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:
- 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or submit a question anonymously here.
- 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!
We want to start by saying that we have very much appreciated the time that you have taken in the past year to read our posts and give us feedback and props.
As dedicated readers of the blog, you may have noticed that we have not posted anything in the past few weeks. You may be wondering why. And in the spirit of honesty and in order to model vulnerability, we are sad to inform you all that we have broken up. Our friendship has been falling apart, one debate at a time over misplaced commas and the fate of intersectional feminism on The Mindy Project.
Sometimes, good friendships turn into toxic ones. We’ve all been there.
We therefore are announcing the death of our blog. It cannot survive the demise of our friendship.
All the best,
Former friends and collaborators, Adriana and Anita
HEY, ADRIANA, WHAT’S THE DATE TODAY?
HMM, IS IT THE DAY BEFORE APRIL 1ST?
IS IT? WHAT????????????
HAPPY APRIL FOOL’S DAY! [YES, A DAY EARLIER, ‘CAUSE WE–WELL, ADRIANA–IS ALWAYS EARLY! ANITA, ON THE OTHER HAND, REINFORCES THAT STEREOTYPE ABOUT POC TIME ;)]
We’re still friends–and here’s proof! Matching hats from Sweden!
P.S. We will be back next week with a post about our feminist beginnings.
“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” –Martin Luther King, Jr., 1965.
“You have to really put your shoulder to the wheel to bend the arc of the moral universe.” –Adriana and Anita, 2016.
In the week after the election of Donald Trump as the next president of the United States, there have been a growing number of incidents of harassment and violence targeting those perceived to be immigrants, racial and religious minorities, women, and members of the LGBTQA+ community. The two of us have had various reactions to reading story after story on social media of friends and colleagues, many of them women of color, speaking of their experiences. Anita signed up for a self-defense course. Adriana’s been running and trying to get faster… and she’s been calling representatives and brewing up some collective, community actions.
One institutional action we are hoping that our college takes is to declare itself a sanctuary center. What exactly this designation means is being discussed and developed on campuses across the country, with over 80 schools (see map) developing and signing petitions asking their institutional leaders to become sanctuary campuses. While the expectations of a “sanctuary center” are being defined through this process of collective action and institutional response, this essay by colleagues at Pomona provides a great, succinct history of the practice of sanctuary. They describe the role of colleges in assuring “the community and the outside world that that we will protect undocumented students and staff along with Muslim, Middle Eastern/North African and South Asian international staff, faculty, and students. We have to insure that we remain an open educational community for all, particularly those who have been targeted in recent months.”
This goal–understood as a moral and ethical one–might look different at different colleges.
A petition being circulated at De Paul University argues for the following:
— Reaffirm current admission and financial aid policies regarding undocumented students;
— Guarantee student privacy by refusing to release information regarding citizenship status;
— Take steps to protect the visa status and funding of international students;
— Refuse to comply with federal authorities regarding deportations or immigration raids
In the article linked above, in comparison, they ask the institution to “refuse to cooperate with immoral laws, executive orders, police demands, or judicial decisions that target these members of our community.”
As we circulated among faculty and staff a letter addressed to our college president asking him to consider declaring the college a sanctuary center, there were questions from our colleagues about whether it was effective or desirable to make such a request. There were concerns, for example, that this kind of move would be merely symbolic–that in the end, there won’t be anything the institution can do to protect undocumented community members from being deported. There were concerns that supporting such a letter publicly might put people’s jobs in jeopardy and, in some cases, people’s or family members’ already precarious immigration status in jeopardy. The process of organizing a response on campus became an occasion for us to reflect on why we decided that we could go more public with our request to the college.
- We are privileged: We are tenured faculty members. We are U.S. citizens. We are financially stable.
- We are not privileged: Anita doesn’t have white-passing privilege, so her brown skin could make her a target of racial harassment. We are women, making us vulnerable to gender-based harassment. We speak languages other than English, loudly and publicly, making us vulnerable to anti-immigrant harassment. Given that we already feel targeted for how we look and act in the world, our response has been to become even more public about our support for our people, communities, and causes. We will be proudly rocking our Black Lives Matter and El Silencio Mata t-shirts. Anita will be proudly rocking this awesome giant safety pin a friend made for her.
- We believe in the moral and ethical power of institutions to stand for righteousness and justice. Sometimes our institutions do so in small, quiet ways. Sometimes, it’s necessary that they do it (with our help and support) in large, loud ways.
In the end, after circulating our letter for about 72 hours, we had 159 signatories.
We don’t know yet what will happen. When you start collective actions, after all, there’s no guarantee that you’ll get the response you want or need or even that you’ll get any response at all. We act because acting is better than staying silent.
“It may well be that we will have to repent in this generation. Not merely for the vitriolic words and the violent actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence and indifference of the good people who sit around and say, “Wait on time.”” –Martin Luther King, Jr. 1968.
“If you stand for nothing, Burr, what will you fall for?” –Lin Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton, 2015.
“Support friends, process emotions, and join in collective actions.” –Anita and Adriana, 2016.
Addendum: After writing this post, we and other cosigners received an email from the President outlining actions the College will be taking to protect our DACA students; these commitments are not being made public at the moment, but we are hopeful that these steps will move us forward.
I went to bed early Tuesday night, not knowing the results of the presidential election. The first thing I saw Wednesday morning was a text from my brother: “Are you okay?” I knew then that Donald Trump had won. I logged onto Facebook: friends expressing surprise, sorrow, concern, anger, solidarity, love, and resolve. I appreciated white, straight friends promising to stand up for and with friends who are immigrants, queer, trans, POC–thank you and I’ll hold you to those promises. I appreciated the helpful reminders that the struggles against patriarchy, settler colonialism, racism, and xenophobia have been going for a long time; they have continued during the Obama presidency, would have continued during a Clinton presidency, and will continue during the Trump presidency.
I had planned to go to an Election eve party on Tuesday, but a descending migraine kept me at home. In retrospect, that headache was an augur and a gift. At home, I sipped whiskey, ate Halloween candy, listened to the NPR stream, and read the 538 and NYT coverage. Slowly but surely I felt the world slip out from under me. At 10 p.m., heavy with a throbbing head and a growing sense of dread, I went to sleep, after texting with my son. “…” he first wrote. I knew exactly what that meant.
I woke up throughout the night. I would roll over, check my phone, fight to contain my fear and my sadness, then try to sleep again. Waking up to the day felt wrong. Mourning is like this. You look towards this possible future, the one you thought you were headed for, and you have to recognize it’s gone. Then somehow you have to keep on moving forward into the future you now realize you don’t understand or know or want. But this mourning is different, right? I’m grieving for the United States that I thought we could be, might be, and most importantly, should be.
How do we teach in sadness? I spent the morning running. Literally. I headed out to the woods and grounded myself in the feeling–ephemeral though it may be–that I have some strength, some power, and a world that makes sense to me. I wear a t-shirt for the day with the words, “El silencio mata” and make plans to hold space for my students. bell hooks prepares me for that: “I believe whole-heartedly that the only way out of domination is love, and the only way into really being able to connect with others, and to know how to be, is to be participating in every aspect of your life as a sacrament of love, and that includes teaching.” Love is not just a feeling. Love is a set of actions. Let us love deeply and radically; let us act wildly and meaningfully.
We go to a rally on campus organized by our students. There are at least 300 students, staff, faculty, and community members in attendance. Students share their thoughts. They share their worries about feeling targeted in their women/queer/Black/Brown/immigrant bodies. They remind their peers that they had been so organized and involved in Get Out The Vote efforts, in supporting local progressive candidates, and in going out and voting. They talk about the practical steps moving forward to support those who might be affected most by policies and practices in the next four years–-getting trained as an escort for women going into reproductive health clinics, for example. They remind us to support and care for ourselves and each other. They make us feel hopeful and inspired.
To our students who organized the rally and who have been organizing and have been building bridges and coalitions across differences before the election and will continue to do so now: we see you, we support you, and we thank you.
To our former students who are now teachers themselves, working with children and young adults whom they are supporting and holding space for right now: we see you, we support you, and we thank you.
Teaching, learning, listening, and organizing trumps hate. Let’s get (back) to it!
Some suggestions for next steps:
- Donating to the ACLU
- Doing some critical analysis, with the help of colleagues and friends
- Suggestions for teachers
- Concrete Suggestions in Preparation for January–by demographic issue
- Here’s another: “Oh Shit. The What Should I Do Before January Guide“
- What to Do Next to Protect Our Immigrant Communities
- And supporting one another.
Let us know if you have any other suggestions that we should add to this list.
Note: Given various travel adventures that we have planned for the rest of the summer, we will be taking a brief hiatus from the blog. We will be back with our next original post at the beginning of September. In the meanwhile, we would, as always, love to hear from you about how our posts resonate with or are different from your experiences!
During a recent NPR story about how some Americans and their families are using obituaries to make clear their opinions about the 2016 presidential candidates, the NPR host at one point says, “And, you know, this is journalism, so please make an attempt to be even-handed.” This idea of “being even handed” or “making sure to present ‘both’ sides of the story” sets up an either/or proposition that we find unhelpful but still encounter in academia. It shows up in our students’ feedback about course materials and class discussions (though not as often as in our early teaching years); it shows up in colleagues’ evaluations of our teaching; and it shows up in casual discussions about how the college campus is the “most diverse” environment experienced by some students while, for others, it’s the “least” diverse environment. It also shows up on our campus and in larger society in discussions where being called a racist or sexist is viewed as being as terrible and consequential as experiencing racism or sexism. In this post, we want to think through these ideas about “both sides” or “all sides” by examining how this erstwhile desire for “balance” and “fairness” play out in our classes.
In our classes, we deliberately refuse to take a “neutral” or “even handed” approach to the study of education, race, gender, citizenship or nation-building. Adriana begins American Studies classes by introducing students to standpoint theory and the importance of recognizing the power of positionality in the creation of knowledge. For both of us, the readings we choose and the framings we use in our analyses challenge dominant narratives of American meritocracy and democracy; we include, for example, critical perspectives from theorists of color and feminist and queer theorists. While we both strive to make sure that all students are able to express their ideas, ask questions, and challenge each other in our classes, we do make it clear that we are not nor do we strive to be “neutral” facilitators or participants. This kind of stance in the classroom sometimes makes our students uncomfortable and it can also raise questions for our colleagues.
What this kind of pedagogical stance can mean is that in any single class, some of Anita’s interventions in a class discussion might be seen as unfairly targeting only particular student comments. As a result, in Anita’s third year review letter, her senior colleagues noted that an “unevenness in the openness with which some theoretical or ideological positions are discussed.” In response, she explained in her tenure prospectus that centering minority and marginalized perspectives in her classes (a goal that her colleagues noted that they supported) meant that she was a “multipartial” rather than an impartial facilitator. Such a stance means that Anita might step in to challenge some statements more than others; it means that readings in her courses challenge dominant perspectives in education, rather than support prevailing narratives about, for example, racial minority students’ intellectual deficits or immigrant students’ linguistic deficiencies.
Recognizing our situated perspective as researchers and teachers means that when Adriana designs her course curricula, she doesn’t think about “balancing” the perspectives in the way that students often expect. For example, a dense reading that critiques State criminalization of Mexicans in the U.S. does not get paired with a reading that endorses the building of a wall between the two countries. Instead, she discusses with students why and how American Studies as a discipline has a stake in producing particular kinds of critiques of dominant discourses around otherness, and she asks the students to build a historical knowledge base of those discourses.
Even as we, in our classes, make clear the epistemological stake in naming our ideological frames, what we hear in these calls for neutrality or even-handedness is a worry that people will feel excluded because a view they hold isn’t represented or validated in a classroom. We do take seriously the imperative as instructors to be inclusive and to make sure all of our students can contribute and question. We want all of our students to recognize the situatedness of their own knowledge and experience as well as be critically aware of the situated nature of any empirical and theoretical work we read.
What this means, in our eyes, is that the students’ call for “neutrality” as way to ensure “both sides” of a story are included is misdirected. The seeming exclusion of dominant, mainstream perspectives does not actually meant that these perspectives are not present in the classroom. Dominant beliefs (about Mexicans, about the U.S.-Mexico border) circulate through our shared societal discourse communities and already frame the critique that we need to bring in. Thus, for the students, “represent both sides” often points to their need to have dominant beliefs reinforced in the face of feeling that those dominant discourses, when seen from other perspectives, are deeply unsettled. For example, learning about the well-known Chicanx slogan–“We didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us”–often leads students to question the “natural” boundaries of nations and citizenship.
But interrupting this notion of “both sides” also means for us the necessary recognition of more than two possible positions or perspectives on an issue. For example, when having discussions about educational reforms, students in Anita’s classes think carefully about the complex and sometimes contradictory needs, interests, and worries that various stakeholders bring to discussion of what needs to happen in schools, including students, parents, communities, teachers, politicians, and business leaders. Recognizing multiple perspectives also easily allows us and our students to acknowledge the multiple intersecting identities that situate each of us as knowers. We hope that these moments of recognition allow all of us to question our assumptions about each other and build connections and empathy in unexpected ways. Indeed, Adriana found that a class activity that invited students to talk about what stopped them from listening to each other and strategies they had for “assuming best intentions” led students to be more generous and empathetic discussants who wanted to understand not just what a classmate believed, but why and how they had come to this belief.
We always end our posts inviting folks to share, and here we’re interested in hearing from fellow faculty and from students about their experiences in the classroom around issues of “fairness” and “balance.”
Patricia Hill Collins. (1990) Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness and the Politics of Empowerment. NY: Routledge, 2000.
Kimberlé Crenshaw. (1991). Mapping the margins: Intersectionality, identity politics, and violence against women of color. Stanford law review, pages 1241-1299.
Our hearts are heavy this morning as we woke up to the news of yet another Black person being shot and killed by the police, this time in a location close to us in Minnesota. As we grieve, get angry, and stand in solidarity with our Black friends and loved ones, we wanted to highlight a recent speech by actor and activist Jesse Williams. The linked article provides an annotated examination of the speech to give more context to the historical, systemic, and ongoing discrimination, violence, and marginalization faced by Black folks in the U.S.
We know it’s hard to figure out what to do following senseless and systemic violence like this but we know it’s important to get educated and speak up, which is why we really appreciated Williams’ speech. One way you can start to do that is by getting involved in your local chapter of #BlackLivesMatter by attending events and donating money. Also check out the still relevant #FergusonSyllabus.
…if you think of yourself as an ally to us specifically or women of color more generally, please don’t ask for cookies in return. The time that we would spend making and baking those cookies and wrapping them in the perfect package of gratitude is time we need to plot the demise of the white supremacist, heterosexist, capitalist, transphobic, ableist patriarchal world we live in.
(Note: we’ve altered identifying details of some of our experiences to avoid pointing fingers at particular people, because we are about critiquing systems and institutions, and not about blaming individuals.)
Dear blog readers: you should know (or maybe you’ve already guessed) that we’re the kind of people who do a lot of “diversity work” at our institution. (Another way to put it is that the institution asks us to do a lot of that work. Or that, because of our bodies and our identities, some of the work finds us in ways that it doesn’t find others.) This is a story all about how “diversity work” makes us think and talk a lot about what it means to find, establish relationships with, and work alongside allies.
Case in point. Two emails sent out this year to all faculty and staff. One about a “Faculty Diversity Lunch” and one about an informal social gathering for LGBTQA+ identified staff and faculty. For the latter one, A was spelled out to indicate “asexual.” Both of these emails got responses (from different people!) that went something like, “Hey. I noticed that you didn’t include allies. Um, you didn’t include ME. Did you mean to do that?”
And yes, people, yes. Yes, there were conversations among both groups of organizers about whether allies should be explicitly invited. And yes, both groups decided that allies were not to be included in these spaces.
The “hey, what about ME?” response got us talking YET AGAIN about allies. We believe that if you consider yourself an ally, you don’t need to ask that question about whether allies are included, especially if the invitation does not explicitly include allies. We believe that allyship is a process, not an identity. We believe that sometimes allies just need to listen and not comment.
But apparently it is really hard for allies to not want credit–to not want to be seen and recognized as such. The curious, ironic result of allies’ self-declarations is that they end up centering the dominant identities they embody (#notallwhitepeople, #notallmen) rather than interrupting or dismantling systemic oppression. It gets to the point where individual exclamations come together to sound like a collective gasp and refusal: “#notallinstitutions!” i.e., surely here at Carleton we’re better, kinder, and less racist.
We recall a conversation where, at one point, we felt the need to point to the imbalances of service work for faculty of color, especially in helping students (of all races and backgrounds) navigate complicated interrelational conversations around issues of race, gender, sexuality, and mental health. Please note: when we do this kind of testimonial work on campus, we’re not asking for pats on the back or sympathetic clucks. Rather, we’re making a case for why the institutional structures that we have now interpellate us–faculty and staff of color–differently. And the emotional labor that we expend is not inconsequential to the ways in which we can (or can’t) balance the rest of our workloads.
At this point, one of our white colleagues, perhaps in a moment of intended alliance, said, “Hey! I do this work too!”
Here’s what we heard when our white colleague said that: your critique of the system is incomplete because I’m not included; you’re not giving me credit for helping you with this work; you are critiquing your allies and our good intentions.
And here’s what we would like our colleagues to understand–that our testimony wasn’t a claim for recognition. Rather, it was a critique of the system that demands our emotional labor unequally, that produces the unevenness through racialized, gendered and sexualized processes that are already on the ground, and then refuses to see that system or that unevenness.
We were pointing out how that burden of supporting students to have difficult conversations about identity, power, and privilege falls unequally on faculty of color. Indeed, even if we’re all doing equal hours of work of supporting students dealing with racism, for example, it still feels different to do that work as a faculty person of color. For Anita, these moments always bring back memories of what it was like to be a student of color at a HWCU, memories that tinge her current interactions. Adriana struggles to figure out how to communicate useful strategies while recognizing that those strategies sometimes participate in girding the system. (For example, she certainly has catered to white fragility on more than one occasion, in order to help colleagues better hear and understand what’s at stake in conversations about race.) White faculty have a different experience. Even if you’re the most empathetic white faculty member, mentoring students of color and white students through interrelational issues won’t raise the same memories or lead to the same embodied responses. In addition, you often have more authority, something reflected in the better teaching evaluations that white faculty receive, particularly when teaching about diversity (see Schueths et al. and Jones-Walker).
In moments like this, the presumed ally wants to be different and wants to be seen as passing some sort of test. But look, we don’t need you to pass a test. We need you to listen, to acknowledge that you heard us, and to recognize that the points we brought up are worth considering. Instead, the White ally in our example said, “My department has great practices; you don’t know my department.”
It’s true. We are only two faculty and we are not everywhere. However, we hear about the experiences of many of our friends who are women of color on our campus and on campuses across the country, in many different disciplines and types of academic institutions. There’s also national data that shows that faculty of color (and women faculty with regards to gender issues) are spending more time and energy on this kind of emotional labor. So when someone says, “You don’t know me or my department,” what we hear is, “Don’t judge me or hold me accountable. *I* don’t fit the national data.”
As we discussed this, we imagined what an ally might have done in this situation. First and foremost, your support shouldn’t require a thank you from us. As a self-anointed ally, standing up to support underrepresented voices should just be what you do. You don’t get cookies for being an ally. Really, if you’re asking for cookies, you’re not an ally.
Second, an ally might recognize the risk entailed in sharing racialized experiences in predominantly White spaces, and acknowledge our truth. It may not be your truth, you may not quite understand or see it yet, but trust and respect us rather than disbelieving and undervaluing our experiences. If we’re saying this is how we feel the burden as brown women faculty, you don’t say, as a White faculty member, you’re not alone, I totally understand, or I’m doing the same work–because you’re not doing the same work.
Third, if you find out that there’s a gathering of folks with a marginalized identity and you’re not included, feel free to write back (as some of our colleagues did) to say that you support the efforts, that you are willing to support any actions the group decides the campus should take to better support the group, and that you understand why that gathering isn’t for you.
In conclusion, if you think of yourself as an ally to us specifically or women of color more generally, please don’t ask for cookies in return. The time that we would spend making and baking those cookies and wrapping them in the perfect package of gratitude is time we need to plot the demise of the white supremacist, heterosexist, capitalist, transphobic, ableist patriarchal world we live in (thanks, bell hooks!).
P.S. We don’t want to imply that we have always been or will always be perfect allies. We have certainly hurt people we love and respect because of our refusal to see our complicity in oppressive practices or systems. We’re also always learning and we owe a million thanks to our friends and co-conspirators who have spent hours and hours educating us about our privileges and lack of understanding on various issues. We appreciate your love, labor, patience, and forgiveness.
Sara Ahmed. (2012) On Being Included: On Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life. Durham, NC: Duke UP.
Eduardo Bonilla-Silva (2015) offers us the concept of the HWCU (Historically white college and/or university)
Gabriella Gutiérrez y Muhs and Yolanda Flores Nieman, et al (2012) Presumed Incompetent: The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia. Boulder, CO: UP Colorado. *particularly recommended for our White faculty allies*
bell hooks. (2008) “Cultural Criticism and Transformation.” Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KLMVqnyTo_0. Online.
Cheryl Jones-Walker. (2016) Teaching Difference in Multiple Ways: Through Content and Presence in Transforming the Academy. http://rutgerspress.rutgers.edu/product/Transforming-the-Academy,5886.aspx [Also, this book has a chapter in there by Anita…just FYI!]
Joya Misra et al. (2011) “The Ivory Ceiling of Service Work” http://www.aaup.org/article/ivory-ceiling-service-work#.VzZDQT9fmXe. Online.
April Schueths et al. (2013) “Passionate Pedagogy and Emotional Labor: Students’ Responses to Learning Diversity from Diverse Instructors.” Sociology Department, Faculty Publications. Paper 236. http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/sociologyfacpub/236. Online.
Kathleen Wong. (2007) Emotional labor of diversity work: Women of color faculty in predominantly White institutions. http://gradworks.umi.com/32/88/3288033.html Online.