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Re-imagined Post-Colonial Geographies: Graduate Students Explore Spaces of Resistance in the Wake of Ferguson

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Re-imagined Post-Colonial Geographies: Graduate Students Explore Spaces of Resistance in the Wake of Ferguson
AmaliaDache-GerbinoDavidAguayoMarquiseGriffinSarah LHairstonChristalHamiltonChristopherKrauseDenaLane-BondsHeatherSweeney
Re-imagined Post-Colonial Geographies: Graduate Students Explore Spaces of Resistance in the Wake of FergusonAmaliaDache-GerbinoDepartment of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO, USAAmalia Dache-Gerbino, Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO, USA. Email: dachegerbinoa@missouri.eduDavidAguayoDepartment of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO, USAMarquiseGriffinDepartment of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO, USASarah LHairstonDepartment of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO, USAChristalHamiltonTruman School of Public Affairs, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO, USAChristopherKrauseDepartment of Geography, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO, USADenaLane-BondsDepartment of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO, USAHeatherSweeneyDepartment of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO, USA21 ppSAGE Publications, Inc.
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Using Harvey's (2012) Spaces of Capital: Towards a Critical Geography and Sharp's (2009) Geographies of Postcolonialism as theoretical approaches and Gordon's (2008) Mapping Decline: St. Louis and the Fate of the American City as historical context, a graduate-level critical geography of urban higher education class conducts field observations of St. Louis’ uneven geographies, centering Ferguson as a point of departure. Our use of critical geography and postcolonialism within education are critiques of U.S. capital accumulation in urban spaces and frame how we analyzed our observations and geographic information systems data. Specifically, we use the subaltern space of Canfield Apartments, where Michael Brown was executed on 9 August 2014 by a Ferguson Police Department officer as the central location. Through field notes of each student's site visits, bus-riding experience, and GIS data, we aim to provide mixed-method results on spaces of resistance and public transportation access, parts of uneven geographic developments contributing to discourses of U.S. college accessibility in St. Louis.


College access discourses, critical geography, postcolonialism, spaces of resistance, urban higher education


As we write this paper, we are haunted by the recent death of a counter-protestor at the hands of White supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, at the University of Virginia, United States. A few months ago, the U.S. police state was acquitted in the Minnesota police officer killing of Philando Castile as a result of anti-Black dehumanization. The history of U.S. slave patrols as progenitor of U.S. policing systems (Wacquant, 2001) are rarely analyzed as concurrent systems contributing to discourses of college (in)accessibility in post-urban geographies. Post-urban geographies are liminal spaces between the urban and suburban and have similar characteristics to urban areas (read: higher concentrations of communities of color, higher concentrations of residents in poverty, yet, the physical geography is outside of municipal urban city lines). Ferguson, Missouri, is just this, a post-urban geography that while may be geographically categorized as a suburb is racially and socioeconomically closer to urban social demographics in St. Louis—than to further suburbs with higher concentrations of White and wealthy residents. Michael Brown's execution on 9 August 2014 was symbolic of the countless deaths of Black people in the United States at the hands of the militarized police state. Brown and Castile are not rare cases; it is a known statistic that Black people in the United States are 2.5 times more likely to die at the hands of a police officer than their White counterparts (Lowery, 2016). Drawing form Sharpe (2016) we too are interested in ways of seeing and imagining responses to terror … ways that attest to the modalities of Black life lived in, as, under, and despite Black death.” (p. 20). How do these grim realities of the mortality of Blackness coincide with colonial relics and their manifestations in the confines of post-urban life in the landscape of St. Louis? Specifically, our paper is guided by the following research question: How do graduate students explore through site visits, bus-riding, and spatial data, the uneven geographic developments of local college access discourses in St. Louis? In responding to this question, we interrogate the nature and role of research on behalf of communities of resistance by centering resistance in classroom learning and re-imagining St. Louis’ geographies.

Troubled by the predatorial nature of the police state in the life expectancies of Black residents, Black families and students, we write this paper in the hopes that it can illustrate how classroom spaces can too become spaces of resistance. The we” within this paper, consists of students and faculty in the University of Missouri spring 2017 course, Critical Geography and Urban Higher Education. The I” within this paper, will be the voice of the faculty of record and first author of this manuscript.

Using Harvey's (2012) Spaces of Capital: Towards a Critical Geography and Sharp's (2009) Geographies of Postcolonialism as theoretical approaches and Gordon's (2008) Mapping Decline: St. Louis and the Fate of the American City as historical context, our class conducted field observations of St. Louis’ uneven geographies, centering Ferguson as a point of departure. Our use of critical geography and postcolonialism within education are critiques of U.S. capital accumulation in urban spaces and frame how we analyzed our observations of St. Louis’ sites of resistance and its public transit system. Specifically, we use the subaltern space of Canfield Apartments, the site of Brown's death as the central location. Through field notes of each student's site visits, bus-riding experience, and geographic information systems data we aim to provide mixed-method results of uneven geographic developments that contribute to discourses of college accessibility. Particularly, we find that St. Louis’ history of regressive housing policies, public transit and overall urban blight have contributed to how Black and White residents migrated to county suburbs, such as Ferguson, supporting our conceptualization of post-urban geographies.

U.S. Urban College Access Discourses

Cities across the U.S. are racialized and classed spaces existing for centuries within the colonial landscapes. Within the area of college access (Bergerson, 2009; Perna and Thomas, 2008), there is a sub area of college choice that needs to be interrogated if we are to truly understand the discourses of college-going surrounding urban communities. What does it mean for students to choose” college? Recent research on college access highlight the significant role college proximity plays in all stages of urban students’ college choice process (Hillman, 2016; Turley, 2009). For many students attending a college close to home is important for both financial and family reasons (Turley, 2009). Having a college in close proximity to home is a major factor influencing the college choice of working-class students and students of color (Hillman, 2016; Turley, 2009). Recent research shows that close proximity to tertiary institutions increases the odds that a student would attend college, as well as influences whether they would apply to a two-year or four-year institution (Griffith and Rothstein, 2009; Turley, 2009). Turley (2009) found that while local colleges may influence students’ tendency to aspire to gain a college education, the increase in the odds of attending college when living in close proximity is largely driven by the fact that it makes the college transition financially, logistically, and emotionally easier. However, colleges are often located in middle-income areas with lower concentrations of Populations of Color (Dache-Gerbino, 2016; Hillman, 2016; Turley, 2009), and closer to suburban areas than cities’ urban core (Dache-Gerbino, 2016). In a study of Western New York, Dache-Gerbino (2016) discovered a desert of tertiary institutions within the four-mile radius of the City of Rochester, New York which comprised a high percentage of working-class and residents of color who were reliant on public transport. Within the suburban periphery that existed outside the four-mile radius of the city, an oasis of higher education opportunities across diverse types of universities emerged as a major finding. Thus, for many working-class students of color living in urban areas, who are less likely to own vehicles and commute via public transit (Regalado and Smale, 2015), having access to an efficient transportation system that connects their home to colleges would influence their college choice process. Transportation design and experience is part of larger and failed urban development policies and designs, which contribute to the research design of this study.

Scholars have yet to examine how factors such as a city's history of racial and class housing segregation can contribute to discourses of college (in)access for local residents and students. Although previous research has provided evidence on how various predisposition factors such as college proximity impacts students’ college choice process (Perna and Thomas, 2008), there is a dearth of inquiry on how a city's racial and class history contribute to discourses of college accessibility.

Theoretical Framework

The theoretical framework for this study derives from postcolonial theory (Hiddleston, 2009). Postcolonial theory draws from the history and relics of colonialism. Its major form of analysis is how colonialism has been the social, political and economic structure at the root of the domination and subjugation of indigenous, enslaved and colonized populations (read: of color). Expanding on Foucault's (1982) theories of power, Said (1995) elaborates these theories into the histories and material realities of those formerly colonized. By interconnecting power with colonialism, Said (1995) suggests that colonial social systems and institutions are results of the ideologies of colonialism and its capitalist mechanizing, while the dominant system is controlled by those wielding economic, political, racial, and gender power. These colonial infrastructures are distributed through texts, discourse, and maps produced by dominant groups. Dominant ideologies such as White supremacy and capitalism are able to impose cultural knowledge upon the subaltern (non-dominant populations) through the landscape. Sharp (2009) provides an overview of how colonial values and structures were established to impose a European order on native land and enslaved people. She also demonstrates the complicated and nuanced ways in which colonialism manifests to such an extent that post-colonialism through its naming challenges the linear and chronological assumptions of an end of a colonialism anchored in settler-colonies.

Sharp's (2009) analysis continues with a discussion of European anxiety over dwindling blank spaces” (p. 62)—spaces primed for colonial rule and marked as empty and exploitable land. These blank spaces, were conceived of and imagined as void, due to seeing indigenous populations as un-civilized, savage and sub-human. Through these imagined geographies and blank spaces, the dominant culture/the European colonizers extracted material wealth through the subjugation of the colonized and the importation of enslaved Africans during the period of mercantile capitalism (Sharp, 2009). Sharp (2009) utilizes the concept of imagined geographies” as based on the White imagination shaping the U.S. liberal ideologies of freedom and choice. This American folklore plagues the consciousness of generations of Americans. Concurrently, they serve as the bedrock for resistance to the continual presence of colonial ideology in the structures of the political-economy and social life in settler-colonies. We conceive of St. Louis’ historiography as a physical and imagined space shaped by colonial ideology.

Research Design

To explore the Ferguson Uprising within the geographic context of St. Louis and its history of uneven development from a postcolonial lens, during the spring of 2017 graduate students in a critical geography and higher education course at the University of Missouri engaged in readings and coursework related to postcolonialism and critical geography (see online Appendix A for course syllabus).


The faculty of record for this graduate course was a co-principal investigator for a research project studying the Ferguson uprising as a form of subaltern resistance from January 2015 to November 2015. Previously she was also engaged in actions in Ferguson shortly after the killing of Brown in Ferguson in the summer and fall of 2014. Based on her experiences in St. Louis, she created a graduate seminar course on critical geography and urban higher education within the College of Education. Eleven graduate students enrolled in the course from across the university (see online Appendix B for background student information).

As a direct result of faculty's commitment to social change through educational praxis (Freire, 1970/2009), students were encouraged to interrogate power in nearby communities in resistance, such as Ferguson. Ferguson is a community that for over a year held protests within St. Louis disrupting business, policing, and social mar-ginalization to draw attention to police brutality. Harney and Moten's (2013) concept of faculty fugitiveness—an academic version of the theory of stealing from the rich to give to the poor”—informs the faculty member's pedagogy, essentially, to use the resources of the university to draw attention to alleviate suffering. As such, the course design and outcomes were explicitly linked to witnessing and exploring an urban geography with a history of resistance.


This study employs a case study research design to explore the following research question: How do graduate students explore through site visits, bus-riding, and spatial data the uneven geographic developments of local college access discourses in St. Louis? In defining case study research, Yin (2014) states a case study is an empirical inquiry that investigates a contemporary phenomenon (the case) in depth and within its real-world context” (p. 16). In examining the features of a case study, Yin (2014) notes that case studies are reliant on multiple forms of evidence that converge in a triangulating fashion” and benefit from the prior development of a theoretical proposition” (p. 17). To answer our research question, we collected both qualitative and quantitative data guided by a postcolonial theoretical framework. Previous research on postcolonial geography, urban divestment and capital accumulation (Dache-Gerbino, 2016; Dache-Gerbino, 2017), provides context that helped to reconceptualize the role of local higher education institutions in meeting the needs of local working-class Black residents.

Prior to the field visit and trip to St. Louis during the mid-portion of the semester, we discussed the course readings while also discussing qualitative field observations as a method. The course faculty in a previous study exploring the transit system employed observation protocols (see online Appendix C) to understand college access discourses in Rochester New York. Students used the protocol to collect not only bus-riding observations, but also site visits at locations under study across St. Louis County. The qualitative data were gathered during a class field trip to five St. Louis County and City sites studied during the semester (see online Appendix D for field trip agenda). Figure 1 illustrates the field sites, which we argue can be either sites of the deployment of colonization or sites of resistance to colonization, with some sites acting as both. During the field trip, students conducted qualitative field observations as they rode public buses from Canfield Apartments (where Michael Brown lived and died), to local college campuses in St. Louis. We employed Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to map demographic, transportation and higher education data at the St. Louis County and City level. Our data consisted of National Historical Geographic Information System (NHGIS) data compiled to examine the racial migration patterns of St. Louis County and City from 1940–2010. Saint Louis County Open Data were used for transportation and college points. Lastly, Esri ArcGIS basemaps were used in the data collection and analysis (Esri, 2017).

Data Analysis

Student field and bus-riding observation protocol and memos were analyzed in two stages. The first stage was during class time the following week after the trip. Students read each other's observation and notes and we discussed themes in class. For example, one student would read a set of two observations/memos from peers. During class we came up with primary themes across all observations which were the presence of colonial relics in St. Louis through spaces, which led to our choice of framework for this paper. The second stage of analysis consisted of faculty member using Nvivo qualitative software to code for particular instances of domination and resistance observed by students during their site and bus-riding experiences.

Figure 1. Spaces of Resistance.
Exploring Uneven Geographic Development Post-Ferguson: Theorizing Space, Domination, and Resistance in St. Louis

As we traveled to St. Louis to visit five sites (see Figure 1), we began our travels in the Southside of the city and explored (1) Mokabe's coffeehouse and the Touchy Topic Tuesday community group. Both the coffeehouse and community group functioned as a space of resistance against St. Louis’ spatial-racial segregation. Next, (2) visiting sites in central and north city, such as the former Pruitt-Igoe public housing site, the Wailing Wall, and Mapping Decline's Market Street area, we theorized that these spaces represented remnants of colonial domination through the concept of blank spaces and imagined geographies. Lastly, (3) we ended the site visits at our most northern county point, Brown's memorial at Canfield Apartments. From here, students rode public buses to local colleges. Students theorized how Ferguson residents were not only protesting the unarmed killing of one of their student residents, they were resisting Ferguson being an imagined colonial geography embedded in a racially segregated county and city, (as well as) the abundance of corporate-owned businesses and the limited busing to areas of White capital accumulation (i.e., colleges).

Upon arriving to Mokabe's Coffeehouse I felt like a tourist in my own city. I've never been to Mokabe's prior to this trip so this is an effective launching point to viewing my city with new eyes. I'm struck by the extensive display of affirmation of marginalized identities and resistance movements. In the front window of the coffeehouse is a Black Lives Matters sign and a sign that reads, #UnitedWeFight.” (Marquise)

In the above introductory quote, a student who was born and raised in St. Louis reveals how Mokabe's Coffeehouse, signaled a space of resistance for him. As a venue, Mokabe's has served as a space for activism and community service (e.g., Mokabe's has long provided shelter and food to homeless St. Louis’ residents). In this way, Mokabe's was an instrumental space for Ferguson activists during the uprising. As a site for community service, Mokabe's has hosted weekly meetings for Touchy Topic Tuesday (TTT), a community group in the Shaw neighborhood of St. Louis’ south city area that grew out of the Ferguson uprising. The group was started by families concerned with the racial divisions of St. Louis, specifically in the Shaw neighborhood, and police brutality toward Black residents, such as the killing of VonDerrit Myers Jr. by an off-duty police officer two months after the killing of Brown.

As students listened to the TTT conversation, they learned that communities, like Shaw, with predominantly White residents need to have more empathy for Black residents within and outside of their communities. Leslie wrote about this experience and noted, White people often need help getting immersed but non-White folks don't get to have that luxury—they just have to adapt.” Leslie notices the innate privilege within the conversation about empathy and immersion for White residents. In the session that morning, TTT framed questions and topics of racial segregation and immersion as being a luxury for White individuals and heavy burdens for non-White individuals. Similarly, another student spoke on the TTT discussion:

… a racially heterogeneous group of people becoming close friends in a racially segregated area like St. Louis [a]s an important step in the right direction…whereas the group was heterogeneous by race, it seemed to be rather homogenous by socio-economic status. (Chris)

Although TTT discussed racial tensions, very little mention was made to class issues in St. Louis. The Shaw neighborhood is predominantly White and middle-class. Taylor (2016) argues that class mobility within racial justice movements used to be central but that neoliberalism and Black middle class assimilation led to less activism related to class. hooks (2000) in discussing walking in her New York City Greenwich Village area that,

at times when [she] wander[s] around [her] neighborhood staring at the dark-skinned nannies, hearing the accents that identify them as immigrants still, [she] remembers this is the world a plantation economy produces—a world where some are bound and others are free, a world of extremes. (p. 2)

Students in the course began to unpack the silence of a class divide in St. Louis, although acknowledging the racial divides was a seemingly new and pressing topic to discuss given the police killings in working-class Black areas of St. Louis.

Moving from the Mokabe's site, north, how we theorized spaces of resistance and domination across St. Louis was present within our consciousness as we traveled north from south city to center city. From the TTT community conversation, we unpacked how there seemed to be a void in discussing the topic of class oppression and its relationship to how communities organized to challenge racism and navigate overlapping discourses of oppression and material subjugation. Here, although Mokabe's was a space that addressed topics related to both class and racial divides, for example by its use of public media supporting anti-racism and anti-sexism, the TTT was a community group that seems to at times dislodge topics of class struggle from topics of racial struggle.

Colonial Relics of Whiteness within St. Louis’ Landscape

Traveling to Pruitt-Igoe from the city's art district [read: Shaw neighborhood], which also holds a private university, there was a clear distinction in the landscape. Looking in the rear view mirror beautiful architecture sat among manicured swaths of land— clean, thriving, and inviting. The streets were full of people (mainly White) and activity. Ahead are crumbling streets, abandoned buildings, overgrowth, trash, decay. There were also many people on the streets, mainly Black. (Sarah)

Our site visits to central city St. Louis from Mokabe's revealed stark differences from the Shaw neighborhood. It was evident to the students how colonization of the racialized was sustained and maintained through past housing and zoning policies. The three areas visited in central city were the former Pruitt-Igoe site, the Wailing Wall and the Market Street area; these were theorized as imagined blank spaces sustained by the social field of Whiteness in the city (Dache-Gerbino, 2016). As we traveled through the inner city of St. Louis, we visually understood the racial and class migration patterns across the metropolis, revealing a known trend across American cities; the hollowing out of city centers due to White, out-migration to county suburbs (Gordon, 2008).

A more powerful cause of metropolitan segregation in St. Louis and nationwide has been the explicit intents of federal, state, and local governments to create racially segregated metropolises” (Rothstein, 2014: 1). Important here is the argument that policy created segregation in St. Louis and not White flight alone. The intentional nature of creating zoning to keep Blacks in subjugated and poor housing keeps Whites in areas of growth and expansion, which is discussed in the next session within the historical context of St. Louis.

St. Louis’ History of Residential Segregation.

From 1930 to 1950, St. Louis experienced a White exodus and the entrance of African Americans into inner corridor neighborhoods. In-migration focused on the north side of St. Louis city and White flight filling out new suburban developments into the county (Gordon, 2008). Suburban sprawl hollowed out St. Louis city centers as many inner corridor neighborhoods lost large percentages of their population; resulting in a gap-toothed settlement pattern, disinvestment in housing stock, and deterioration of such structures as homes, shops, and cityscape (Heathcott, 2005). The exodus of wealthy White residents created two issues at St. Louis’ city center: rising rents and living costs for working-class families, and further deterioration of housing conditions from pronounced cycles of vacancy and overcrowding (Heathcott, 2005). Concurrently, county municipalities progressively drained the wealth of the city through the local regressive tax structures—a result of depopulation. As the city struggled to shelter its residents, the thriving economic development of the western counties called to wealthy White city dwellers as a suburban housing oasis (Gordon, 2008; Heathcott, 2005). Private realty in greater St. Louis County prevented African-Americans from residing in the area through restrictive deed covenants, and real estate boards also used causal rationales such as neighborhood homogeneity” and maintaining property values” to discriminate against African-Americans (Gordon, 2008).

In late 1930s, local city planners and politicians covertly used federal public housing programs as mechanisms of providing a wide array of affordable housing for White working and middle classes of St. Louis county. At the same time, these planners and politicians used the same federal policy programs to simultaneously concentrate poverty and maintain low quality Black housing in Black neighborhoods that were located in the center and west portions of the city. Not only were local planners employing federal funds in racialized forms, federal policy had preferential treatment, and federal programs shouldered the capital costs, [and] local authorities cover[ed] basic operating expenses, [which created] bare-bones high-rise projects with few amenities” (Gordon, 2008: 98). One of the largest and most notable of public housing project in the country was erected in St. Louis. The Pruitt-Igoe complex, was constructed in St. Louis with the Housing Act of 1949 to serve as a segregated, low-income development on the city's north side. However, due to budget constraints and lack of upkeep, the 33 building high-rise complex was never at full-capacity and its demolition began in 1972.

With the demolition of Pruitt-Igoe and other city housing projects, Black residents were forced to relocate, many of whom moved out to the northern suburbs. As these transplants moved into these established suburban neighborhoods, St. Louis again saw White flight as White North County families moved to West County suburbs. One student describes the empty space of the former Pruitt-Igoe as follows:

The lack of development of the land stands out as continued power in the landscape. It stands as a constant reminder to the Black community of the colonial authority's power to build, destroy and change. The new headquarters would also be a symbol of the colonial power in the landscape, and might also include elements of surveillance depending on the operations of the institution…. The former Pruitt-Igoe site is a property that has been literally blighted: its former structure was allowed to physically deteriorate because of neglect, social ills manifested within the area because there was no genuine desire to improve the living conditions of its residents, and the structure was subsequently destroyed. (Christal)

Like this, the site of the demolished Pruitt-Igoe is embedded in a history of deploying Whiteness and capital accumulation in the county, while the city's working-class and Black populations are even further constrained in housing options. With corporate support, local businesses and governments produced preferential geographical spaces and structures that supported the White class mobility despite aiding abhorrent living conditions for the Black residents.

After the site visit to Pruitt-Igoe, we headed to toward the Market Street area, which was a central location with Gordon's (2008) text. The design of the Market Street area described in Gordon's text confused and complicated finding the address mentioned in the text. For example, we kept running into dead-ends and could barely drive though narrow alleyways. Urban street designs in the Market street area reminded us of what Rothstein mentions as the design of the Ferguson northern suburb in the mid-1960s, which at that time was a White suburb with only a small section of it near Kinloch (A Black suburb) which had some Black residents.

Ferguson had blocked off the main road from Kinloch with a chain and construction materials but kept a second road open during the day so housekeepers and nannies could get from Kinloch to jobs in Ferguson. Ferguson was a sundown town” from which African Americans were banned after dark. (Rothstein, 2014: 3)

The colonial power gave legitimacy to deteriorative logistical procedures that today continues to affect the lives of Black residents in St. Louis, especially those living in North County. Historically and starting in the 1970s, Ferguson (a northern St. Louis suburb) had a 1% Black population. Incrementally, the Black population grew while the White population reduced and moved to Whiter St. Louis suburbs. This is evident in Figure 2, an illustration of Black and White St. Louis residential migration from 1940 to 2010. By1980, Ferguson was 14 percent black; by 1990, 25 percent; by 2000, 52 percent; and by 2010, 67 percent” (Rothstein, 2014: 3).

North County: Ferguson, Michael Brown Memorial, Bus-Riding, and Schooling

The Ferguson movement, city and county site visits, and bus riding to and from local colleges allowed us to bear witness to the insidious nature of urban capitalism's deployment of Black oppression, repression, and inequities in local college access discourses in North County. It is critical to briefly discuss how housing segregation relates to schooling in North County, and as such, Ferguson resident's accessibility to local colleges using a form of commuting relegated to working-class populations in St. Louis (Figure 3).

Figure 2. St. Louis Black and White Migration 1940–2010.

De facto segregation due to housing patterns relegated African Americans to city neighborhoods and subsequent northern counties, creating a reality that [w]hen housing is segregated, so too are the schools” (Part I: Education, 2013). Such de facto segregation kept African Americans in St. Louis within racially compact areas in conjunction with federal housing policies, realtor boards, and restrictive covenants, and as a result racially isolated schools (Taylor, 2013). As of 1982, St. Louis City schools had a 79% Black student population with a majority of those students residing in the Northern part of the city (Grooms, 2016). Whereas, St. Louis County schools had a 21% Black student population mainly concentrated in districts closest to North St. Louis City (Grooms, 2016).

Figure 3. St. Louis Colleges and Universities.

Student observations revealed a theorization and attention to the relationship of Black community members to local schooling. Christal notes, The fact that Michael Brown was murdered in a Black residential community highlights the continued violence experienced by Black individuals in the country by the colonial powers’ criminal activities.” Here Christal theorizes the presence of police brutality in a predominantly Black community and how the police serve state interests. In addition, Nicole below notes in relation to advertising around bus stops in Ferguson what types of schools were advertised and how the rhetoric of Black-on-Black crime became pervasive discourse:

Figure 4. (A) and (B): Public Transportation Landscape.

Billboard advertisements: KIPP: St. Louis Public Schools, Your child's path to college starts here.” Sign on ground: We must stop killing each other” We must start loving each other”—Better Family Life Incorporated (Reminds me of efforts to endBlack on Black crime,” which usually distracts from issues of systemic racism and puts responsibility/blame on people of color, often propagated by religious/church groups/ community leaders). (Nicole)

The violence noted by Christal and Nicole signal the embedded colonial power imbalance promoted by what may be seen as well-meaning, public and corporate agencies that are vowed to serve the Black community. KIPP is a charter school system that is not held accountable to community standards of education, and is outside of the public-school system.

Bus riding from Ferguson to local colleges across the county revealed inadequacies in accessing four-year institutions in St. Louis’ center city and West County. For the purposes of this study, we focus on transportation access and highlight student observations that aligned with theorizations of bus riding as part of the uneven geographic developments of St. Louis.

Bus riders of the public transit system in St. Louis City and County that commute via the public transit system are highly concentrated within the city and the northern zone of the county (Figure 4a). Public transit infrastructure is similarly concentrated (Figure 4b). However, comparing the density of riders to the density of infrastructure, it is clear that the western zone of the County is disproportionately dense when compared to the city (Table 1). For example, despite the northern zones of the city and county combined having more than twice as many riders, these zones have only 18% more bus stops compared to the western zone of the County. Over 2400 new bus stops would need to be added in the northern zones to correct the disparity.

Table 1. Public Transportation Accessibility by Sector.

Moreover, it is important to also address the geographies surrounding transportation systems as a contributing factor to discourses of college in-accessibility. The location of a person's residence has a strong impact on the opportunities and resources a person may or may not access (Dache-Gerbino, 2016). Consequently, there is a strong relationship between space, access to external resources and the opportunities available to residents and potential college students. We cannot assume that each is not a contributing factor to the social and economic mobility of residents (Martens et al., 2012).

The gaps in the college access literature regarding the relationship that transportation has on students’ predisposition to college can be addressed within transportation theories of distributive justice. Distributive Justice refers to who gets what, when and to some degree, how” (Schweitzer and Valenzuela, 2004: 384). Theories of distributive justice ask questions relating to the cost and benefit of transportation for low-income and communities of color, which align well with our data since discourse of college accessibility are central to our claims. This framework coupled with postcolonial theory assists in understanding, which communities get access to public transportation, when they get access, and how community members access public transportation.

Pointedly, Marquise observes and theorizes, in this last quote concluding our findings section, how systems of oppression that are framed as beneficial or accessible have covert ways of functioning that assist in contributing to discourses of college accessibility for working-class residents of color in North County.

I feel exhausted and demoralized. Moreover I feel stricken with guilt. In part the guilt comes from a recognition of the privilege I have as a Black man with a college degree who is soon to earn his Master's. I thought of some of the young people who might have been around my age that I saw on the bus. I feel guilty as I acknowledge that I am fortunate to not have to daily wrestle with St. Louis public transportation.

In a metaphorical sense, struggling with the public transportation is synonymous with struggling with St. Louis as an entity. The fatigue that I feel results from the emotional effect that the conditions of the bus system imposes but also from an intellectual, scholarly understanding of the structural processes that has made St. Louis’ public transportation the apartheid inducing monster that it is. As a native son, I feel an obligation to use my knowledge to help make my city better yet I'm not fully sure how to do this. This requires further reflection. (Marquise)

As we traveled from St. Louis’ city center to North County, we were compelled to think about the resistance that took place in Ferguson after the execution of Michael Brown. If it were not for the resistance of community members from Ferguson, we would not have explored the colonial relics controlling, surveilling and exploitation Black St. Louis residents. Attention to these continued injustices emerged from grassroots efforts rather than by municipalities or local institutions of higher education in St. Louis—who seem to be directly (via municipal policies) and indirectly (via higher education selectivity) antagonistic to transformational change of the urban and post-urban landscape.


This graduate course explored how classroom spaces can become incubators for studying social change and activism in cities continuing to suffer at the hands of the police state and urban blight. The curriculum and outcomes of this course are an example of how critical pedagogy contributed to inquiry on community activism in Ferguson, and how teaching to transgress (hook, 1994), can contribute to student learning and critical consciousness. hooks (1994) states,

progressive professors working to transform the curriculum so that it does not reflect biases or reinforce systems of domination are most often the individuals willing to take the risks that engaged pedagogy requires and to make their teaching practices a site of resistance. (hooks, 1994: 21).

A major implication of this paper are the links created between critical classroom discourse and engaging discourses of activism related to movements such as the Ferguson Uprising.

To follow, Davis (2016) states what is also a transnational implication of this study's findings Ferguson reminds us that we have to globalize our thinking” (p. 13). This is evident in the texts used in this course and their application as an overall postcolonial theoretical framework of this manuscript. How graduate students brought the classroom into the built environment of St. Louis, highlights how local problems of racial injustice can be understood within transnational understandings of globalized capital accumulation and the exploitation of Black and Brown labor. Furthermore, both municipalities and the universities within them contribute to how local residents access opportunities for social upward mobility. Local social mobility is unlikely without post-secondary training and development in institutions of higher learning that in St. Louis are part of urban policy failures. Teaching about Ferguson is a catalyst for change and awareness. The question of access and higher education transformation are emerging in post-industrial cities and communities under attack by the police state in cities like Cape Town, South Africa where students are calling for the decolonization of higher education.

In our graduate course that sits within an educational leadership department designed to address the role of policy and its functioning, it was imperative for our class to take seriously what Rothstein argues is the central-role policy-creation played in maintaining segregation in St. Louis, just as student in South Africa named the relics of apartheid in contemporary university processes and functions:

The conditions that created Ferguson cannot be addressed without remedying a century of public policies that segregated our metropolitan landscape. Remedies are unlikely if we fail to recognize these policies and how their effects have endured. (Rothstein, 2014: 2)

We understood these effects and their endurance in St. Louis through course readings on the philosophical foundations of U.S. segregation, racial oppression and capitalism as cemented within the role and purpose of U.S. universities, historically and contemporarily. However, the role that the university plays in cultivating radicals for social transformation based on issues of economic, political and social justice remains—although fading under neoliberalism (La paperson, 2017), continue to fuel our inquiry and the writing of this collaborative manuscript.

As graduate students in a course guided by Freierian foundations of education grounded in experiential knowledge and consciousness, applying theory in praxis was a goal and an outcome of not only the field visit, but also the construction of this collective manuscript. Exploring the discourses of who and how residents have access” to local centers of higher learning was a line of inquiry that could not be understood without our bodies bearing witness to spaces of resistance in our state and 120 miles from our campus.

The relics of colonialism although originated in the past continues to plague or contemporary social, political and economic conditions. Colonial domination in this paper is evident in how histories of slavery, capitalism and urbanization coalesce with how local institutions of education function to serve or exploit residential communities. St. Louis’ imagined geographies are shaped by colonial ideology, which creates and sustains the police state in order to control bodies considered deviant and marked by race and class attributes. Imagined geographies are the results of municipal boundaries contributing to the circulation of capital (or lack thereof) in both poor and wealthy communities in St. Louis. Through student observation and GIS analysis, this study reveals the results of residential segregation, inequitable transportation systems and ultimately geographies that cultivate a White imagination. Our goal as a critical geography in higher education class was to bring critical geographic theories into spaces of resistance, allowing students the opportunity to explore and witness the relationships between colonial ideology and the police state and putting it metaphorically on trial. Hence, students were able to explore power imbalance in uneven geographical developments not only through site visits and observation, but also through writing collaboratively within this manuscript.

From Theory to Practice and into Postcolonial Analyses

Our historical observations and policy-based analyses of St. Louis metropolitan areas permitted us to experience the imagined geographies postulated by Said (1995). Imagined geographies allowed Europe to define itself in contrast to the strangeness and unfamiliarity of other lands. Sharp (2009) writes,

This ordering of the landscape had two main purposes. On the one hand, in a very practical sense, it was easier to police and defend, but on the other hand this had more philosophical grounds: it reflected the rational scientific order that Europeans saw as characterizing western thought. (p. 62)

Similarly, the ordering of the landscape in geographies of postcolonialism, are evident (1) in the presence and manifestations of the police state as the protector of Whiteness and White capital and (2) in the ordering of the landscape as grounded in binaries of western thought, good/evil, Black/White, wealthy/poor and enlightened/ignorant (Dache-Gerbino, 2017). Through this theoretical framing, the underpinnings of class scaffolding Black Working-class segregation in St. Louis were highlighted as inseparable from racial segregation. Postcolonial theory has the capability of bringing to the surface binaries that may be overlooked in racial justice programs that center on reducing instances of racial bias such as TTT, by centering instead on colonial apparatuses, which create hierarchies in class, gender and sexuality concurrently.

Class and racial factors were also evident in the police state's embeddedness in educational and residential systems that are rarely considered factors contributing to local educational opportunities. However, the concept of resistance that students experienced in spaces like Mokabe's and of TTT Shaw residents are examples of how resistance movements against racist and capitalist oppression such as Ferguson, function at the micro local and grassroots level in neighboring geographies. Although class factors seemed to be less vocally addressed in spaces like TTT, due to our study's framework we were able to discuss this fault line and theorize its importance in understanding St. Louis spaces of resistance and college accessibility. Next, we learned and theorized how the practice of urban planning across the geographical boundaries of the St. Louis metropolitan were permeated by a discourse born from the necessity to police labor, promote mass consumption, and strengthen class lines. Thus, the capitalist class continues to accumulate as the laboring class struggles. Harvey (2012) described urban accumulation and class struggle as reproduction, a fitting description of the underpinnings of the county's expansion, which occurred throughout St. Louis’ housing history.

The results of the functioning of St. Louis public housing policies maintained colonial mechanisms of Black exploitation through more covert methods than openly legalized segregation. City officials worked to create order and control across the city's residential spaces in a way that continued to benefit White and middle-class communities. Meanwhile predominantly Black residential areas were perpetually surveilled and subjugated. These landscapes were made amenable to regulation structured to enhance the flow of economic activities toward White middle class areas. Foucault (1982) viewed landscape design as a means to demonstrate silent power. A landscape designed to convey or have constant surveillance throughout people's lives (Foucault, 1982). An importance of discipline, surveillance and punishment [in] the functioning of all institutions” (Harvey, 2012: 217) is evident in this study of St. Louis.

Furthermore, the gaps in the college access literature regarding the relationship that transportation and community spaces of resistance have on students’ predisposition to college can be explored through postcolonial understandings of the geography of local college access (Dache-Gerbino, 2017). Due to working-class urban communities’ reliance on public transportation as a form of transportation, it is critical to analyze how public transportation is distributed across geographies that are perpetually and from generation to next, predominantly working-class (Dache-Gerbino, 2016). The social, educational and economic benefits that college offers to students from working-class communities is well documented in the college access literature (Bergerson, 2009). However, how local residents and potential college students’ residential landscapes are influenced by a history of White supremacist segregation and divestment in public transit, are rarely explored in how local student and residents’ access local educational opportunities.

Declaration of Conflicting Interests

The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.


The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.


Amalia Dache-Gerbino

Christopher Krause

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