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 3: Social justice on campus

In today’s post, we take on a question sent to us by a Carleton alum: “How do you navigate higher education institutions and be committed to social justice when these spaces are often antithetical to social justice?”

Our first reaction to this question was “Higher education institutions in the U.S. are often spaces that are antithetical to social justice because U.S. society is often a space that’s antithetical to social justice!” A long line of critical social theorists, including Samuel Bowles & Herbert Gintis and Pierre Bourdieu & Jean Claude Passeron have argued that educational institutions reflect and reinforce societal inequities, especially along socioeconomic lines. Carleton College and other higher educational institutions are no exception.

There is, however, an additional factor that might make higher education institutions seem particularly antithetical to social justice and we think it might be due to what Angela P. Harris and Carmen G. González describe as “the contradictory culture of academia.” As they write in the introduction to one of our favorite books about higher education, Presumed Incompetent, “On the one hand, the university champions meritocracy, encourages free expression and the search for truth, and prizes the creation of neutral and objective knowledge for the better of society–values that are supposed to make race and gender identities irrelevant. On the other hand, women of color too frequently find themselves ‘presumed incompetent’ as scholars, teachers, and participants in academic governance” (p.1). Another contradiction might be the lofty rhetoric of diversity and inclusion that is commonplace these days in colleges & universities that sit alongside ongoing inequities and differences between the experiences of marginalized students, faculty and staff and those of race, class and gender privileged students, faculty, and staff. We’ve written in an earlier post, for example, about how our identities as women of color are valued and appreciated as bringing diversity of representation to the college but the diversity of ideas and experiences we bring and champion often is not welcome.

Now we get to the hard part of your question: how do we stay committed to social justice and remain part of these institutions?

First, while our commitment to working towards more socially just schools and societies remain steadfast, we know that we do not always live out these commitments. Often, we fail to speak up and act in ways that align with our principles for many reasons, including fear, fatigue, and ignorance. These moments of failure lead us to develop a sense of patience and generosity–we understand that people and institutions fail in living out their commitments to social justice, as we do.

Second, the key difference between being a student at a small, residential college and being an employee at such a place is that while work is a part, an important part, of our lives, we do have lives outside of the campus! We do not have to eat, live with and hang out with our colleagues in the way that students have to eat, live with, and hang out with fellow students. We get to create communities outside of work that sustain us in the ways that we need. We get to take advantage of being in or close to the Twin Cities with their diverse racial and immigrant communities. We get to be part of a community of women of color academics, for example, in the Twin Cities who provide support and critical perspective on our work lives.

Third, working at an academic institution differs from the student experience in another way: temporality. We are here for the long haul (whether at one particular institution or in the larger apparatus of academia). That perspective means that we can see and feel the change that does happen, and we can participate in small or significant ways in its propulsion. For example, academic freedom means that we can generally teach what and how we want. Both of us see our classes as spaces of interruption that ask students to examine the way systems, institutions, and even nations do their work; we ask them to be willing to see not just the aspirations, but the costs involved. Teaching often offers moments of joy as students start to see structure and can then imagine better possible futures. For Anita, getting tenure has meant that she can pursue more participatory and collaborative research like her recent project working with five Carleton students on student experiences in STEM departments. Honestly, students–their willingness to learn; their excitement to teach us; their energy and curiosity; their diverse range of experiences–are a big part of what helps us stay in higher education.  

Finally, our persistence in the institution leads us to invest in changing it in ways that are often  invisible to students. We sit on committees, participate in tenure reviews, read and review manuscripts by colleagues, help lead national conferences, get involved in reading groups, try out new ways of learning and teaching, and develop programs that matter to us (like Critical Conversations at Carleton). In other words, we contribute to the workings of the institution. Sometimes that’s frustrating, when the wheels are turning in ways that we cannot stop or shift, but mostly it’s empowering, because we have chances to question the status quo and contribute to change.

When it comes down to it, we are both educators at heart. What we mean by that is that we believe in change. If we didn’t believe that individuals could grow or that committees could rethink their methods or that institutions could reassess their systems, then we would not be here. (Hmm, what else do you all think we would be doing if we weren’t teachers?) Our honest and deep belief in change keeps us going even when we get frustrated by these spaces that often seems antithetical to our commitments to social justice. In other words, what keeps us going is being together in the struggle …and having matching winter hats! 😉

Gender Inclusivity in the Classroom, part II

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(Image credit: GSC Presentation at the Carleton LTC, “Making Class Welcoming for Trans* and Gender Variant Students,” Oct 29 2015)

See part one for a discussion of gender inclusivity as we think through gender pronouns and their relationship to gender expression and identity. We left off talking about what might make folx uncomfortable with pronoun discussions; here we continue our conversation with Tegra Straight thinking about how these interactions might play out in the classroom.

Tegra: One of your questions for me was whether asking for pronouns allows people to be gender fluid in their identities. I think it does as long as you allow people to change their pronouns during the term.

AC: And how do you do that? Do you say it every class–everyone say your gender pronouns?

T: Most of the students I’ve met who are comfortable in their fluidity and talk about it say, “I use she/her/they/them” or “I use different gender pronouns depending on how I’m feeling. Today I’m using…and I’ll let you know if that changes.”

AC: Do I check in again sometime during the term or say something at the beginning of the term?

T: I think that you might, when doing the introductions, just say something like, “I understand this is what it is today. If we need to check in again, shoot me an email, and we can do another round of intros in case something has changed for someone.” I think that is completely appropriate.

AC: The first time I did it in my classes, I was really uncomfortable just because I had never done it before. But I think the students were totally cool with it and they did not bat an eye. I think these were all students who had gone through the orientation where they had talked about gender pronouns. They seemed perfectly fine sharing their pronouns.

T: I think proportionally at this point, more faculty and staff are uncomfortable sharing than are students. But even I can feel uncomfortable with faculty and staff because it can feel uncomfortable if I say my pronouns and no one else does. I’ve been doing this for a while and I can still feel uncomfortable doing it, which doesn’t mean that I don’t think it shouldn’t done. If someone introduces themselves in a way that I think is problematic, I don’t know that I’d correct them.

AE: Your discomfort seems like it’s about the power dynamics of the moment.

T: I think that’s an issue that the faculty talk about when they talk about it being an invasion of privacy. Do you have power in this moment to force students to come out in ways they are not ready for? I would probably argue no, because a student can share whatever pronoun they want and, again, if that changes for them, you can just remind them to let you know. I think students will say whatever pronouns they are comfortable saying as long as we stop attaching a gender identity to the pronouns.

AC: And that’s really hard.

T: I still do it. I have to consciously un-do it as I get to know people.

AC: Part of what the students want when they’re asking us to ask about pronouns is to talk about the non-obviousness of gender identity. The idea is that we think that gender is obvious: we see you wearing a dress and we think that you are a “she”, but that’s not necessarily true.

T: We have a student who dresses fem all the time, in a skirt, and use ‘they/them” pronouns. If they weren’t comfortable introducing their pronouns and even when they do, they probably get misgendered a lot on campus.

AC: The other question that came up…there’s a worry that as faculty that we’re going to do it wrong and our students are going to hate us because we did it wrong. So we might as well not do it. For example, when I was at the Rainbow Retreat last winter, a student talked about how a professor asked students to introduce their pronouns but said, “Tell us your pronouns like he or she” and the student was critical that the professor ended up sticking with the gender binary. And my perspective was like, “Well, they’re trying.” But I also understand the student’s perspective: “You’re basically ruining the whole point.”

T: It really depends on the student and on the day. Sometimes a student will be talking about a class and say, “You know they really messed up on this but at least they tried.” And Rainbow Retreat tends to be a time when people come to vent and just let go.

AC: Sure. That’s fair enough.

T: So that’s some of what it is. And sometimes people do get upset. I think that, ideally, faculty sometimes need to admit that they can learn from students.

AC: I learned about the term “cis-gender” from one of my students about five years ago. I teach about gender and education, and they were, like, “Hey, do you know this term?” and I’m like, “No!” [laughter] They pointed me to Julia Serano’s work, which is awesome.

AE: I had a student who came to me about three or four years ago and told me about a club she was starting for asexual students on campus and that was the first time I had heard the term.

AC: Really?

AE: I think I had heard of it, but I didn’t understand it. So she told me about her experience and why she was gathering a group.

AC: You’d never heard the term “asexual” before then?

AE: Not in the way she was using it, I should say. I thought about it as someone who doesn’t want to have sex. And the way it’s coming up now is that it’s a sexual identity. You’re straight, you’re queer, you’re asexual. Which means that maybe you’ll have sex but it’s not the primary way you want to have relationships.

T: That community includes folx who identify as asexual and as aromantic so it complicates it even further for people who might be sexual but don’t hold romantic attractions. So there’s a ton of identities within that community.

AC: Right. The term that students want to use on campus is LGBTQA+ with the A standing for asexual and aromantic and the + standing for other marginalized gender and sexual identities. That seems like a really broad term.

T: Speaking particularly of the Carleton context, we use that acronym and don’t include intersex, for example, because we don’t have any resources and we don’t do any programming around intersex identities. If students wanted us to do more, we’d look into it. If you look at Carleton’s campus, I don’t think it’s difficult in general to be lesbian or gay or queer. I think it can be more difficult if you are bisexual or poly or more fluid in who you are attracted to.  There’s a lot of lack of knowledge and discomfort around ACE identities trans and non-binary identities. Particularly, I think QTPOC as an intersectional

AE: …which is the best acronym ever!

T: They call themselves “QTs.” [Laughter]  So that’s been the focus of our office.  All of our programming is inclusive of all of the acronym but we have tried to decenter White gay and lesbian experiences.

AC: I’m trying to figure out, we have this very specific term we use at Carleton and I understand that’s the one that students want to use, but does that reflect larger realities, realities outside of Carleton?

T: I think it reflects the movement right now. Our acronym is shorter than the movement. A lot of people include intersex, two spirit, same gender loving…if you’re looking a place that’s just using LGBT, they’re probably not focusing on issues that are important to students at this time.

AC: If we think about history, politics and law and legislation, there have been particular ways in which gay, lesbian, and bisexual folks and trans and gender non-binary folks have been particularly targeted and not supported by our society. Are there similar histories of oppression for the other marginalized sexual and gender identities? For example, there are Christian students on campus who feel marginalized on campus. But in broader American society, Christianity is the dominant religion of the United States and there isn’t a similar marginalization there. I’m trying to keep in mind structures of power in society…but by making it such a large inclusive group, are we doing the students a disservice in not teaching them how power and privilege will play out when they get out of Carleton? And/or are we giving them a false sense of safety and inclusiveness that may not exist when they get out into the work world?

T:  I struggle with the notion that by creating a safe space on campus, we’re not preparing students for “the real world.” Our students work in the real world. They have summer jobs, some of them need to have jobs during breaks. Usually these are marginalized students, queer and low-income;  these are students who are already very familiar with the “real world.” I think that, particularly if we are focused on trans, non-binary, QTPOC and ACE identities, the role of a four year college is to provide time to be fully supported, time to question, to figure some stuff out, so that when you graduate, you have an even higher level of resiliency to work with. So when you go out and are in the “real world,” you’re going to be able to deal with all the shit you’re gonna encounter. Just because the real world sucks doesn’t mean that we should treat them any worse on campus! They are already used to that, particularly these days. A lot of older folks have this narrative of not understanding your sexuality or gender identity till later on in life. A lot of students have figured out their identities in high school before coming to Carleton and they’ve already dealt with a lot of shit from family, friends, systems. I think our ability to create community and a safe space allows them to process through some of that pain or to get to understand other people’s intersections of oppression. Me as a middle-class, White gay person can learn something from interacting with a lower-income QTPOC person and recognize that I still have a lot of privilege and there are things I can do to make sure that others in my community experience less oppression than they currently do.

AC: That makes sense.

T: It hurts our office because we have to be over-programmed all the time. Laura and I have to work lots of weekends and evenings but I think our office is seen as one of the more progressive spaces on campus so students will come to us if they want to do something more progressive.

AC: I think that’s a shift. When I got here, it seemed like the GSC was a space that was mostly White.

T: Yeah, when I got here, it was White. Particularly white queer women. Within the last three years, we’ve really seen change. It’s partly willingness of my part and Laura’s part to constantly take on criticism and we have a really good working relationship with QTPOC and trying to listen to their needs and what they need from our office. Also, just being really intentional about hiring a staff that’s representative of the Carleton community and of the queer community in particular. Campus is a pretty supportive space. I think a lot of students have a lot that they’re involved in. They feel welcomed but the GSC might not be their primary source of support. For others, it is.

AC: Just to wrap up, what might be three things students want faculty to know to make classrooms a more inclusive space?

T: Obviously, we’ve said pronouns are a pretty big deal. Also, we still have students who say faculty call out the wrong names.

AC: Hopefully that’s been fixed. [Note: currently at Carleton, once on campus, students can enter the name they want to be called into the database so that when a faculty prints out a class roster, they should have those names.]

T: I’ve heard of faculty expecting the students to represent their identity. What happens if you only have one student with a particular identity and it’s the focus of discussion in class? There needs to be better understanding of how to navigate that, making space for that student to share but not making their experience the focal point of the lesson. The last thing would be being aware of mental health issues, and that depression and anxiety are real things that make it impossible to function at a Carleton level/pace. I don’t think it’s just faculty who need to be aware, but something the whole campus has to tackle.

 

Inspirations/Resources

Adrienne Rich, “Compulsory Heterosexuality,” 1986.

Julia Serano, Whipping girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity, 2007

Resources at Carleton

GSC: Resources for Transgender and Gender Non-binary Students

GSC: Inclusive Classroom

Vanderbilt Center for Teaching resource: https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/teaching-beyond-the-gender-binary-in-the-university-classroom/

Gender Inclusivity in the Classroom

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(Photo credit)

Note: In the spirit of collaboration and learning, this post is the first in a series (we hope!) of conversations we will have with cool colleagues and friends about various classroom and campus topics. All conversations are edited for readable clarity and relative concision.

This is the first part of a conversation we had with Tegra Straight, the Assistant Director of the Gender and Sexuality Center at Carleton College.

AE: We’re drinking! [glasses clink]

Tegra: Let’s get that on tape.

AC: We’re really excited to talk to you. I was thinking about this topic in part because the faculty retreat this year had ‘diversity training…’ as a theme and one of the things we talked about was gender pronouns.

AE: Yeah, and it’s clearly not comfortable yet for everyone. I remember a small group meeting last year when the facilitator joked, “introduce yourself and include whatever you need to include,” but didn’t use pronouns. And, going around the room, no one else did until a faculty member affiliated with Women and Gender Studies used pronouns. A few folks later, another WGST prof did.Then me. Out of the 16 or so people, only we three people did it.

T: You see the same thing in Student Life. The GSC staff, maybe a couple of the other identity-based offices, if they remember, but hardly ever other offices.

AC: That’s why we want to talk about it. The first time I remember being asked to say my pronouns was about four years ago at a training at Carleton. My answer then was “she/her but I don’t really care.” I wasn’t being facetious, and I think that’s actually true for me. I’ve been called “sir” before. My story from Japan is that some woman [Note: Anita is totally assuming this person’s gender!!!!] came up to me and said, “Are you a boy or a girl?” in Japanese. I have stories like that but for me, they haven’t been traumatizing events. It’s strange but it doesn’t bother me when people misgender me. It’s not that I don’t think my gender isn’t important… I don’t know. That’s just been my experience. Having read this piece on asking for gender pronouns in the classroom, does asking for gender mean assuming that gender is important for people in a particular kind of way? Also for students for whom gender might be more fluid, are we asking them to choose something? Those are some of the questions we’ve been thinking about.

AE: The larger issue is this kind of discomfort that some faculty seem to feel around the naming of pronouns…it feels…what’s that word?

AC: Like it’s violating people’s privacy.

AE: Yes, that’s it.

AC: But before we get into this, we’d like to steal a question that our favorite podcasters ask…

AE: If this were a podcast, it would be organized much better. People would be like, “Could you two stop talking? You have a guest!”

AC: Shut up!

T: It’s all good. It’s not a podcast. [Note from editors: T finally gets a word in edgewise. Sorry, Tegra!]

AC: So what do you do and why?

T: What do I do? I’m the assistant director of the Gender & Sexuality Center. That’s my professional life. Non-professionally, I do a lot of random things. I like to garden. Recently, I’ve gotten into petsitting, a way to make some money and have dogs in my life. Some community stuff but not a ton. Because my job is ridiculously intense and we have a lot of evening and weekend hours. In that job, primarily, Laura [Haave, the director] and I take a co-[director] approach to a lot of things. A lot of the events coming from our office, I or Laura are responsible for all of the logistical details. Brainstorming with students, publicity, advertising, speaker contracts, mostly I do all that. I supervise the student workers. I oversee the two [residential] houses affiliated with our office. I’m also an advisor, have five sophomore that I advise. I’m the co-chair of the Restorative Justice committee and one of sexual misconduct support advisors. That’s kind of my day to day.

AC: And why do you do what you do?

T: I feel like I just fell into the “gay for pay” space [laughter]. I’ve also always related well to college-aged students, young adults. At Carleton, it’s a specific age range of college students, but anywhere else, that could be from 18 to whatever. I’m just a very relatable person. When I was in undergrad and was pre-med, like half the people in higher ed who are first gen students [term used for students who are the first in their families to attend college], I recognized that bio and pre-med wasn’t where I wanted to go. I realized that I really enjoyed helping out students figure out the process of higher ed. I worked a lot in both housing and admissions during undergrad. That just flowed into grad school.

AE: What’s the degree title?

T: Depending on where you go, the titles are different. Mine is higher education administration with a specialization in student affairs…Our program had more of a research focus…but we didn’t do any counseling. I think we all should [have some training in counseling] because it’s a part of the work that we all do. Particularly if you’re doing transformative advising on the faculty side, all of that is about their non-academic selves, which you can’t split from their academic selves. But all of the conversations I have with my advisees are all about their lives. Maybe that’s because that’s the approach I take. I do what I do because I like people, I like to talk to people, and I love to learn new things and I constantly do that at the GSC.

AE: What I love about what you just said is that I feel like I would say the same thing. And yet there’s two very different places where we ended up…there’s a million different places where you can end up where it’s basically, “I love people. I love learning different things.” Which is very cool.

AC: I don’t really love people.

AE: No, you do not. [laughter]

AC: But I do like the learning and I like that people learn. Tegra, how have you changed because of your work at the GSC?

T: Since coming to Carleton, probably learning more about oppression and social justice, and in particular, joining the queer community because that’s been in recent history, has taught me the importance of personal experiences and the personal connection to what identity labels mean. All that has shifted my hard T to somewhere in the middle. Personal experience matters so much in the work that I do, it’s become a constant.

AE: Thinking about identity and labels, and how we work to help students figure out how to name themselves, these things are related to the issue of pronouns and the work that y’all [GSC staff] have chosen to do. Clearly you’re all movers and shakers on this issue on campus. And those buttons you put out two years ago [Tegra: and last year], those are amazing. The students all get it. The first and second year students all have theirs. So why? Why did you decide as the GSC to do this?

T: A lot of the work that we do reflects what our students want to see. We try to hire a really diverse staff, in terms of race, gender, across identities. We try to hire students who represent a lot of aspects of Carleton’s LGBT community. Also we connect with our student groups. We hear from them what they are interested in, what do they need to feel safer or more comfortable at Carleton. Pronouns and, just, more intentional work on the classroom space becoming more inclusive and welcoming for trans and gender non-binary students became the biggest call. Carleton, in particular, has a high number of gender non-binary students. Those experiences can be confusing because the narrative across media is about trans people, particularly White trans women. So non-binary people aren’t really represented in media and you don’t read about them.

AE: Can we clarify? What do we mean when we say “non-binary” students? What are the steps they’re taking that helps them see that identity as possible and what do you all offer them?

T: I don’t know that there’s anything that we offer them other than a safe space to question their gender and talk about the labels they want to use or if they want to use labels. A lot of students are coming into Carleton with that already. I think social media has become a space to find communities around a lot of different identities. We have a lot of students coming to Carleton as non-binary. It’s about processing through what they’re feeling, their internal selves, what they’re feeling about their bodies, what feel comfortable for them as they get dressed in the morning. Does that include certain things, does it not include certain things? I think non-binary looks different for a lot of people. Some students dress in masculine ways but identify as non-binary. Some people are more fluid about the masculinity and femininity that they express. Some people are more androgynous and will mix it up at the same time. It means different things to different people which is where that individual experience and definition becomes really important.

AC: Maybe this is a basic question. How’s that different from trans identities and experiences?

T: For me, and this is not necessarily the perspective of the GSC, for me personally, trans usually has some type of more solidified end point. You were assigned woman at birth and you are a man. So you might identify as a transman or trans as an umbrella term. Whatever identity you were assigned to doesn’t fit your current narrative. You self-identify in ways that are different from what you were first assigned. Gender non-binary is called different things in different places—gender non-conforming is another way that’s more commonly referred to in academic or higher ed spaces. We use “non-binary” here because that’s how our students identify. Regardless of what you were assigned at birth, you don’t feel like you fit with any gender. Or you feel like you can go back and forth among genders. Agender is similar. You are a person with gender that can be expressed in many ways.

AE: I think my question is going to show my age…one of the things we talked about in the late 80s around lesbianisms, we wouldn’t have called it queerness exactly, then… One of those ideas back then was that you chose to be queer as a political claim against heteronormativity. For students who identify as gender non-binary, how much of it is a choice or how much of it is about seeing identities that are not them? Or how do we separate out those things?

T: Personally, I could identify as lesbian or queer, but I chose queer because of the ideology that it’s associated with in a way that lesbian isn’t. I don’t think that a non-binary identity is political in that sense. I do think that, because society has a strict definition of what it means to be masculine or feminine that’s usually associated with women and men, this other way of being has been created for people who feel like their way of being doesn’t fit society’s expectations of how you should express your gender or your sex. I think in some ways a lot of the language in the queer community is a response to the rigidity of society and how we have created constructs around gender. Kind of what you [Anita] were saying before about being misgendered as a woman because of masculine presentation, it surprises me when it happens to me because, in my eyes, I can be a woman and be super masculine. That’s not a contradiction. I want to be pregnant, I want to be a mother, and I want to be masculine, and that’s what comfortable for me.  But for society, that’s constantly a double take that you have to do. I always wonder, if the gender roles didn’t exist in society, would we still have the identity labels that we do? Would you have gender non-binary folks if they could express their gender in any way they want and society didn’t care? I don’t know.

AE: And if maternity or paternity weren’t associated with any particular kind of gender expression.

T: I do think that trans might always exist–discomfort with a particular body that you have. That could exist regardless. Identities that are based on gender identity and expression where you don’t have discomfort with your physical body that you have…

AC: I guess the pushback would be that how is that different from saying that we should be colorblind? Is the argument about being genderblind the same?

T: I think it’s different if being colorblind or genderblind is ignoring the differences that exist that are organized around a person’s gender or race, versus validating each person’s expression of gender or race. When Laura and I had a conversation, we discussed your question of what’s the difference between being gender neutral and gender inclusive? Gender neutral to me is almost being colorblind. The author in this article suggests that everyone just use “they/them” pronouns. Sure, that gets around the discomfort of cis-students having to hear pronouns that they weren’t expecting but that doesn’t get at the root of the transphobia that makes those students uncomfortable at the moment. I think it’s better to be gender inclusive where you’re talking with your students about why they’re having the reactions they’re having and wanting to honor the pronouns that people want to use in that space, rather than just having a blanket statement about using “they/them” pronouns for everyone and maybe misgendering everyone at that point…especially if they all agree as a group, maybe. But just to prescribe it seems to be like a colorblind approach.

AE: I love how you put this. Part of being gender inclusive is getting at why this might be uncomfortable, and getting at the root of this discomfort. I’m imagining doing that in my class, I’m not having trouble imagining having that discussion but what about for faculty who teach in fields where all they have time and space for is having students say their gender pronouns during the introductions. Is it still worthwhile doing even if there isn’t a chance to have a follow-up conversation to help students understand why you’re doing what you’re doing?

T: I would say from feedback we’ve gotten from students it’s always better to do it. All of the students I’ve talked to on campus, the GDG [gender discussion group on campus] wanted faculty to introduce the pronouns, recognize and use the pronouns that the students want to use. If as a faculty member you’re uncomfortable doing that, that’s what our space [GSC] is for. Come in and have a conversation with me or Laura about how do i make this more comfortable? Or if someone says I use “real boy” pronouns–

AC: [interrupting] What is that?

T: Real boy. Like when you said, “I use she/her but I don’t really care.” For some people, that means you can use whatever and I don’t really care. For others, it’s like you’re being kind of an ass saying that. Some people might say “I use men pronouns.” And then I would ask, “what does that mean for you?” Sometimes it’s good to ask a question, sometimes you just let it go.

AC: Also, I assume as a student, most of the  time you let it go if a professor says that in class.

T: For me, it even depends on what group of students I’m with…an example, the RAs do a resource rotation to get to know the various office. An RA came to GSC we do introductions, and the RA said I use male pronouns. I asked, “What do you mean by that? Men can use any pronouns and that why we do the introduction with pronouns. What you look like doesn’t necessarily relate to pronouns.” So if the point of that circle wasn’t for me to get them to understand what we do and the language around pronouns, I maybe wouldn’t have pushed, depending on what the group and how comfortable I am. If someone says something that’s blatantly problematic, I would say something…

AE: No matter what.

AC: What I got from the LTC presentation was that you ask students to share pronouns among other things during introductions but if a student doesn’t share, I should just let it go. I feel like as an instructor, I always have to reveal my gender pronouns, I have to role model, I feel like I don’t have that choice that our students do. Or at least I hope that how students see it because I don’t want them to feel uncomfortable doing it. Maybe that’s some of my resistance or maybe that’s just my cis-privilege. And I need to get over it.

T: As a faculty member if you’re uncomfortable disclosing your gender pronouns, you can just use your name. “You can just refer to me as ‘Anita’ in this class.”

AE: It is really funny to me, though, about the way people talk about the discomfort, that it’s about this recognition that they’re tracking something, that they are cisgender. Oh, you can call me “she,”  and it’s not a surprise.

AC: But that’s the problem, I could look feminine and not use she/her pronouns.

T: I feel like the discomfort comes because we naturally assign identity labels to pronouns when we hear them. If I hear someone who I perceive as using “she/her” pronouns say they use “she/her” pronouns, okay, I’m going to assign a cis-identity to them, if someone looks masculine and uses “he/him” pronouns, I’m going to assign a cis-identity to them, if they use “they/them” I might assign them as gender non-binary or agender o trans. The problem is that we need to get faculty and people in general to stop associating a gender identity with the pronouns that people use. Particularly for people who are fluid. Pronouns can mean any number of things. They woke up today and that’s the pronoun they wanted to use.

Next blog post: we continue the conversation with Tegra, talking about gender fluidity, best gender-inclusive classroom practices, and learning from students.

 

Inspirations

Adrienne Rich, “Compulsory Heterosexuality,” 1986.

Julia Serano, Whipping girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity, 2007

Resources at Carleton

GSC: Resources for Transgender and Gender Non-binary Students

GSC: Inclusive Classroom

Unstickiness and Emotions in the Classroom

 

Classical and Quantum Optics, Fall 2014
Photo Credit

(We will occasionally feature posts written by just one of us or by a guest. This post is by Adriana.)

In 2003, I, a white-appearing Latina/Mexicana/Chicana, arrived at Carleton after leaving the University of New Mexico, a HSI (Hispanic-Serving Institution). If I were to say that sentence at the Latinx Studies conference in July, I would not need to follow it up with anything. There would be nods of understanding and sighs. But following it up is important, because while my story is like many others’, it’s also mine, and full of rich detail that could easily be forgotten but that shouldn’t be. (Sometimes I think my poor memory is a survival mechanism, but that’s another story.)

I was and continue to be very glad to have landed at Carleton. I have grown a great deal as a teacher and a scholar, and I am blessed with wonderful colleagues across all disciplines. But even though the institution was generally welcoming, it was and still continues to be an HWCU, historically white college/university (or PWI- predominantly white institution). In those early years, I couldn’t have put my finger on what that meant for me, exactly. There were moments of minor “oh hey there” moments that mostly had to do with being reminded that I was not in New Mexico anymore. And then there was the day–about four years in–that, having become accustomed to teaching Latinx studies to mostly white students, I entered a classroom and found it to be 40% students of color… and my whole body relaxed.

Fast forward to last year (my thirteenth year of teaching here). After many years spent being jealous of my American Studies colleagues at Macalester, who do an amazing job of bringing students of color into their program year after year, I entered the American Studies Methods and Theory classroom and, out of eight students, seven were of color. And my whole body relaxed. What does this relaxation mean?

When I first read Sara Ahmed’s On Being Included several years ago, it rocked my world. Describing the common experiences of faculty of color at PWIs in England and Australia, Ahmed uses the concept of stickiness to describe the way it feels, for example, to walk into a meeting and be one of the few people of color: “When you stick out, the gaze sticks to you. Sticking out from whiteness can thus reconfirm the whiteness of the space.” Ahmed’s language and descriptions helped to name my experience, giving me language for what I had inhabited. Let me note that this stickiness is not simply a Carleton experience for me, but a Minnesota one. Whenever I make my way home to the Bay Area (California) or to somewhere like New York City, Philadelphia, or Chicago, I feel myself rocked into health by the voices around me speaking so many different languages and the bodies around me that are all so very different. In contrast, in one Carleton meeting room, paintings of past presidents all look so much alike that, as we sit there discussing campus issues, I can’t help but feel unalike and sticky in the face of this “reproduction of likeness” that Ahmed argues tends to be assumed as an “institutional given” (38). Teaching in classroom after classroom of white faces, I try to use this stickiness of my racialized body to ground conversations about our raced identities and our raced practices. I don’t know how to say this gently: being brown in this way is exhausting.

Given this usual feeling of stickiness and exhaustion, walking into a room filled with students of color felt freeing. My racial identity was no longer something hypervisible or invisible, it simply was. When talking about discourses and histories of race, class, gender, and sexuality–key topics in American Studies–I didn’t have to explain, justify, or manage my racialized relationship to my field of study. Unpacking the relationship between whiteness and citizenship could be done without steeling myself for defensiveness.

And, after years of moving towards a pedagogy that attempts to guide students in learning that is affective, I finally felt comfortable enough to take some risks. I remember seeing 12 Years a Slave in the theater with a white friend. Afterwards, we tried to have a conversation where I asked him (spoiler alert) what he thought of the scene where we, the viewers, are not allowed to not see Solomon Northup, left hanging from a tree, in media res of the lynching. The camera cannot not look. The looking lasts. We wait an impossibly long time for the master to return and cut him down. How did it make you feel, I asked him. My friend got upset, in essence asking me how I could even talk about the film at an abstracted level. But, the thing was, I asked him how it made him feel. But this was all too much.

12 Years a Slave in the classroom is also all too much. But with my group of students of color, after we watched it, how we felt became a route into cognition instead of feelings getting cordoned off at the door. What I mean is that, historically, the U.S. classroom privileges rationality over emotion and, as we bring students into our courses, we implicitly and sometimes explicitly ask them to learn how to “gain distance” in order to learn. But this move –one I’d taken for granted for years– means that students who feel particularly affected by a topic like the physical and epistemic violence against people of color in the U.S. must do much more work to manage their emotions while other students skate easily into “rationality.” Or as Dian Million puts it, speaking of indigenous feminist scholarship, “academia repetitively produces gatekeepers to our entry into important social discourses because we feel our histories as well as think them” (her emphasis). Million makes the vital case that, to decolonize our knowledge production, we cannot divorce understanding from feeling.

To think about these emotional reactions as part of our learning meant that we recognized that there is, as Lauren Berlant puts it, a “pedagogy of emotions” that has been unequally engaged and reproduced depending on our social identities. She says, “by the time you’ve been in primary school for awhile, or whatever, you have feelings about citizenship, you have feelings about race, you have feelings about gender and sexuality. You’ve been trained to take on those objects as world-sustaining perspectives.” In working through 12 Years a Slave, thinking and feeling about Northup and his absolute powerlessness opened the door for us to consider the empirical and emotional weight of current judicial and law enforcement systems. It allowed us to make historical connections without collapsing the differences in structure, raced lives, and workings of power in these eras.  And while eight out of nine bodies in that classroom were not white, we were not all the same “not white.” This made for various moments of cross-racial recognition but also times of productive dissonance, where someone or another’s voice would emerge to remind us of multiple silences. We held each other accountable to all of our frames of knowing and feeling.

Watching 12 Years a Slave, we claimed our entry into knowledge and history, through feeling. But it also mattered that, in these moments of strong feeling, we could all feel deeply without the worries that have accompanied me in other moments of racially-charged emotional revelation: will I be seen as irrational? can you handle seeing all of me?

Note: Some of the ideas in this post are being developed into a longer essay for the forthcoming collection Difficult Subjects: Radical Teaching in the Neoliberal University, edited by Badia Ahad and OiYan Poon.

Sources/Inspirations:

My students, who are also my teachers.

Ahmed, Sara. (2012) On Being Included: Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life. Durham, NC: Duke UP.

Berlant, Lauren. (2013)  https://societyandspace.com/material/interviews/interview-with-lauren-berlant/. March 22.

Million, Dian. (2009) “Felt Theory: An Indigenous Feminist Approach to Affect and History.” Wicazo Sa Review 24.2: 53-76.

Yancy, George and Maria del Guadalupe Davidson, ed. (2014) Exploring Race in Predominantly White Classrooms: Scholars of Color Reflect. New York: Routledge.

And always and forever, Audre Lorde and Gloria Anzaldúa, who opened doors for me into what it means to feel my way into knowing.