Mark Q. Sawyer, Presente! (January 10, 1972 – March 26, 2017)

Mark Q. Sawyer, Presente! (January 10, 1972 – March 27, 2017)

We in the Department of African American Studies are mourning the sudden and tragic loss of our beloved colleague and friend, Mark Q. Sawyer.  He was only 45.  A genuine academic star in the areas of race, politics, and Latin America, Mark was Professor of African American Studies and Political Science.  He has been a member of UCLA’s faculty since 1999, having arrived just as he received his doctorate in Political Science from the University of Chicago.

His first book, Racial Politics in Post-Revolutionary Cuba, published by Cambridge University Press in 2006, earned critical acclaimed and garnered major prizes in his field, including the Ralph Bunche Award, American Political Science Association and the W. E. B. Du Bois Award from the National Conference of Black Political Scientists.  The book was pathbreaking in its objective assessment of the Cuban Revolution’s capacity to eliminate racism and incorporate the island’s Black population.  Mark dismisses both detractors and defenders of Castro who either see the revolution as a profound failure or a shining success.  The results, he reveals, are far more nuanced and unstable.  He also examines Cuban politics in the diaspora, mainly the activities of exiled Cubans in Miami as well as Black nationalists.   His research shows that while the Miami Latino community pushed to overthrow the regime, revolutionary Cuba remained popular among Black people who experienced palpable changes in their lives and life-chances.

Mark has also published widely on racial political, gender, immigration, coalition politics—always with an eye toward history—in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and here in the U.S.   His essays have appeared in Souls, Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, Journal of Political Psychology, Du Bois Review, Perspectives on Politics, and the UCLA Journal of International and Foreign Affairs.

Mark was also a key institution builder here at UCLA.  He served as the Director of the Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity and Politics, Associate Director of the Center for American Politics and Public Policy, and Chair of the Interdepartmental Program in African American Studies.  Indeed, as Chair of the IDP from 2011 to December 2013, Mark drafted and shepherded the application that ultimately resulted in our departmentalization.  He had been a consisted voice for departmentalization for at least a decade and was willing to work tirelessly toward the goal.  

Although Mark was beset with serious health challenges over the past few years, he persevered and insisted on mentoring students and participating in the life of the university.  He will be remembered as a brilliant scholar, a visionary academic leader, and a popular teacher whose enthusiasm for his subject was palpable and infectious. 

Mark Q. Sawyer is survived by his family, including his wife Celia Lacayo and daughter, Nina.  To them we send heartfelt condolences.  We will update you with any information about services, memorials, or instructions from the family regarding donations/gifts.

Mark Q. Sawyer, Presente!

1 reply
  1. Jason Ball
    Jason Ball says:

    Mark was kind and straightforward in the help he gave to me as a graduate student. I would not have been able to make progress without his support, both intellectually and in his understanding of how unwelcoming the university can be to a great many students.

    But the memory I would like to share of him is but one moment of his support of student efforts to build a more accessible and affordable university.

    When the UC Regents proposed to raise tuition by 32% in November of 2009, Mark made himself available to student organizers who wanted to fight the fee hikes. He volunteered his time on panels to contribute to the strategic work of the struggle and made his support for the cause visible. Mark saw these efforts as part of the struggle for racial justice that he had contributed so much to at UCLA.

    On November 19th of 2009 after the Regents had approved the fee hikes, an impromptu march was called from Covel Commons with hundreds of students participating. This was not a march that had been advertised or permitted, and to all but a handful of organizers was nothing more than a vague sketch until the moment it came to life. Certainly Mark did not know that this march was going to take place.

    The march snaked across campus and into the buildings where classes were taking place. Students participating in the march rushed into classrooms with megaphones and signs encouraging students and faculty to join them. For the most part, faculty reaction was mixed. Some faculty expressed an openness to allowing students to leave class to participate, some faculty kept their classes in session but encouraged students to discuss the politics of the university, and many faculty were hostile to those interrupting their lessons.

    By happenstance alone, Mark was conducting a large lecture course on the march route. When we burst into his lecture, almost before we could begin to give our speeches and shout or slogans in attempts to achieve a walk-out and grow the march, Mark demonstrated his support in a way that few other faculty did that day. Upon seeing the students enter his classroom Mark simply walked over to the chair and table where his jacket and belongings were, slipped his jacket on and gathered up his things, looked at his students and said “class dismissed.” From there, Mark joined in the march chanting and walking amongst the students as an equal.

    Faculty involvement in student self-defense efforts is not always an easy thing to win, even amongst faculty the identify themselves as supportive. Mark did not need convincing. Mark did not assert himself as a manager or arbiter of student agency, but as a participant. But Mark did lead by example in that moment by recognizing a choice to resist attacks on public education rather than to reflect on or ignore those attacks. I know that for students who perhaps had never engaged in a risky or unpermitted political action, who no doubt were carrying with them an anxiety about the implications of their actions, his decision to join their efforts helped to show them that they were not as alone as they might have thought.

    Mark did not need convincing to use his position to effect the outcome of a conflict. Mark did not sit on the side-lines waiting to learn the outcome of efforts to pursue racial justice inside and outside of the university. He did not comfort himself with the illusion of being a disconnected scientist inside of a politically neutral ivory tower that lies just outside the “real world” just because he had achieved success. He treated the university and the lives within it, as well as the lives excluded from it, with the respect they deserve through his efforts to make and support change. I will always be grateful for Mark’s solidarity.

    Thank you Mark.


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