Faculty organizing efforts: Reimagining our collective role

Egq1ro4X0AEty81Image source. Please note that the photo is from a satirical site…though it’s not that far off from some safety “solutions” we’ve seen! Image description: lecture hall with a teacher up front and students sitting in individual plastic bubbles.

As we approach the end of summer, we wanted to gather a few stories and links that speak to the importance of faculty organizing amongst themselves and with other workers at their institutions to do the important work of re-imagining these spaces. Institutional shortcomings in many areas, including the limits of faculty and staff involvement in decision-making structures and the limits to institutions’ ability to listen to students and alumni calls for racial justice, have been highlighted starkly both by the challenges due to COVID-19 and by the responses to the ongoing uprisings in response to racist police brutality and violence. Of the many conversations faculty at Carleton have been having in small groups, in ad-hoc faculty meetings, and in various online venues, one has been the potential for having better ways to organize a more united front when it comes to financial and other important decisions at the college. We (Adriana and Anita) have been inspired by our colleagues at other colleges and universities who have organized themselves this summer to push back against their institutions’ financial and pedagogical decisions. We highlight here a few of their efforts. 

This story in Jacobin Magazine, written by Marquette University professors describing a protest by workers and students on the university’s decision to hold face-to-face classes, ends with this stark claim: “And without a faculty union, administrators and trustees are accountable to no one for the damage they’re doing.”

This article by the co-chairs of the Middlebury College chapter of the American Association of University Professors argues that “once-in-a-lifetime crisis requires that we break from the old orthodoxy of austerity and reimagine a university that works for the common good.” The authors delineate three lessons we can learn from the current moment by using “the critical thinking skills and values we champion” by shifting our practices and policies towards building more just institutions. We also want to highlight the helpful document prepared by Middlebury’s AAUP that was endorsed by a majority of their faculty: VALUES & BUDGETARY PRINCIPLES FOR “A FINANCIAL FUTURE FOR ALL OF US.”

Vanderbilt AAUP writes: “By pitting educational mission, public health and faculty governance against one another, the administration jeopardizes the safety of our community. This approach compromises the ability of faculty, students and staff to teach, learn and work effectively.”

Please share with us stories you’ve read about faculty / university workers as a whole organizing in order to make claims on their institutions and build better futures. We’re ready to be further inspired!

 

Imagine Ourselves Out of Existence

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Note: We will be working on a series of posts centered around “changing our imaginations” about education, colleges, and all the things that the two of us love to think and write about, as inspired by Kandace Montgomery, a Minneapolis-based organizer for Black Visions Collective who, talking in particular about abolishing the police, said, “They’ve ruined our imagination and told us that policing is the issue [solution]. We need to change our imagination. We have to change what’s possible.”

We wanted to build on our last post which focused mainly on the radical possibilities of curricular change that responds to the current moment. This post comes out of the many conversations we’ve had with several friends (thank you Meredith, Thabiti, Wendy, Pao, Todd)  and out of what we’ve been learning from the many BIPOC intellectuals and activists we follow on social media. We’re grateful to all of them for encouraging and allowing us to dream big about what’s possible if we are willing to change our imaginations.

In this post, we want to talk about how one part of changing our imaginations is shifting our listening practices and being open to fundamentally shifting our routines as institutions, even routine practices that we see as “good” and perhaps even contributing to lessening inequities on our campuses. Because reimagining and rebuilding requires being able to see that the normal that we had before the pandemic and the racial justice uprisings did not actually work for everyone. It just worked for enough of us that we were able to believe and trust that it worked for all. What we need to do now instead is to listen differently to the voices of those for whom the old normal did not work, rather than thinking that we just need more of the same normal. As Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor puts it, the pandemic “is a radicalizing factor because conditions that have been so dire, now combined with the revolts in the street, might lead one to believe that not only is society unraveling, but it might cause you to question what foundation it was built upon in the first place.” 

What we mean by “more of the same normal” is, for example, when students complain about feeling marginalized because of their class status on Carleton’s campus, we tend to imagine that we can fix it simply by giving students more financial aid, instead of thinking about the fundamental claim they’re making about Carleton’s status as an elite school in relation to the economic inequities in U.S. society. The problem with this easy fix is that those in power can then sit back and imagine that their job is done, while continuing to maintain the structures that keep those students feeling marginalized. What would it mean instead if, as we listen to their needs and worries, we introduce them to classes that tackle racial capitalism and the histories of working class movements? What if we invite them to see how their experience at Carleton is not unique and is, in fact, echoed at elite colleges across the nation? (See, for example, the myriad Instagram accounts started by Black students in predominantly white colleges and high schools.) By listening differently to our students who feel marginalized, we might also be able to see them as they are and their experiences as they are, rather than as who we imagine them to be and who the college wants to mold them into.  

Fixing it through financial aid is how we imagine our mission currently–to be an engine of opportunity for individual students. But what might the college look like instead if we imagined ourselves as an engine for societal transformation? 

What if all of us and all of our institutions took seriously that no individual action or effort “can mitigate 400 years of racial plundering” in this country, as Nikole Hannah-Jones says in her recent article about reparations? What if Carleton and other institutions took seriously that their wealth and their ability to provide financial aid is inextricably linked to these 400 years of racial plundering? 

Ultimately, we don’t have all the answers, and, in one blog post, could never gather all possible answers out there together. Our goal is to simply underline how vital it is to listen to the voices, experiences, communities of our students who are marginalized without assuming that we already know what to do to respond to them. How might their dreams for a different future help us reimagine our future, even if that future is one where places like Carleton don’t exist?

Perhaps it is our job at this moment to imagine ourselves out of existence.

P.S. We loved this article by poet Dionne Brand about this notion of the “normal” so do check it out if you haven’t come across it yet.

Shout out (and congrats!) to the Yale Ethnic, Race, and Migration studies faculty

Image source. Stanford students striking in 1989 to call for Ethnic Studies programs. Ask Adriana about her role in it if you know her IRL!

In April this year, 13 faculty with appointments in Yale University’s Ethnic, Race & Migration studies program withdrew their labor from the program. These faculty, who represented 13 out of 19 faculty associated with the program, made clear that their decision came after years of trying to get the Yale administration to support the program more robustly. All 13 faculty hold positions in other departments and were doing the work of the program without any pay or recognition. They argued that while such programs face challenges in most institutions for reasons that include racism, the difference at Yale was the vast amount of resources that Yale has at its disposal, with its $29.4 billion endowment.  We wanted to highlight this move by Yale faculty as we appreciate deeply this collective action of the Yale faculty to push their administration to make true commitment to a program that has enormous intellectual, social, and political value at Yale and to many students and faculty elsewhere, especially those of color.

Earlier this month, the faculty announced that they were recommitting to the program, following Yale administration’s move to provide concrete support to the program’s status and permanence on campus by allocating five faculty positions to the program.

Congratulations to the Yale faculty and students on their accomplishment!

Shout Out to the Black Latinas Know Collective

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On April 30, the Black Latinas Know Collective emerged publically into the world through a tweet:

Proclaiming that Latinx Studies is nothing without Black Latina experiences, their website offers an inspiring and challenging manifesto, a collective of impressive scholars in a range of fields, and a blog. When they burst into the world on twitter, they invited people to retweet their favorite lines from the manifesto, and wow, did people respond!

We’re both delighted to be able to signal boost the BLKC and the amazing work they’re doing.

And a couple more places to learn more about AfroLatinidad:

Racially charged words in the classroom

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In this blog post, we want to signal boost a podcast episode where Professor Koritha Mitchell (Ohio State University) talks about her approach to racial and other identity-based slurs that appear in the materials she teaches in her courses. She discusses her policy of developing a class “covenant” that expressly forbids students from using the N-word or other slurs. She talks about how having a clear policy allows her and her students to read parts of texts where slurs are used without avoiding those passages and most importantly, she argues that not saying the slurs do not prevent the students from being able to analyze the texts deeply and critically. In fact, she posits (and her students featured in the podcast affirm) that such a policy allows for deeper engagement because students are not worried about how to approach these texts. Her approach allows us (as teachers) to consider more carefully our learning goals and how the diversity of student identities, experiences, and backgrounds in our classrooms changes how we reach those goals.

She repeats a phrase often in her explanation of why White teachers, in particular, are not more thoughtful about how they approach this issue, especially as it might impact Black students and other students of color: “White people are not being special or unique when they hold themselves to incredibly low standards in their interactions with people who are not White.” She repeats this idea of “low expectations” a few times, including how such low expectations apply to people of all kinds of majority identities (including race, gender, and sexuality). She also explains how the everyday violence of our institutions become normalized in moments where racial slurs are read or used in classrooms and workplaces: “When institutions are literally built on the denigrating and diminishing people of color, White people do not have to seem aggressive in order to do great violence. Denigrating and diminishing people of color might be said to grease the wheels that make our institutions and our country function.”

In the episode, Professor Mitchell starts by describing her experiences both with her students and with colleagues around the use of the N-word in classrooms and at her workplace, which, as she importantly points out, includes the classroom. As she notes, she has the right to expect a different standard of conduct in her workplace and for her students to have a different standard of conduct in their learning environment than at a hip hop concert or out on the streets. She then discusses specific passages from Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and James Baldwin’s essay “Notes of a Native son,” which include the N-word and another racial slur, and how her policy allows students to read these passages without re-creating the violence of such words by speaking them and to dig deep into the meaning of those words.

The latter part of the episode features a thoughtful discussion among three of her students who talk about their experiences with the policy and the impact it had on their learning experiences in the classroom.

We recommend a listen whether or not you’re teaching texts with the N-word or other racial slurs. We found Professor Mitchell’s approach and her explanations useful, especially her reminders about how everyday experiences in White institutions can feel violent to students and faculty of color.

Finally, a shout out to our awesome colleague and friend, Marty Baylor, for telling us about the podcast!

When words matter

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Last week, The New York Times reported that the Department of Health and Human Services is leading an effort to have government agencies “adopt an explicit and uniform definition of gender as determined on a biological basis that is clear, grounded in science, objective and administrable.’”

While these efforts have not yet yielded any attempts at legislation or new policies, some colleges and universities have already issued statements emphasizing their support for their transgender students, faculty, and staff. We wanted to collect here some of these statements–and we’d love for you all to post statements from your institutions if any. While it’s important that colleges and universities take concrete steps to make their spaces truly inclusive for people of all genders, words can and do matter in such moments. In making these statements, we think that these institutions are recognizing the particular vulnerability of these communities under the current government, even before this move. Indeed, in making these statements, educational institutions are aligning themselves with trans, intersex, and gender-expansive individuals, communities, and organizations who have been responding to this latest assault not just with fear and concern but also with defiance and resistance. For example, trans activists organized a “visibility event” this past week in the Twin Cities where they asked allies to literally stand with them as they/we lined up for 40 blocks along a central street in the cities. We hope that these statements serve as an inspiration and model to other colleges and universities that have yet to reaffirm their support for truly gender inclusive campuses, and remember–please post other statements you know of in the comments!

Statement by faculty at University of Massachusetts Amherst College of Education

Statement by President of Reed College, Hugh Porter

Statement by President of Amherst College, Dr. Biddy Martin

Response by administrators at Stanford University (yay, Adriana’s alma mater!)

Statement by President and top-level administrators at Brandeis University

Statement by Dean of Penn State College of the Liberal Arts, Susan Welch

Statement by Interim Chancellor of UMass Boston, Katherine Newman

Statement by gender, women, and sexuality studies department at University of Minnesota

 

The “problem” student/The student “problem”: Links round up

Image: Hopkins High School students staging a sit-in for sexual violence victims during the Senate confirmation hearings for Judge Kavanaugh. (Image source)

As we’re settling into the fall term, we’ve been reading a new crop of articles talking about the “problem” of this generation of students on campuses and campus climate. Today, we wanted to provide links to two articles we’ve read in the past month on this topic. Of course, if you want to check out some of our thoughts on this topic, please see this previous blog post.

Sara Ahmed, one of our favorite thinkers on institutional privilege and power, argues in her new piece that we need to pay attention to the connections among

a constellation of related figures: the consuming student, the censoring student, the over-sensitive student, and the complaining student. By considering how these figures are related we can explore connections that are being made through them, connections between, for example, neoliberalism in higher education, a concern with safe spaces, and the struggle against sexual harassment. These connections are being made without being explicitly articulated.  We need to make these connections explicit in order to challenge them. This is what “against students” is really about.

While her essay looks generally at how students who “complain” are talked about, she focuses specifically on how students who bring up complaints of sexual harassment are viewed and treated. She writes about the pervasive silencing of students:

I have been in touch with students from many different universities who have made complaints – or tried to make complaints – about sexual harassment as well as other forms of bullying. I have learned of the myriad ways in which students are silenced. Some students are dissuaded from proceeding to formal complaints. They are told that to complain would damage their own reputation, or undermine their chances of progression; or that to complain would damage the reputation of the member of staff concerned (and if they do proceed with complaints they are often publicly criticized as damaging the reputation of the member of staff); or that it would damage the reputation of departments in which they are based (with a general implication being: to complain is to be ungrateful). Students have reported how their complaints are “sat on,” how they have to testify again and again; or how they are doubted and ridiculed by those they go to for advice and support.

The second article is a review of a book by the authors who wrote a well-cited and circulated article entitled “The Coddling of the American Mind.” In the review of these authors’ new book with the same title as the article,  Moira Weigel argues,

The core irony of The Coddling of the American Mind is that, by opposing identity politics, its authors try to consolidate an identity that does not have to see itself as such. Enjoying the luxury of living free from discrimination and domination, they therefore insist that the crises moving young people to action are all in their heads. Imagine thinking that racism and sexism were just bad ideas that a good debate could conquer!

We’d love to hear your ideas and questions on this topic–please comment on the blog site or if you have a question, you can send them our way here.

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.

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.

 

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.