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Recent Events, Stress, and Application Season - Vent, Discuss, etc.


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Starting this thread because I accidentally caused some conversation about this in the Writing Samples thread and don't want to distract that thread from its stated purpose.

 

I've been reading a lot of articles about "Ferguson in the Classroom" and what humanities academics can do with some of the recent things that have been happening across the United States and thought it might be a good idea to have a thread about it.  I know that Columbia's school of law in NYC recently accepted a petition to grant extensions for exams for students of color psychologically affected by what's been going on.  If anyone needs a (relatively) anonymous space to discuss how this has been affecting your graduate school application season, post here.  I see no reason why this shouldn't be discussed on here -- it's the middle of application season and there are some historic events happening right now!

 

Personally I've found it very distressing.  I live in the state with the highest incarceration of African Americans in the country.  I grew up in the city of Rodney King.  I've watched racism happen in front of me -- affecting both my friends and strangers -- all my life.  I work at a college campus in a small city that is racked with socio-economic and racial tensions, a college that purports to be "activist," but I'm seeing nothing being organized or done except self-righteous posts on Facebook.

 

I'm white and male -- I recognize the privileges that come with this status.  But honestly, it's hard to focus for me right now and I'm scared for what's going to come.  I feel isolated from what's going on because of the relative remoteness of where I currently live and my lack of financial stability to just skip work and drive down to the nearest big city and join in.  Especially while applying to schools.  Anyone else feel kind of powerless right now?  Is there a place for literature (or rhetoric, or whatever you study) Ph.D.s in the current dialogue?  I think there is, but I'm wondering what other people are thinking right now.  Anybody else trying to balance these concerns?  

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I'm white and male -- I recognize the privileges that come with this status.  But honestly, it's hard to focus for me right now and I'm scared for what's going to come.  I feel isolated from what's going on because of the relative remoteness of where I currently live and my lack of financial stability to just skip work and drive down to the nearest big city and join in.  Especially while applying to schools.  Anyone else feel kind of powerless right now?  Is there a place for literature (or rhetoric, or whatever you study) Ph.D.s in the current dialogue?  I think there is, but I'm wondering what other people are thinking right now.  Anybody else trying to balance these concerns?  

 

I don't think you should feel guilty or selfish for taking care of yourself in your situation. I think at times some activists lose sight of regular folk's daily concerns such as jobs, family concerns, and paying the bills.

 

At the same time, since your campus purports to be "activist" leaning, maybe you can seek out some related campus organizations. Maybe they haven't planned any action or events because of similar circumstances as yours but it might help to just get together and talk about what's going on so you all don't feel so isolated. 

 

Remember that even talking about the matter among like-minded people is contributing to "the cause" by raising awareness and even maybe coming up with grassroots solutions for your own community further down the road. Activism does not always equal holding a sign at a rally and vice versa. Heck, I know lots of people joining the "Millions March" in NYC happening soon and they don't give a crap about the cause. I think in the end it's important to recognize that being concerned about this whole thing while you have a whole lot of personal concerns is ten steps ahead of many more apathetic Americans.

 

Good luck! 

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We all get to decide what kind of scholar we want to be. Are you going to be the kind of scholar that centers activism and justice in their research and teaching? Are you going to be the kind of scholar separates the two worlds? Are you going to be the kind of scholar who doesn't pay attention? Of course, our answers to these questions are informed by our standpoint. As a white grad student, I can slip in and out of my racial justice hat as needed. I get to choose when I want to be a racial justice activist and when I don't. That's privilege. Still, I try to center activism in my work. In my SoP, I discussed how feminist activism informed my research and teaching interests, so the programs that accepted me knew what they were getting. I have one Twitter account for both professional, personal, and political reasons, and though this wasn't my motivation for doing so, I feel like I've grown closer to the people in my field who have similar interests and motivations.

 

I'm not trying to present myself as a model for how to be an activist and a scholar. I actually failed pretty hard this semester. I feel irresponsible for not addressing in class the two big social issues affecting my students these days: police brutality and campus sexual assault. Everyday, I wanted to say something, wanted to let my students know that I stand in solidarity with them, but I didn't know how. I know that at least one of my students is a survivor of sexual assault. How do I responsibly raise the issue knowing full well that one or two students will say something dismissive of survivors? Same with Ferguson. How do I facilitate an open dialogue that centers the voices of students of color without silencing white students? Activist spaces have taught me that people of color should be at the center of conversations about racism, just as women should be at the center of conversations about sexism. But employing that model in a classroom? I don't even know. I decided to say nothing instead, and I feel like that was the wrong choice. 

 

Thanks for bringing this up, MM. 

 

Here are what some others are saying:

 

Why We Can't Breathe Easy (GradHacker)

After Ferguson, Some Black Academics Wonder: Does Pursuing a PhD Matter?

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Proflorax, that's admirable beyond words. Seriously.

 

Part of the reason I say that is that I think I will be one of those scholars / educators who doesn't address current issues like these, unless it is by way of relating it to whatever material I happen to be teaching at the time...which, given the "history repeating" nature of human conflict, is always quite possible.

 

I had a great, albeit small, research seminar this past semester entitled "The Role of the Child in Victorian America." It was ostensibly focused on literature, and we did indeed read several important mid-19th century thematically child-oriented works, like Uncle Tom's Cabin, Little Women, The Lamplighter, What Maisie Knew etc., but the professor (who is fantastic, I might add) made a point of tying a lot of the issues revolving around children in these works to contemporary issues, such as Ferguson, Trayvon Martin, the South Korean ferry disaster etc. In fact, much of our coursework consisted of "response papers" that could be about anything within the spectrum of childhood studies and related literature. As a class, we even attended a panel discussion my college held on the topic of rape and sexual abuse on campus. I was initially a bit miffed about this, as I wanted to deal with the literature we were in the process of reading...but let me tell you, it was a real eye opener to hear the canned, artificial, pre-fab responses of college admin to recent concerns. It was appalling, really, and I realized that things were a lot uglier under the surface than I suspected. And I attend a top, prestigious college! I can only imagine what lurks beneath the surface of similar institutions...not to mention "lesser" colleges.

 

All of these things need to be discussed. Perhaps they need to be discussed ad nauseum, or at least until change DOES occur. The problem we face as current or future scholars and professors is one of balancing relevances, for lack of a better term. The key will be tying present-day concerns into the work we are teaching, and I suppose the better question is should we be? I think the answer to that is "yes," though I suspect that "no" is equally valid and defensible. It comes down to whether one believes that literature is its own thing and current events is another. If we choose to build a bridge between the two, I think our classes can potentially benefit in numerous ways. Yet there is a certain undeniable "safety" in teaching literature as a thing apart from contemporary society, and as the world in our lifetimes will likely have periods where it gets worse than it is now, as well as periods where it is better, I can't really blame professors who choose to teach the discipline in a vacuum.

Edited by Wyatt's Torch
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Thank you for bringing this up. I've felt like such a hypocrite this last week, attending protests every night here in NYC then waking up and writing fluffy nonsense about "diversity" in edits of my SoP and diversity statement. I have to pretend that my experience of ethnicity is a boon that fulfills some line on an affirmative action checklist, when the reality of it is marching down the street, penned in by a line of police.

 

I'm Hispanic, so the protests hit close to home without being my personal experience. And I want to do more than yell about it, but academia feels so removed from actuality. It's disheartening.

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I wish I had more upvotes for today. Those articles you linked are fantastic, proflorax, so thank you for that.  There's a fantastic article written a little while ago on the Chronicle of Higher Ed that I think everyone should read:

 

http://chronicle.com/blogs/conversation/2014/11/25/fergusonsyllabus/

 

Actually, in my Latin class yesterday, we managed to discuss it a little bit.  The class was on Roman epistulary literature and as we were discussing what we had learned this semester, I made a working definition of letter-writing practices as being a unidirectional dialogue from one person that address at least one other, touching on the fact that there is an undeniable authority that comes from that (we were reading letters from Cicero and Pliny, Seneca's Epistulae Morales, and Ovid's Heroides).  Someone made a comment on the trouble of using certain letters as historical sources, and then this managed to turn into conversation about authority and narrative in contemporary media: Darren Wilson's narrative, monstrous, dehumanizing language used for Mike Brown, etc. 

 

I think that such discussions can be really enlightening, they certainly make the premodern writings seem closer, more visceral, less emotionally removed.  I work with old literature, for the most part -- I'm an aspiring medievalist.  Race is a huge aspect of medieval culture, and a very rich topic of investigation.  But it's also a field dominated by upper-middle-class people (I would say men, but women have been, increasingly, much more active in the field over the past 20 or so years, and the changes that have come along with that shift have been wonderful, in my opinion).  I completely understand, therefore, Wyatt's point of feeling like contemporary issues might not always fit in the classroom.  I think this is valid.  While I think medievalists and early modernists often overly treasure the idea that their periods are in some way 'alien' to our current culture, that these periods were 'their own thing,' I also fear the idea of appropriation, of turning such discussions into white-academic-dominated scholarly 'trends.' 

 

So I totally agree with you, andalus: 

 

Thank you for bringing this up. I've felt like such a hypocrite this last week, attending protests every night here in NYC then waking up and writing fluffy nonsense about "diversity" in edits of my SoP and diversity statement. I have to pretend that my experience of ethnicity is a boon that fulfills some line on an affirmative action checklist, when the reality of it is marching down the street, penned in by a line of police.

 

I'm Hispanic, so the protests hit close to home without being my personal experience. And I want to do more than yell about it, but academia feels so removed from actuality. It's disheartening.

Academia often gives me this feeling, of adopting this "PC" attitude that actually is completely hollow.

 

While I do often have the feeling of wanting to abandon my degree and go out on the streets (a couple years ago there was a kind of wonderful article in n + 1 about burning your PhDs, tee-hee), I also feel like, as people who are about to be, or already are, attending graduate school we should be asking ourselves these questions early: what do we want to see change in academia, in the dialogue?  How can we have more inclusive, engaged debates, without sugar-coating it with that academic "sheen" while also remaining responsible scholars?  Also, in the worst case scenario that we don't end up in grad schools next year, how can we be applying our academic learning, even if its "only" a BA or Masters (either of which, where I'm from, is considered "fancy") in something that doesn't at first seem relevant?

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I also think the new reality of the academy requires scholars to also be activists. Who is fighting adjunctification, raising student fees, lay offs, the dismantling of Ethnic Studies and language departments, the privatization of the university, right to work laws, and decreasing student aid? A growing coalition of students, staff, faculty, and community members. Wisconsin was a chilling reminder of how the state can drastically threaten job stability, and most importantly, how the issues of the university are tied to issues of privatization, labor, and access in other spheres. Especially in the Humanities, we have to constantly fight for jobs and financial stability, and our movement will be more successful if we see the connections between the struggles of the university and the struggles within our communities. 

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Proflorax, I had a very similar experience in the classroom. I'm only a TA, which makes me feel like I don't really have a political arena the way that I might if I was an instructor of record. I'm also a black woman, so I often find myself questioning how my own vehemence and activism will translate to my largely white audience. I also completely agree that modern scholars should absolutely be activists. To be honest, I've found myself having this discussion with my cohort members frequently because the turn to a sort of new aesthetics is really sitting with me the wrong way due to how many people seem willing to use it as an excuse for an ahistorical approach.

 

We have been having meetings and marches and rallies here in Austin, and it's been extremely heartening for me to see fellow English grad students involved and English faculty acting in leadership roles in the protests. It's been a really awful semester due to the constant barrage of stories featuring police brutality, but my professors have been extremely understanding, and I have been able to cry with teachers and fellow students in the last week, which is very cathartic.

 

I think my current frustration is primarily with the way liberalism manifests in academia--everyone is horrified by the failure of progressive values, but few people actually intend to do more than write about it on Facebook and I don't know if there's really anything to be done about it.

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We have been having meetings and marches and rallies here in Austin, and it's been extremely heartening for me to see fellow English grad students involved and English faculty acting in leadership roles in the protests. It's been a really awful semester due to the constant barrage of stories featuring police brutality, but my professors have been extremely understanding, and I have been able to cry with teachers and fellow students in the last week, which is very cathartic.

Wow. That's beautiful that you have been able to open up and share with your professors and colleagues in such a raw, emotional way. I'm glad you have such a supportive and proactive graduate community at UT-Austin! I have some friends who are thinking of ways to mobilize the grad students here at UMD. We have lots of activist-minded folks, and especially living so close to DC, there are plenty of opportunities for action. But it's been a challenge to organize and mobilize as a group. 

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I have nothing well-formed or specific to offer to the discussion, which means I should probably just shut the hell up, but Proflorax's post about "what sort of scholar do you want to be" really sort of hits home with stuff I've been thinking about the past few weeks as I try to negotiate this rift between methodology and politics. Like proflorax, I'm someone who can decide to care or not (a horrific thing to contemplate in itself), and like mollifiedmolloy, I study (and want to study more, adcomms, hint hint) literatures at a great linguistic, cultural, and historical remove from the present. And I say what follows as someone who in what (yes, little--and undergraduate!) scholarship I've done tends to focus on very traditional approaches: philology, word study, formal cruces. The major research project I've been focusing on this semester, examining and preparing a critical edition of this late medieval manuscript, is about as far removed from any sort of contemporary political engagement as you can possibly imagine--I literally am writing whole pages on topics like whether there's a space between that and that and what the implications of that would be. And I'm fine with that; it's fun work, I've discovered some new things, and I firmly believe that the production of knowledge of any kind is an inherent good. That's the kind of work I want to do; that's the kind of work I'm applying to graduate school to do.

 

But still. There is a sense of--not sterility, exactly, and not aridness. But I think dazedandbemused hits it exactly on the nose: there's something about the new (read: old) formalist turn that--and again, I say this as someone who loves to make those kind of arguments!--I find dangerously disconnected from (or that can perhaps allow a dangerous disconnection to?) contemporary, urgent, political, and humane interests.


Two recent examples that stuck in my craw: a (white) graduate student who starts saying that a (black) professor's language, in emails to the department listserves about recent events and the department's response, was "too violent," and my complicated, conflicted reaction to both his complaint and to her emails; and then a heated (pleasantly so, though, let me be quick to say!) discussion about the issue of political engagement and scholarship with a good, good friend of mine who's a PhD student a couple weeks ago. We normally take very similar approaches, but it quickly became clear that she has an idea of politically disinterested scholarship--or rather, an idea that scholarship should strive to be politically disinterested, or that it can be--of which I'm pretty darn skeptical.

 

I guess I'm saying that, unlike Wyatt's Torch, I do maybe blame professors who choose to teach the discipline in a vacuum? Okay, so in something very technical like, say, a paleography class, there's not going to be scope for broader political engagement. You're learning very specific skills there, not discussing wider issues of any kind--literary, social, or political. The fact that straight s with a pronounced thickening and pointy end is a sign of a certain script, date, and location does it, in fact, have any sort of relationship to the fact that we live in a society that is, has been, and will be really pretty fucked up. But you'd be surprised how often it does turn up, even in the most seemingly benign philological topics. Just today I was asking a friend which pronunciation of Old Norse I should learn, which you'd think would be the most anodyne and politically not-fraught question you could imagine, but the answer ended up having a lot to do with the contemporary reception of a large body of scholarship that's been tainted by it having been given the Nazis' imprimatur. More broadly, I think any Old English class that doesn't address the frank racism out of which the field initially grew (or at least with which it was watered) ignores some basic things about what it is Anglo-Saxonists do, and have done, that continue to structure the field.

 

That said, I mean, crap: it's easy for me to say, here, on the internets, as an undergraduate, how people in academia should act. I'm not the one up in front of a classroom. I'd have zero idea how to even begin to address it pedagogically, and I know myself and my timidity well enough to know that I probably wouldn't, and that bothers me.

Edited by unræd
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Thanks for starting this thread, MM. 

 

I'm Korean, currently living in South Korea after spending most of my childhood up to my college years in the American midwest. As I mentioned elsewhere, I am also an attorney. It has been an incredibly trying year---I was in Seoul and working as the ferry tragedy unfolded, I have friends who work and live in Hong Kong, and I've been feeling the effects of the Michael Brown and Eric Garner GJ decisions. 

 

There are many reasons why I decided to pursue a doctorate in literature at this time, many of them personal. But I also decided to return to the humanities because I saw, way too up close, how the shift away from the arts that teach us about truth(s), beauty, love, freedom, equality, happiness---the non-monetizable values, those that will not necessarily lead you to that well-paid and envied job in the corporate world, led to all of this. Taking the ferry tragedy as an example: The ship sank because of a host of reasons all focused on the bottom line, including the fact that the crew made a sharp turn in order not to be late; it was carrying more cargo than allowed by law; the crew were inadequately trained partly because they were temps; and the crew escaped first not only for the lack of training but a "me first" mentality. It's almost too perfect of a neoliberal disaster, where the drive for a fatter bottom line ruled. 

 

What can we do in the humanities to address this situation? Being politically active is a personal choice, but I think all of us can sign on to addressing this global crisis by being ourselves, in studying the things that we love and passing that knowledge on to the next generation. I've met too many college students in Korea who simply don't read literature anymore because it doesn't help them get that dream job. I'm all for students doing whatever they love, but think that literature and the values that it has to teach us are fundamental. I teach law now, and while I haven't found an angle to bring literature into the discussion, I apply poststructuralist principles to my understanding of the law to get my students to think more critically about the law and the business environment which they all take into be self-evident truths. 

 

I also think it is important to try to maintain some sense of normalcy, a continuation of what came before. As I mentioned before, I believe that political activism is a personal decision, but me personally, I don't agree with delaying exams, asking for extensions or cutting classes to be answers to the problem. I don't deny the geniune pain, anger, frustration and anxieties felt by many, and agree that there should be some mechanism for addressing these concerns in a constructive manner. But I feel that taking this kind of a break is hurtful to precisely those who take it. A few stories from Korea: Many of my colleagues at the university where I teach have openly admitted to me that they feel like imposters---many of them full professors---because they never had a proper, in-class college education; they were all on the front lines of protesting for democracy in the late 80s and 90s. Many of my former superiors at the corporate day job were also students activists, but faced the same doubts about being imposters in the business and legal environments. I commend them for their efforts and there is definitely something to be said for that type of education as well, but we must remain engaged with the institutions of the everyday if only to subvert them. I draw much inspiration from my attorney friends in the States who have been deeply affected by the recent issues, but remain committed to doing their jobs---whether as corporate attorneys, public-interest advocates, and yes, even prosecutors---because they can have a positive impact by trying to do right.

 

It's easier said than done, but let's stay strong, my friends, and get through these applications. So that we may be able to contribute our knowledge and our passions to making this world a better place.

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Speaking of Hong Kong, the umbrella movement was dismantled earlier today. My heart just breaks...many of those protestors are college students who have grown up with the message that if they work hard and believe, that they can change the world. 

 

What's worse is that the government has been very successful in turning the majority of HK people against the protesters. I'm always so angry when I see the number of people cheering the dismantling or arrests of protesters there. And it's always the same reasons (as I've seen with people complaining about protesters in LA): " but they're in my way." 

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What can we do in the humanities to address this situation? Being politically active is a personal choice, but I think all of us can sign on to addressing this global crisis by being ourselves, in studying the things that we love and passing that knowledge on to the next generation. I've met too many college students in Korea who simply don't read literature anymore because it doesn't help them get that dream job. I'm all for students doing whatever they love, but think that literature and the values that it has to teach us are fundamental. I teach law now, and while I haven't found an angle to bring literature into the discussion, I apply poststructuralist principles to my understanding of the law to get my students to think more critically about the law and the business environment which they all take into be self-evident truths. 

 

This is a brilliant paragraph! Great points. I don't really have much else to add to the conversation that hasn't already been said, but I think maybe this quote by Theodore Roosevelt can help inspire us right now. It's a favorite of mine that I often turn to when I'm feeling devastated:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
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" but they're in my way." 

^^ God, this is so typical LA... *rolls eyes*

 

 

I think my current frustration is primarily with the way liberalism manifests in academia--everyone is horrified by the failure of progressive values, but few people actually intend to do more than write about it on Facebook and I don't know if there's really anything to be done about it.

^^ I've had this same frustration for a while.  As wonderful as I think it is that we've seen the proliferation of feminism and Marxism in academic work in recent years (decades), I often feel that there aren't as many politically active practicing academics as there were.  Sure, we have certain politically active "celebrities" (i.e., Cornel West, Slavoj Zizek), but from what I've seen where I am at least, most of the activism has been done by often well-meaning but under-informed undergraduates who have the outrage that comes with being new to some of these ideas, but (at least from what I've seen) are often quick to jump on bandwagons of higher-than-thou moral outrage.  I'm very glad that you've had access to such emotionally supportive peers and professors though.  I would be curious to hear about the "ahistorical" approaches you've encountered and their relation to such discussions.  

 

And Fancypants, your post was incredibly invigorating and I think you make fantastic points.  What I fundamentally love about the political significance of something like a boycott (like #HandsUpDontSpend) or a die-in that blocks traffic is that it reminds me that there can be a political significance to inaction (at least inaction within the web of capitalist systems).  When it comes down to it, we live in a Capitalist, corporatist society, where something "active" or "productive" or "positive" or even "good" is rendered something that involves continuing an self-destructive free market that I think fundamentally harmful to human lives.  If done in a self-aware and self-critical way, a "useless" practice like immersing oneself in literature can be revolutionary -- even if it is on a small scale.  I do worry though, too. 

 

I also think the new reality of the academy requires scholars to also be activists. Who is fighting adjunctification, raising student fees, lay offs, the dismantling of Ethnic Studies and language departments, the privatization of the university, right to work laws, and decreasing student aid? A growing coalition of students, staff, faculty, and community members. Wisconsin was a chilling reminder of how the state can drastically threaten job stability, and most importantly, how the issues of the university are tied to issues of privatization, labor, and access in other spheres. Especially in the Humanities, we have to constantly fight for jobs and financial stability, and our movement will be more successful if we see the connections between the struggles of the university and the struggles within our communities. 

^^This is so well put, proflorax.  I think education in general is in danger in this country, and this is something we all need to be concerning ourselves with.  My "plan B" at this point, if I don't get into Ph.D. programs, is to start teaching in public schools (sub for a while, maybe get a teaching degree if I don't give PhD apps another go).  I live in Wisconsin and remember the protests -- Jesse Jackson came to my campus and rallied up a bunch of people to go vote.  Sadly, things are looking more and more grim here after the recent elections.  I'm very disturbed by how rapidly education seems to be declining.  My younger sister (in California) is starting high school soon and there's only one high school near her that teaches any foreign languages.  In a county that is 40% Latino.  I'm hearing about first-years at my (pretty selective) liberal arts colleges taking introductory English classes who have never read Shakespeare.  These are not underprivileged people either.  I don't know.  To me, literacy is important for political engagement.  In the world we live in, the economic stratification and fetishization of products makes this generation very much focused on their identities and identification with commodities.  To me, studying literature (any literature) has a fundamental social importance in that it can exercise the mind to imagine other worlds, other mindsets, other viewpoints, to learn to understand (or at least strive to recognize what they can't understand) things that one can't identify with, at least not wholly.  To me, this has an inherent social value that can't be learned at once or in one course, but can certainly be nurtured over the course of an education.  That's what keeps me going, at least.  I haven't had access to nearly as many opportunities as many people I've come to know growing up or coming to college, but I know for damned sure that I've had access to so much more educationally nourishing opportunities than many people and I can't even begin to express how frustrating it is that today, in 2014, we still live in such a stratified society where I've seen so many people with every opportunity to do good things selfishly squander those opportunities and watched people with so much potential fall through the cracks.

 

Thanks y'all for a good discussion.  This is a wonderful outlet, I think.

 

P.S. -- unraed: there's an essay by David F. Hult in a volume called The New Medievalism called "Reading it Right: the Ideology of Text Editing" that you might find interesting.  It examines the role of authority and authorial power dynamics in the act of medieval textual editing practices.  I wanted to include it in the readings for the manuscript studies class I TA'd this semester, but unfortunately we never found time for it.

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I've become extra invested in my activism in the last few months. I've long been involved in certain causes, but as a Black woman in America, these last few months have really kicked me into high gear. I've benefited from being in a program that has scholars who are really passionate about activism as well. And I see their examples of thriving in scholarship while also protesting and such as something that I can really aspire to be. Also, a lot of the people in my cohort are equally passionate and that helps to create a great environment. I've been collecting resources for future writing as well as possible classroom use in the future, and one of the best things I've come across is: http://zinnedproject.org/2014/11/teaching-about-ferguson/. They've collected some great resources there. Also, check out #fergusonsyllabus on Twitter.

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P.S. -- unraed: there's an essay by David F. Hult in a volume called The New Medievalism called "Reading it Right: the Ideology of Text Editing" that you might find interesting.  It examines the role of authority and authorial power dynamics in the act of medieval textual editing practices.  I wanted to include it in the readings for the manuscript studies class I TA'd this semester, but unfortunately we never found time for it.

 

Sounds excellent--my library's copy is winging its way toward me. Thank you for the bibliography!

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^^ I've had this same frustration for a while.  As wonderful as I think it is that we've seen the proliferation of feminism and Marxism in academic work in recent years (decades), I often feel that there aren't as many politically active practicing academics as there were.  Sure, we have certain politically active "celebrities" (i.e., Cornel West, Slavoj Zizek), but from what I've seen where I am at least, most of the activism has been done by often well-meaning but under-informed undergraduates who have the outrage that comes with being new to some of these ideas, but (at least from what I've seen) are often quick to jump on bandwagons of higher-than-thou moral outrage.  I'm very glad that you've had access to such emotionally supportive peers and professors though.  I would be curious to hear about the "ahistorical" approaches you've encountered and their relation to such discussions.  

 

I just want to be clear that while I have had a lot of emotional support, this program is not anywhere near being a graduate school utopia. While I love it here and I love my people here, there is some BULLSHIT--but it's also probably no worse than any other department. Not only that, but Austin is kind of a shitty city to be a minority in already, so it's been one of those semesters that is just fraught with social tension.

 

So, when I say ahistorical I'm talking about the guy1 who wants to talk about war without talking about imperialism, the girl who wants to write about the postbellum South without talking about race, and the people who think that the aesthetic is more important than the political and believe that there is actually a such thing as inherent literary value (which is a point that I disagree with, but can at least understand). Even though these conversations are classroom-specific and probably seem unrelated to police brutality, they are also places where the "good liberal" facade that most academics wear tends to slip and people's biases become visible. To me, those moments are dangerous. The virulent racists are at least the enemy you know, but what happens when these people become professors and administrators? They theoretically understand that we are not in a post-racial society, yet simultaneously feel perfectly comfortable repeatedly using the n-word in class because their desire for an unmediated interaction with the text is more important than my and other black people's trauma?2 I find it deeply disturbing and I'm not sure what to do about it.

 

1These are actual people in my program, by the way

2 Yup, that happened too.

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Out of curiosity, have you asked the professors teaching the seminars why they allowed something like the n-word usage to happen? Did they comment on it/ impress upon that student how their relationship to the text does not occur in a vacuum? 

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Out of curiosity, have you asked the professors teaching the seminars why they allowed something like the n-word usage to happen? Did they comment on it/ impress upon that student how their relationship to the text does not occur in a vacuum? 

 

I was wondering about the same issue. As an Americanist, I've also read different sides of the classroom n-word debate. One side says that the word is traumatizing and dehumanizing, and we should avoid using it if possible; the other side says that avoiding it is a kind of erasure--or, worse, a kind of fetishization of the word. (There are, of course, more than just these two sides; I am simplifying for the sake of brevity).

 

I personally don't use it, even when teaching 19th-century American literature. I am uncomfortable with it and the pain it has caused. However, I sometimes wonder if my own "comfort" (and all the privilege that connotes) is a valid enough reason to avoid confronting a long, ugly history that is very much with us today.

Edited by lifealive
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I just want to be clear that while I have had a lot of emotional support, this program is not anywhere near being a graduate school utopia. While I love it here and I love my people here, there is some BULLSHIT--but it's also probably no worse than any other department. Not only that, but Austin is kind of a shitty city to be a minority in already, so it's been one of those semesters that is just fraught with social tension.

 

So, when I say ahistorical I'm talking about the guy1 who wants to talk about war without talking about imperialism, the girl who wants to write about the postbellum South without talking about race, and the people who think that the aesthetic is more important than the political and believe that there is actually a such thing as inherent literary value (which is a point that I disagree with, but can at least understand). Even though these conversations are classroom-specific and probably seem unrelated to police brutality, they are also places where the "good liberal" facade that most academics wear tends to slip and people's biases become visible. To me, those moments are dangerous. The virulent racists are at least the enemy you know, but what happens when these people become professors and administrators? They theoretically understand that we are not in a post-racial society, yet simultaneously feel perfectly comfortable repeatedly using the n-word in class because their desire for an unmediated interaction with the text is more important than my and other black people's trauma?2 I find it deeply disturbing and I'm not sure what to do about it.

 

1These are actual people in my program, by the way

2 Yup, that happened too.

 

Long-time lurker, but I needed to chime into this conversation and support dazedandbemused's account. 

 

This happens everywhere, even if you're in a city known for its rich activist history. Being a person of color (especially a queer person of color) can be extremely alienating. This ranges from aggravatingly racist ("Let's be real, the only reason we read genre fiction by Octavia Butler is because she's black") to uninformed ("My work on the global city has nothing to do with race"). This isn't to bash on my program; I feel well-supported by the faculty and I have a wonderfully kind cohort. But (micro)aggressions still happen.

 

I always support having open conversations about difficult topics such as race and police brutality, because social change is impossible without dialogue, as difficult as that dialogue might be. Maybe, just maybe, a conversation will bring us to a space of greater understanding and empathy. But without trying, it'll never happen. This is particularly important to me because I entered academia in order to allow my activist and teaching spheres to overlap and mutually inform each other. My scholarship is community-engaged work, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Edited by duran0
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I guess I lucked out with my dept in the sense that people (at least the one's I've interacted with thus far) seem to be really aware of the different interesections and such. And they are actively anti notions of being colorblind, postracial, etc. Now I am in a huge program, so there's probably some detractors, but amongst the chunk I've interacted with, most folks seem to be on the right track.

 

As for the n-word, my dept had a seminar on trigger warnings a couple months ago & it was a PACKED room. Part of the discussion dealt with using the n-word in class and the many ways in which academia doesn't recognize the particularly difficult experience that it can be to be a black or brown student in a classroom of people that don't get it. Most of the instructors who talked about the word expressed that they don't allow it to be used & other people expressed the hurt that they felt in classrooms where the word was used. There wasn't any sort of resolution to be had here, but it was a great discussion that I think really opened some people's minds.

 

dazedandbemused, maybe a similar discussion can be broached in your program?

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I just want to be clear that while I have had a lot of emotional support, this program is not anywhere near being a graduate school utopia. While I love it here and I love my people here, there is some BULLSHIT--but it's also probably no worse than any other department. Not only that, but Austin is kind of a shitty city to be a minority in already, so it's been one of those semesters that is just fraught with social tension.

 

So, when I say ahistorical I'm talking about the guy1 who wants to talk about war without talking about imperialism, the girl who wants to write about the postbellum South without talking about race, and the people who think that the aesthetic is more important than the political and believe that there is actually a such thing as inherent literary value (which is a point that I disagree with, but can at least understand). Even though these conversations are classroom-specific and probably seem unrelated to police brutality, they are also places where the "good liberal" facade that most academics wear tends to slip and people's biases become visible. To me, those moments are dangerous. The virulent racists are at least the enemy you know, but what happens when these people become professors and administrators? They theoretically understand that we are not in a post-racial society, yet simultaneously feel perfectly comfortable repeatedly using the n-word in class because their desire for an unmediated interaction with the text is more important than my and other black people's trauma?2 I find it deeply disturbing and I'm not sure what to do about it.

 

1These are actual people in my program, by the way

2 Yup, that happened too.

 

I'm sorry dazedandbemused.  Since I'm not in your program and not familiar with the environment you work in, I in no way feel entitled to tell you what would be an appropriate way to deal with this.  I'm often disappointed by the apathy I see at my SLAC, but this is the kind of stuff that would not be allowed to fly here.  Maybe it's just because of the environment I've spent the last 4.5 years studying in, but "micro-aggressions" (though these seem, to me, more blatant than that) such as these would be totally fair game for classroom discussion where I am.  The things you've listed (war without imperialism, antebellum south without race discussion) seem completely irresponsible, not only socially, but even in a scholarly "vacuum" (a notion I reject -- too much Marxism in my blood I suppose).  As for the use of the "n-word," come on.  Again, I don't know your comfort levels and the acceptance of this where you are, but it seems to me that you should be able to call attention to such things.  In class.  In my experiences here, which I recognize are different than many peoples', calling someone out on this type of thinking could lead to a rich conversation that could benefit everyone.  If a professor is letting this stuff be said without comment, I would definitely try to have a conversation with him or her if you aren't comfortable bringing it up in class discussions. 

 

Best of luck to you and anyone else who experiences this bullshit.  This is the kind of shit that I think people need to have a better outlet for discussing.  How can we eradicate this sort of crap without discussion?  People saying these kind of things may have the best of intentions, but in my mind, they ought appreciate being called out on saying things like that because it will only improve their ability to be responsible with respect to both social interactions and scholarly research.  I know if I were saying things like that I would want to be called out on it because I wouldn't want to be walking around saying shit like that without realizing it!  The best way to learn is to learn to recognize when you are making mistakes.

 

EDIT: to add that I think that duran0 and toasterezzi's points above are excellent ones that I sought to reaffirm in my above post.  People at my institution make an active effort to be more racially conscious, at least in my experience -- which isn't to say I haven't encountered problems.  They were often able to be talked out and I've learned a lot about becoming more conscious of my own words and actions and noticing others' simply through some of the people I've befriended and had discussions with inside and outside of class.  As a queer person who only came out during the course of my college career, I'll say that I've encountered way more "micro-aggressions" due to that -- but then again, I'm "white."  When I started dating a girl after being with boys for a couple years I couldn't even tell you how many times my girlfriend was told that it was "impossible" that we were getting together, or that being gay had been a "phase" or a call for attention or that I wasn't "really gay."  I also had to really interrogate myself to get over a lot of presuppositions, language, and ideas that I had simply from growing up around very racist, homophobic people -- many of whom were good friends of mine and even close family members.  It can be painful to have these sorts of discussions with people you love and discussions of sexuality and race with my own parents caused tensions and alienation that we still haven't completely overcome.  But there has been progress.  My mother grew up very poor in the Deep South and encountered a lot of angry riots just going to school where she felt genuinely frightened on a regularly basis and had Black cohorts who came from more money than her getting college scholarships that she couldn't get -- these things require honest, painful, and sensitive discussions to address very deep-set problems.  But I won't say that I regret the conversations, even if I regret the way I personally went into them at times.  So I take these things very seriously and personally.  I think "white" people in general ought to as well.  People with white skin ought be disgusted when they hear racially insensitive things coming out of their own or out of other white peoples' mouths.  I really do believe that.  There used to be a wonderful online journal called Race Traitor that is unfortunately defunct now, but their website is still up and their mission, I think, still relevant: http://racetraitor.org/.  I only wish that it would have continued so as to contribute to the conversation today.  As for the use of the n-word, yes, there has been much debate on it, but I think if a text that uses it a lot is going to be used in a class, it is the professor's job to check in with the students and see what they're comfortable with beforehand, even if they believe in the importance of not "censoring" the text when reading out loud.  Because you never know the life stories of all your students, if any.

Edited by mollifiedmolloy
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