Holding on to hope

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Monday, 10 AM. Text from Adriana to Anita: “OMG I’m exhausted already. I hate this world.”

It’s been a tough week, y’all. There are the ongoing worries about policies and practices that negatively impact people and communities we love and on top of it, there’s been the onslaught of discussions about sexual assault and harassment brought on by the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings.

In light of that, we thought it might be good–maybe mostly for us!–to remember what makes us hopeful even in trying times.

  1. Our students. We know it’s perhaps a corny thing to say but we really do mean it when we tell people who ask us about our jobs that our favorite aspect are our students. We appreciate the energy, the questions, the skepticism, and the joy that our students bring to our classrooms. We don’t meant to say that we walk out of every class session feeling great about ourselves or our teaching, but in general, our students make our days and lives better. They give us hope. This is true for Carleton students we’ve taught and for the high school students we’ve taught in various summer programs on campus (Anita, for example, has taught for the awesome CLAE program for the past few years).
  2. Each other
  3. Our amazing community of friends who share our rage and our joys
  4. Our podcast buddies, Todd and Crystal
  5. Stories of resistance. For example, this interview with Dr. Barbara Ransby who organized a group of 1600 Black feminists to write a letter of support for Anita Hill…and she did that in a time without the internet!! The group had to organize themselves quickly without email or Twitter or Facebook. And now, “The Phenomenal Woman Action Campaign, in support of Futures Without Violence, is leading a campaign for 1,600 MALE  signatories that took out a full-page ad in the New York Times this Monday in support of Prof. Anita Hill and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford.” (Good for the men, but it’s way easier now with the internet. Just sayin’.)
  6. Using our bodies in intentional and joyful ways: yoga, dancing, running, and even curling (well, those last two items are Adriana’s thing).  
  7. Watching silly videos on social media, like this one and this one

 

How to apologize: An advanced seminar

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Last week we wrote about our ongoing reflections on what it means to hold and wield power in academia. We both find it necessary to persistently examine ourselves and our relationships to make sure that we use our power responsibly and with care. But we didn’t talk about ways to repair harm once you’ve already done it. So this week we thought we’d share a series of blog posts written by a favorite scholar of ours, Adrienne Keene.

In the first post, Dr. Keene discusses Black Panther as an entry point into conversations about  indigenous futurism. If you read to the bottom of her analysis, you’ll see she added a quick note, two days after she posted her review (2/26), amending to acknowledge Afrofuturism. She thanks readers for their feedback, and takes the opportunity to recontextualize.

Well, she clearly continued getting feedback. The very next day (2/27), she wrote a blog post in which she apologized again. Titled “On Consenting to Learn in Public,” she provides a detailed history of how she grew up as a thinker and a scholar with the blog and with twitter. She says–beautifully, we think!–that

Once I entered the mindset that writing the blog was an exercise of consenting to learn in public, I became braver. I realized as long as I was genuine, and I was honest, and I was authentic to my own experiences, readers would join the journey with me. They would learn along side me. I didn’t have to have all the answers. I had plenty of questions, and that was ok.

It’s clear, though, that the feedback she was getting didn’t end there. She added an addendum to this blog post too, admitting that she removed a paragraph that was insensitive.

Finally, she wrote a whole new post on 2/28, this one simply titled “An Apology.” The apology comes first in this post and it is detailed, sincere, and clearly responds directly to interlocutors that maybe nobody but she heard from (we didn’t find direct critiques in the comments to “On Consenting to Learn” on her blog, for example). Even though the feedback she received was private, she learned (and apologized) in public. We also appreciated in this post the fact that she acknowledged the labor of the people who took the time to reach out and teach her.

There’s something graceful and admirable in her multiple attempts to really listen, to really learn, and to acknowledge that learning in this way was exhausting to those who stayed in dialogue and held her accountable. We think this is an amazing model (and hence an advanced seminar!) because Dr. Keene stuck it out, tried again and again, and came to a place of sincere apology and learning.

With great power comes great responsibility

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Spiderman is right.

Starting this fall, Adriana is a Full Professor, having been promoted this past spring (woohoo!!). As we celebrate this well-deserved recognition of her accomplishments, we want to take this moment to share some reflections on holding positions of power within institutions. As we’ve written about in other blog posts, earning tenure and now being promoted to full professor hasn’t been an easy process as women of color. First, there are fewer and fewer opportunities generally for people to obtain tenure-track positions, given the growth of contingent faculty positions. And given the racist and sexist history of academia, currently only a few women of color are full professors. Data from 2014 shows that only 28% of the full professors with tenure currently are women; there are only 143 Native American women in this category, 1,247 Latina women, 1,593 Black women, and 2,489 Asian American women. Adriana becoming a full professor is a big deal then for her, for Carleton, and for academia in general.

While our journeys to positions of power within academia have been difficult, we do now hold some power in our institution and we want to be thoughtful and mindful about what that means, especially in our interactions with folks who generally have less institutional power than we do–staff, students, and junior/non-tenure track faculty. This summer, we were surprised by the seeming lack of accounting for such differences in institutional power in the case of the sexual harassment case involving a full professor at New York University. While we won’t delve too deeply into our take on both Professor Ronell’s actions or those of senior scholars writing to defend her (we recommend this piece or this one for an insightful analysis), we were struck by the senior scholars’ apparent failure of imagination–could they have forgotten what it’s like to be a graduate student, to have little power, little access, and so much precarity?

As we discussed this case and our fundamental disagreement with how senior scholars responded, we had to admit that there were times when we, too, were not as mindful about differences in power at our institutions. Anita, for example, was reminded of the time when she sent an email to an untenured faculty member about a pedagogical tool used to discuss a text that she knew this faculty member was teaching in their class. From Anita’s perspective, it was just a friendly, collegial email–”Hey, you might be interested in this cool thing someone is doing”–and she was puzzled when she got back what she saw as an unnecessarily defensive email from the junior faculty member, explaining what they did in their class. When she chatted with Adriana about this, Adriana rightly pointed out that this faculty member probably was under a great deal of pressure during their tenure process where it can feel like everything you do and say is under scrutiny by students and senior colleagues. A “friendly” email from a tenured faculty member might not seem so friendly in that context.

Adriana recalled a time when she partnered with a staff member on a cool project. Adriana was very excited about the project, and she was eager to put in time organizing, strategizing, and making the project happen. She thought that if her partner had differences of opinion, they would just bring it up, and since that never happened, she plowed ahead. Of course, you’ve probably guessed that, actually, the partner had plenty of ideas, did not completely agree with Adriana, but never felt comfortable raising disagreements or areas of concern. When Adriana realized this, she felt terrible–she had failed to think about the faculty-staff power dynamic–and, more particularly, the institutional classism documented in the 2008 Carleton College climate survey. She hadn’t recognized her own power and, because of that, had bulldozed her colleague–she didn’t mean to do so, but the effects were the same.

These two examples are situations where we did become aware of how we were wielding power in unintended ways, but the damage had already been done. And we’re sure that there are other thoughtless uses of our power that we don’t know about. Going forward, the best we can do is to try and stay open to people’s critiques of our actions, especially from those who have less institutional and societal power than us.

The Ronell case also reinforced for us something we think about a lot and have written about before in this space. Researching, teaching, theorizing and writing about identity, power, and privilege does not make us immune to exercising power and privilege unfairly in our professional lives. In fact, sometimes being an “expert” in these fields can be used as a way to deflect reflection on our actions. Given that we both focus on issues on race and racism, for example, we know that saying that we are anti-racist isn’t a vaccination against being racist. We are not immune to acting passively or actively in ways that are racist just because we have friends of color, we are people of color, we can quote James Baldwin or Audre Lorde extensively…and so forth. It takes active, constant effort. Beverly Tatum describes this effort as walking against the flow of a moving elevator at a faster clip than the forward momentum. Jay Smooth talks about this effort as akin to daily, routine dental hygiene. Whatever metaphor you find helpful, it’s important to not fall back on the very tempting impulse to react to accusations of racism (or other -isms) in ways that make it seem like you’re somehow incapable of ever being racist. Because you’re not. Because we’re not.

Note: We’re back! As always, we will alternate original posts with links round up posts. We had a lot of fun answering your questions last year and would love to do that again. You can email us as dosprofx@gmail.com or submit a question anonymously here.

Breaking early for summer

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After complaining incessantly to anyone who’d listen (and of course, to each other) about the seemingly unending winter, spring is here… we decided that we need to take time to be outside more and appreciate the snowless landscape. So we’re going to be taking our customary summer break early this year!!

Do not despair, though, dear readers, because we have two things we want to leave you with:

  1. We had SO much fun doing our advice column this year. Thank you to those of you who wrote to us with questions. You helped us have some thoughtful conversations about issues we care about. PLEASE keep writing to us about what you want us to write about! You can email us at dosprofx@gmail.com or submit a question anonymously here.
  2. Shameless plug! We want to give a shoutout here to the other creative, public scholarship project that we are involved in–A PODCAST! Given that it was a podcast that inspired us to start this blog, we are so excited to be doing a podcast with our amazing and brilliant friends, Crystal and Todd, about something we all love–books! So please check out the four episodes we have done so far.

We hope that you all enjoy spring and…happy summer full of reading, reflecting, revelry, and righteous action!

Educators on Strike

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In this week’s links round up, we call attention to two sets of workers in the education field who have been organizing, striking, and demanding better working conditions: graduate students and K-12 teachers.

In the past few months, graduate students at various campuses across the nation have been demanding, among other things, better pay and better health insurance. Sometimes, as is the case at Columbia, striking for the right to unionize.

February 2018 Strike by University of Illinois at Chicago Graduate Employees’ Union

April 2018 strike by graduate student union at Columbia University

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Graduate students have also been voting on different campuses to decide whether to unionize (in 2016, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that graduate students are allowed to unionize).

April 2018 vote by Harvard graduate students to unionize

April 2018 vote by Penn State graduate students *not* to unionize

The other group of educators who have been on the news in the past few weeks have been K-12 educators who have gone on strike in various states, sometimes even in defiance of their unions, to protest low pay and school funding cuts.

These first two articles provide helpful background information to the teacher strikes and actions: Paul Krugman’s op-ed argues that the recent history of tax cuts have had a big impact on teachers’ salaries and benefits, leading us to this present moment where “teachers, the people we count on to prepare our children for the future, are starting to feel like members of the working poor, unable to make ends meet unless they take second jobs.”  This piece by Bryce Covert talks about how over the past decade, teachers have been asked to do more with less, and how this policy has led to the kinds of strikes we are seeing.

Teacher Pay

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Information about the some of the specific teacher strikes:

West Virginia

Oklahoma and Kentucky

Colorado

Arizona

We stand in solidarity with our colleagues in graduate schools and K-12 schools as they organize for change.

 

How now down brown, Take 4: Strategies for change

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We were asked a question about how do we know what strategies for social change are effective and after thinking long and hard about it, the first coherent thought we put together was, “This is such a big, hard question.” There are so many ways to dissect this issue (by strategies, by institutional type, by types of change). The person asking the question was mostly interested in larger, societal change, and not necessarily changes within college campuses or particular institutions so we decided to use this space to think through some of our ideas within that broader framework and offer suggestions for reading and resources about strategies for change.

At the broadest level, when we look at historical social movements, the strategies that seem necessary to make possible change are naming the status quo, interrupting it in visible, audible, material ways, and, to some extent, suggesting possible pathways forward. A lot of times, it’s easy to stop at the naming stage, because we expect that as soon as we name the problem, everyone will get on board with us and brainstorm solutions. But, of course, the status quo is the status quo for a reason: it works, mostly, and for most people. The naming strategy could work for those who benefit from the status quo but are empathetic to those from whom it doesn’t. But that strategy won’t work for those who cannot see or do not care to see the inequities. This is where interrupting the status quo matters because these interruptions make life difficult for those inhabiting and benefitting from the status quo. To be really effective, the interruption has to fit the particular ill being addressed; for example, segregation and policing of public space demands an interruption and eruption onto spaces not thought of as public. Finally, the common critique that is made of social justice movements is that they do not get to that third part–the suggestions of possible ways forward that will lead to substantial changes in the status quo. But, of course, movements often DO have action plans–but they might not be articulated or framed or visible in ways that are legible to those who benefit from the status quo (for example, this critique is leveled at the nascent Black Lives Matter movement, even though there are many concrete policy recommendations made by the group).

With shifts in technology (from broadsides to newspaper to radio to the internet and social media), different ways of gathering support and communicating actions and goals are available. But we’d argue that these changes in technology haven’t shifted the strategies meaningfully. Naming of the ways in which the status quo harms people in our communities still needs to happen publicly. If naming doesn’t receive an institutional response, there still needs to be interruption. Interruption gains strength by numbers. And having suggestions for change allows for the possible imagining of better, more equitable futures.

One great resource to get a sense of the diversity of types of interruptive actions is the Global Nonviolent Action Database at Swarthmore College (shoutout to Anita’s alma mater!) . You can search the database by protest strategy here and in the various cases, you can find out more about how successful the particular method was. It can be a great resource to learn more about the great range of strategies used around the world to try and effect change. As this database shows, there is no ONE strategy that makes sense for all possible types of changes we are trying to effect in society (well, other than the fact all of these are nonviolent forms of protest.)

Neither of us is a scholar of social movements. But we’ve both participated in them and care deeply about ongoing movements…and from that perspective, we’d caution any of us to not attempt (always) to use the idea of “effectiveness” as the only or most important measure of the value and outcome of specific strategies. Sometimes there is a clear line between action and result, but most of the time, there is not. Rather, actions have ripple effects, and those waves often end up shifting values, hopes, and determinations in any number of unpredictable ways, making for circuitous routes back to the centers of power.

We have a few readings/case studies that we hope will also be useful:

Our colleague Dev Gupta (political science) recently published this great overview of the study of social movements.

Sekou Franklin (2014). After the rebellion: Black youth, social movement activism, and the post-civil rights generation.

Contemporary youth activism: Advancing social justice in the United States (2016). Edited by Jerusha Conner and Sonia M. Rosen.

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor (2016). From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation.

 

 

Gender, power, academia

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[Image source: in the same Chronicle section we link to below, there are a number of powerful images.]

In today’s links round up, we wanted to highlight two of the short essays that were featured in the Chronicle of Higher Education recently in a section called “The awakening: Women and power in the academy.” This collection features responses from college presidents and faculty around the themes of women and power in academe.

The first one we want to highlight is called “Power is still too white: All women do not yield power equally” by Keisha N. Blain. Blain, an assistant professor of history at the University of Pittsburg, reminds us that it’s important to keep paying attention to the intersections of race and gender when we have conversations about women in leadership positions, pointing out that often it is White women who have benefitted as opportunities for women have increased in the academy.

The second one we want to highlight is written by Alyson Brickey, entitled “The academy’s pink collar: Adjunct issues are women’s issues.” Brickey, an instructor of English at the University of Winnipeg and the University of Manitoba, points out the important fact that much of the teaching in colleges and universities across the U.S. and Canada is now being done by contingent faculty members and that women make up the majority of those faculty members (53%). She calls on those of us who are permanent faculty to “do the work of holding our institutions to account” and to stand with contingent faculty in their demands for “paid parental leave, better funding packages, quality affordable child care, and comprehensive health benefits.”

Let us know what essays resonated with your experiences in academia, especially as they relate to gender.