In Memoriam: Chris Chitty

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Chris Chitty, who died on April 21, is remembered by family and friends as thoughtful, selfless and deeply committed to his work as an activist and teacher. Courtesy of Carla Freccero.
Chris Chitty, who died on April 21, is remembered by family and friends as thoughtful, selfless and deeply committed to his work as an activist and teacher. Courtesy of Carla Freccero.

With a megaphone in hand, Christopher Chitty spoke to a large crowd at the foot of campus in protest of budget cuts. He stood in solidarity with the faculty walkout and the University of Professional and Technical Employees strike in September 2009.

“We have heard this declaration of war,” he said into the megaphone, “and we are prepared to respond in kind.”

That day, Chris led the gathering of students assembled at the base of campus supporting the picket lines.

“The students of this university are imprisoned within a sick cycle of spiraling student debt and for what?” he said. “We work hard and we borrow money in order to work hard and make money we have already spent.”

Writer, theorist and comrade to many, Chris Chitty, 32, died on April 21 in Santa Cruz.

Literature professor Rob Wilson remembers watching Chris lead students during the strike in 2009.

“He was speaking so eloquently, I was actually amazed and I turned to my colleagues and I said, ‘Wow, he’s really our Mario Savio,’” Wilson said, comparing Chris to the political activist who played a pivotal role in the Berkeley Free Speech Movement. “He’s like a leader.”

Originally from Alpharetta, Georgia, Chris joined the history of consciousness doctoral program in 2008. He received his bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Chicago.

At the time of his death, Chris was pursuing a doctorate in the historiography of homosexual thought. His dissertation is titled “Sexual Hegemony, Early Modern Republics and the Culture of Sodomy.” He had been working closely with associate professor Gopal Balakrishnan and professor Carla Freccero — colleagues from the history of consciousness department — as well as Johns Hopkins University professor Christopher Nealon.

Chris occasionally wrote for the nonprofit publication The New Inquiry Magazine, where he published “Scenes from Occupied Oakland” and “Foucault’s Addendum.” He also wrote a piece published in Viewpoint magazine — an online review of contemporary politics — called “Towards a Socialist Art of Government: Michel Foucault’s ‘The Mesh of Power.’”

Chris’ mother Mary Wooten Chitty said he was passionate about learning and was an avid reader.

“We packed up over 200 personal books from the place he lived in before this happened,” Mary said. “He told my husband when he was probably about 5 or 6 that when he read books he saw pictures in his mind.”

His father Charles Chitty said in an email that “for a long time, it has been Chris’ passion to teach.” He described Chris as being empathetically aware of others’ circumstances.

“He looked at things from ‘the other’s’ perspective. He attempted to see the world with a fresh pair of eyes. He found so many things to be fascinating,” said Chris’ brother Bradley Chitty. “He absorbed things as if they were new and he was new to it. He had the imagination. There were no boundaries or limitations to his creativity.”

Professor Wilson said UCSC graduate students who knew Chris “held a really beautiful march along the San Lorenzo River for him.” Bradley also took part in the march on April 25 to Santa Cruz Memorial where the funeral was held.

Charles said that although he wasn’t familiar with many of Chris’ colleagues in Santa Cruz, he found it “wonderful and encouraging to see the numbers that turned out.”

When Chris was a little less than two years young, his mother Mary became pregnant with her second child.

“My relationship with Christopher was so strong and so deep that I was totally worried that I could have room in my heart for a second child,” Mary said. “He was my little buddy and he followed me around, kept me company and he was my favorite companion.”

Mary described her son as the “kindest, most considerate, loving and compassionate person ever.”

Chris’ parents said he loved gardening and kept a rose garden at their home in Georgia. He was drawn to succulents, Charles said, “and some of that was because they are just underappreciated … yet Christopher saw beauty in those things.”

There was a particular succulent that he had nurtured for years.

“The day of his funeral out in California, the cactus that he had for years bloomed for the second time,” Charles said. “It bloomed on the day of his memorial.”