How to apologize: An advanced seminar

Image source

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With great power comes great responsibility

Image source

Spiderman is right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Breaking early for summer

Image source

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

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

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

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

Educators on Strike

Image source

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

ct-met-university-of-illinois-strike-20180225

Image source

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

Image source

Information about the some of the specific teacher strikes:

West Virginia

Oklahoma and Kentucky

Colorado

Arizona

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

 

How now down brown, Take 4: Strategies for change

wi-cows

[image source]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Gender, power, academia

Screenshot 2018-04-12 15.11.48

[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.

Calling out, calling in

Image source

We’ve been thinking about call out culture for a while now (here’s one example of what might be seen as a “calling out” of people with privilege). We’ve read think pieces that argue that call out culture in social justice circles is toxic and that we need to be more strategic about how we call out people’s troubling behavior, while others counter this notion that it is call out culture that is toxic rather than racism, sexism, or rape. Like other folks we’ve talked to about this topic, we were especially struck by the tone of some of the conversations we witnessed our students having online. We were sitting around, thinking to ourselves, with fingers on chins, “Oh, these young people, if only they’d learn how to be kind on the interwebs.” As we talked about more about it, however, especially in light of some of the reactions we’ve gotten to some of our blog posts, we came to some different conclusions.

We think that the binary between call out and call in culture is not nuanced enough. If we want to move to “call in” culture, what exactly does that mean and what needs to happen so that people can understand that we’re ‘calling in’ and not ‘calling out’? What if people don’t want to be called in? What if no matter how gentle or strategic you try to be, people feel called out? What if there’s a long history of someone feeling silenced or trying various ways to point out troubling behavior that gets ignored (“calling in”) until words and frustrations explode on Facebook or other social media?

One way to think about this that brings nuance, we think, is to remember that context matters for how and when we point out troubling behavior or language that reinforces racist, sexist, homophobic, classist, transphobic structures, policies, and systems. One context that we think a lot about is intergroup dialogue. In this context, people are encouraged to share their stories and experiences; the goal is not to convince people that they are right or wrong. The participants are not presented with a host of data or statistics. However, they are encouraged to situate their personal experiences within larger structures, to consider the impact of their words on their fellow participants, and to stay open to how their path to college and in college was made easier or more difficult because of the access their identities afforded them or not. And it is the job of the facilitators to help participants do this kind of work–to ask difficult questions, to point out patterns in what had been said, to push back. The facilitators are there to notice not only what is being said but also what is not being said, body language, and so forth. Agreeing to be a facilitator or to be a participant in this context means that you’re taking on a particular responsibility to being open to critique and to being generous and productive with how you push back. However, these responsibilities are not ones, we think, is fair to expect students, particularly students who hold marginalized identities, to take on all the time on campuses in all contexts.

We admire the work that some folks have taken on to have difficult conversations with people who fundamentally disagree with them, and perhaps even dislike or hate them. For example, Dylan Marron who has conversations with people who have written hateful, personal comments about him online. Or the musician Daryl Davis who, for decades, has taken on the work of talking with people in the KKK and has convinced many to leave.

We don’t think it’s possible, though, for everyone to do this kind of work or that it’s fair to have the expectation that our students will do this difficult work especially in contexts when they haven’t agreed to do so. While in the context of intergroup dialogue and in classes we teach, we do ask students to listen differently, to be generous in their critiques of readings and each other, we do think there are times when it is appropriate and necessary to call out individuals in a public way.

What is difficult, though, is figuring out when and why that’s necessary or appropriate. We’ve been asked the same question about some of our posts. We’ve been asked, given that we work at a small college, what was our goal in naming specific experiences in our blog posts?

As we were writing, we thought that in not naming people but naming behaviors, we were not individualizing it. We believed that by placing particular interactions within structure, we might make it possible to shift behavior, or at least make it possible for other people to see our perspective more clearly.

In the conversation that follows we dig in a bit more into the question of context and goals when it comes to “calling out.”

Adriana: I’ve been thinking about how helpful it has been to me to think about higher education as a white space, through Sara Ahmed’s work for example. Spaces are racialized and therefore can be felt as less productive, less welcoming, depending on your background. Then I couldn’t help but see Carleton through that lens, on behalf of my classes and my students, and I think that’s what we try to do with our blog. We’re not trying to get people to believe what we believe. We’re discussing our own experiences: this is why our worldview is this way, and here’s some research for why we think our worldview is not just the two of us. Then maybe you (the reader) could shift your point of view a little bit.

Anita: Right. It’s our experiences of these interactions. But there is the other person in the interaction and clearly, they see it differently. One could argue that the way we’ve written about some of our experiences was ungenerous, unkind, unproductive. They could ask what was our goal in writing about moments that are specifically about Carleton and some of our colleagues, because even if we don’t name specific people, we’re talking about faculty meetings, we’re talking about White faculty, for example. What was our goal in presenting our side of the interaction?

Adriana: What do you think our goal was?

Anita: I think it was as simple as [or as complicated as!] interrupting that White space, the White take on things. Or this notion that we don’t have a problem. That we’re not a White space. We were pushing back on how we (the college community) don’t tend to name things. We don’t name Carleton or faculty meetings as these White spaces. We were interrupting that happy space, the happy Whiteness.

Adriana: It’s the killjoy moment. That’s the complicated part of call out culture. In being the killjoy in the moment, we may not intend to be so interruptive that things get shut down in particular ways. Of course, they never get shut down at the heart of the machinery. They get shut down in these junky, clunky ways that preserve the machinery,and that makes sure that the center keeps on running. We might think we’re being judicious and thoughtful about our call out but simply because it’s a killjoy call out, it gets perceived in these really painful ways for people. When students do it on Facebook, we’re sitting here, judging, and saying, “Why don’t you be a little bit nicer?” but maybe the students have tried to be nice and it got the same results for them as it has for us.

Anita: I think of the way that people were surprised by the blog, surprised by the tone, surprised by “what? You’re not happy here” or perhaps some people who felt called out might have reacted with a “but they never said anything to me!!” For our students, maybe by the time they get to Facebook (and sometimes this history is hinted at in their FB exchanges), they’ve already had these clearly unproductive exchanges in person. And then they get to this place where they’re frustrated not just by a particular moment but by a whole history of moments and they jump to pretty cutting language in their online exchanges. In the same way, even in the faculty meeting we talk about, there was a build up, there were earlier moments in which you tried to intervene, you had tried to be heard in person, and you weren’t heard. Again, if it was just that moment, we wouldn’t have written a blog post about it. But it’s hard to make visible that history of why that particular moment felt so frustrating. We do try to situate that moment in a history, in a structure, but perhaps that does not seem as obvious to others as it does to us. So then our post comes out in this way that people are surprised because they haven’t felt like we articulated our experiences of those moments to them in person or we have articulated it but people haven’t heard us.

Adriana: Then we do it in this somewhat direct way, in this culturally unacceptable way. It’s not that it’s wrong or vulgar. The fact is that it’s blunt and public makes it culturally inappropriate, and that means it gets read as spiteful, unproductive, personal, vindictive, ungrateful.

Anita: But what can you disagree with when we write about our experiences? You can disagree with the fact that it wasn’t your experience but how can you disagree with our own interpretations of our experiences? Which is what I think is happening. Saying, “But that’s not what I meant” negates our experiences, it negates our interpretation, it negates the impact. In a world where everybody has equal power, we could have just said, “Oh, this is what I heard when you said this” and the other person would say, “Oh, I hear you, though that’s not what I meant.” But a lot of the times institutional power works in ways that we don’t even get to say that. Somebody says something, you object, but just in your head, or with your friends. You don’t actually feel like you have the power or the wherewithal in the moment to respond directly. What we’re trying to think through is what happens in interactions where there are clear institutional lines of power; with faculty, for example, it’s between tenured or untentured faculty that often map onto differences in broader societal power because of race, gender, class, etc. Because if they are my peer or my friend, then there are different ways of calling out that are possible when there isn’t a power imbalance.

Adriana: I mean, you just call me out directly. [laughter]

Anita: But we don’t have institutional power over each other. I assume that students also call each other in more gentle ways among their friends.

Adriana: The perceived violence of the call out is exacerbated when there’s greater power imbalances involved.

Anita: Yes, it’s about power but also about a lack of relationship. For us, and in the intergroup dialogue context, this is why you build a sustained relationship.

Adriana: Maybe in these FB convos, they are not interested in sustaining relationships and maybe that’s okay. Why are we afraid of moments that are not about building community in particular ways? I’m thinking of Miranda Joseph’s study of LGBTQ organizations, where she tracks how in their work, these utopic dreams of how things should be get in the way of actually doing the work of building community.

Anita: At Carleton, there’s this rhetoric of how we are already a community. It’s not an utopian goal. It’s presumed that it’s already there and so we don’t have to work at it. So by challenging what happens at Carleton, we’re breaking community rather than believing in it. But what we’re saying is that for some of us, that community doesn’t exist.

Adriana: Yes, there’s a superficial sense of community. But there’s a difference between choosing each other and thus calling each other in, and this idea that somehow just because we’ve all chosen to be in this place, we are part of a community. You know me. I’m an optimist. I’m into this idea of bringing people from all over the world and saying we want you to choose each other; think of yourselves as belonging to each other. There are ways that the institution tries to build that community, in orientation, at the beginning of year. But it’s also this idea that you’re now at Carleton. And you should get along. Or you will get along.

Anita: Why do people come to college? If you come to a small college, are you buying into some part of it’s going to be this utopian community? We’ve talked to some women of color alums who felt some level of betrayal of that idea because the community didn’t work for them, it didn’t support them.

Adriana: And for faculty, just because we have chosen to work at this place, there’s an expectation that we’d get along, we’d be friends. We are just choosing a job, a pretty good job, but it’s a job. It’s not like someone said, hey, there’s this utopian community, and you see that in the brochure,  it looks amazing, and that’s why you get a job here.

Anita: No, but collegiality is a part of how we’re reviewed. And collegiality often gets translated to not challenging the institution or at least not challenging it in a way that actually changes anything. For faculty, it’s the notion of collegiality that’s invoked that ends up silencing dissent and for students, it’s the notion of community.

Adriana: I think the language of community gets used for faculty, too. When people speak up, sometimes the response is, “Don’t you remember our values about civil discourse?” Students are told that healthy exchanges of ideas is good. Civility is valued. But we don’t talk about social justice in our official statements about the college. We don’t state explicitly that we believe in justice, that we believe in racial equality.

Anita: Yes. And there’s no guidance about what to do when when different values clash. Yes, we value free speech and we value non-discrimination but what happens when those values clash in a particular incident? Is it a balance? Does one get valued over another?

Adriana: Part of that fake binary between call out or call in culture is related to this idea that we have a desire to build community, to build towards something we want to see. But what happens when there are differences in what we are building toward? It’s not like we all have the same ideas of a an utopian community. There definitely wouldn’t be enough crying in your utopia for my taste! [laughter]

As you might be able to tell from this post and our exchanges, we are still thinking through our ideas about the “call out/in” culture. We would love to hear from you how you’ve been thinking about these issues, within a college campus context, and also about how you’ve been navigating these issues once you’ve left that context. Please comment here if possible so that other readers can see your ideas!