmer than the Blueshift. Knowing that these two methods each impart a ten degree advantage plus the unaided difference, we will likely see large advantages when we pair these methods together in a later trial.

Phase 5B (Blueshift Only)

This is the same experiment with a 200CFM fan drawing the air from the center of the ceiling of the Blueshift and blowing it outside while fresh air comes in from another vent.

Phase 5b Photo

Here you can see the same fan and ducts going out through a window which is covered with cardboard for this experiment. Let’s see the data…

Phase 5B Graphics

As you can see, adding ventilation did make the Blueshift cooler than the Shiftpod, but only by a few degrees. I was surprised to see how little impact was measured in phase 5 of the experiment.

Phase 6: Hung Aluminet

From the beginning, I suspected this would be the most impactful phase of the experiment. The idea here is that the Aluminet is suspended a few feet away from the tents in order to eliminate any potential heat conduction between the radiant barrier and the tents. This seems like the most logical step to take in order to see a really dramatic change. This is where the Aluminet will really shine.

Flat top shade structures are expensive! But they don’t need to be. Check out this post about how I cut the cost in half and eliminated most of the hardware involved while still getting all the benefits of a normal flat top shade structure.

Phase 6 Graphics

As you can see, this material has a big impact versus the previous phase. The Shiftpod never hits one-hundred (as an average of its floor/ceiling temperature), though the temperature at the ceiling briefly does. The radiant barrier on the Shiftpod seems to really shine in this phase, with the highest temperature difference between Blueshift and Shiftpod we’ve seen so far.

Phase 7: Evaporative Cooling

Evaporative cooling (AKA swamp coolers) add humidity to the air in order to reduce its temperature. This works best in dry climates. The maximum temperature difference is a function of the dew point under the given conditions. This means the best case is a 40 degree temperature difference if there is 0% humidity, and less of an effect with higher humidity, with no effect at 100% humidity.

For this phase, I used the evaporative coolers I designed in this post. In both cases, the coolers burned about three gallons of water during the period shown.

Phase 7A: Shiftpod Only

Phase 7A Graphics

Based on comparison of the data from Phase 6 to Phase 7A, there does not appear to be any significant temperature difference in the Shiftpod with the addition of the evaporative cooler. On the day the data was collected, humidity was 68%. This is probably why there was no significant temperature difference. Despite that, the evaporative cooler did burn through three gallons of water during this period, so it was working and cooling the Shiftpod despite the unimpressive results.

These values would likely be different if there was a significantly lower humidity. This was a problem at the burn this year, where the humidity was uncharacteristically high, and evaporative coolers were not working very well.

Phase 7B: Blueshift Only

Phase 7B Graphics

As I suspected, evaporative cooling was basically useless in the Blueshift as well. This matches my experience from on-playa this year. By the end of build week, I threw my swamp coolers in my camp’s dumpster.

Phase 8: All Or Nothing

In this final phase of the experiment, each tent will take a turn with all or nothing. Based on comparing the results of Phases 5 and 7, there is no reason to include useless evaporative cooling in this phase. Instead, the more compelling phase 5 results will be included and simple ventilation will take the place of evaporative cooling. The more I think about it, the more sense this makes. If it’s twenty or more degrees cooler outside than inside, then simple ventilation is guaranteed to accomplish that or something close to it. This also parallels my playa experience, where ventilation is often the best and easiest option.

Phase 8A: Shiftpod Only

Phase 8A

For this phase, the Shiftpod will be under hung Aluminet with the 20 gallon passive thermal mass batteries, and ventilation. The Blueshift will have none of these things, and be sitting out under direct sun.

Phase 8A Graphics

Here we see the effectiveness of the ventilation system sucking the hot air out from the top of the inside of the Shiftpod. For much of the day, the ceiling is actually cooler than the floor.

Phase 8B: Blueshift Only

For this phase, the Blueshift will be under hung Aluminet with the 20 gallon passive thermal mass batteries, and ventilation. The Shiftpod will have none of these things, and be sitting out under direct sun.

Phase 8B Graphics

As with several previous phases, there seems to be a critical tipping point when the Shiftpod suddenly becomes much warmer. My going theory is that it is related to the angle of incidence of the sun. I found the results of this last phase very surprising. I would have expected the difference curve to be much flatter and to stay below zero all day.

Final Thoughts

In the naked sun or with loosely draped Aluminet, it’s actually hotter than the cheaper Blueshift. Both tents perform a lot better under a shade structure.

Simple ventilation is more effective and comfortable and less complicated than evaporative cooling.

The Shiftpod is over ten times the cost of the Blueshift. Does it perform ten times better? No. In general, the tents perform pretty similarly. The Shiftpod excels in a few situations with some help. If I was choosing a new tent today, I would pay more attention to getting a good shade structure than to getting any certain kind of tent.