University Sin Fronteras (UNSIF) could not have arisen without the collaboration between two organizations that had already been holding their own classes and workshops on organizing and internal political education since the 1980s: the Southwest Workers Union (SWU) in San Antonio, TX and Project South: Institute for the Elimination of Poverty and Genocide (PS) in Atlanta, GA. Both long-standing social movement organizations contributed the infrastructural support critical to the creation of the UNSIF. They, therefore, became its first two anchor organizations. Ruben Solis, after transitioning out of his position at SWU, took on the responsibility of establishing UNSIF.
In 2010, a group of activists met in a series of Tertulias (round-table talks) in San Juan, Puerto Rico. We became concerned about the lack of qualitative connection between a new explosion of community activists and more experienced organizers, and among one another. Bridging the distinct histories and perspectives of three generations of movement activists would be difficult without a university developed by and for our social movements. Sending busy activists to schools that are outdated, racist, classist, and lacking in diversity would be wrong. We needed a new way to educate.
In 2011, we decided to try to meet that need by founding the University Sin Fronteras. A Board of Directors, made up of seven people from Puerto Rico and eight from the continental United States, developed vision and mission statements. As we began to create campuses in different locations, we decided each board member should represent an existing or potential campus. In 2012 the nine members of a new board established the basic concepts for our curriculum, pedagogy, and semester system. Our first classes, held in Atlanta, served as an experiment in applying those concepts. Some students from the first course helped plan the second one. Some practices, particularly the Round Robin process to encourage each person to participate in discussions (see more under Pedagogy), quickly became institutionalized. By 2013, however, we realized that we were trying to expand too quickly, without giving each potential campus secure roots. The third board, therefore, focused on strengthening our understanding of the roles and responsibilities of the existing six campuses in Atlanta (the Flagship Campus), Detroit, San Antonio, San Juan, Jacksonville, and Bemidji. Further information can be found on the campuses page.
The USF mission is to embody and reflect the principles, concerns, and ethics of global people’s struggles. The USF is a public and accessible space for education that advances systemic social change.
The USF works with social movements, organizations, and individuals:
- To provide inter-generational continuity.
- To develop critical consciousness through emancipatory pedagogy.
- To restore shared knowledge while simultaneously creating new systems of education to determine our own future.
- To produce thinking and action within collective learning spaces.
Knowledge is not the privilege nor domain of the powerful few but a right of all people. We envision education as a vehicle for social movement development, rather than a commodity to be bought, sold, or corrupted. People construct and carry knowledge in multiple ways. Emancipatory education is informed by the wisdom of our communities to which we are accountable and ensures continuity of histories, cultural traditions and legacies.
In order to achieve social and political impact for systemic change, our education systems will collectively create a cohesive analysis of the past, present, and future in order to direct and solidify social movement development. We envision education as a collective leadership development process between and among generations.