classrooms · faster feminism · slow academy

What Is a Feminist Classroom?

We have been thinking a great deal about pedagogy in the last few weeks here at Hook & Eye. Aimée recently wrote about her experiences in a graduate seminar on public feminisms, Jana wrote a guest post that reframed reactions to David Gilmour’s statements as evidence of both theory and praxis, and a few weeks ago I thought about addressing misogyny, racism, and inequity in the classroom. Each of these posts were inspired by events happening outside the classroom space, and each of these events ask or argue for the importance of a pedagogical approach that is influenced by feminism. This has me thinking: what is a feminist classroom?

The answers will vary depending on who is asked the question, of course. If you asked my cousin’s class for first year students at a university in southern Alberta he would tell you that their reply was silence: they weren’t sure or weren’t willing to say. If you ask my third-year women’s literature course at Mount Allison you’ll get a variety of responses that will reference not just feminism, but anti-racist and post-colonial theories. And on and on the variations go. Given the number of egregious things that have happened in the first month of a new school year on campuses across Canada, I find myself wanting to think again about what a feminist classroom might look like, because here’s the thing: at its root feminism is about activism. It is about articulating inequity and working for generative solutions to those inequities. It is about education and about learning the ways in which we have — all of us — been influenced and informed by the inequitable systems in which we live. September 2013 on Canadian university campuses has been a month filled with rape chants, racist chants, and myopic views about Humanities education. It is a good time to rethink and reactivate discussion about feminist classrooms.

I have spent the better past of the last decade and change in university classrooms. Some have them have been clearly demarcated as feminist spaces, others not, and some in-between. Here is the start of a list of challenges and markers of the feminist classroom:

1. A feminist classroom acknowledges difference. In her post Aimée wrote about an experience of being in a classroom about feminism and how that classroom turned into an aggressive space. I had a similar experience in graduate school: the students in my class–myself included–were confronted our own assumptions in a devastating way. Few of us left the class unscarred, fewer of us finished the class without having broken down crying in the class itself. This is not always necessary or useful. A feminist classroom needs to teach its students how to acknowledge difference without translating it, without reifying it, and without vilifying it. This might seem obvious, but it is far far more challenging that I would like to admit. 

2. A feminist classroom is intersectional. This builds on point one: feminism–for me, at least–is a starting point for broad-scale activism. It functions as a starting point from which to address racism, classism, and sexuality. It is a site from which to think about the nation, globalization, and local concerns. It is not the only point nor is it always the best point, that’s why feminism it intersectional: it is a methodology that requires multiple lenses.

3. A feminist classroom is not a pulpit. All feminists are not concerned with the same things. All students do not have the same experiences. The feminist classroom is ideally built to provide students with the tools to analyze the social spheres that we live and operate in, but the feminist classroom is not a failure if all students don’t identify as feminists. Again, this seems to be obvious but it is another incredible challenge. My role as a teacher is to introduce students to tools and methodologies of analysis. My role is to provide a challenging and safe space for discourse. My role is not to convert anyone, much as I would love to have every student leave my classroom aware of and fighting against gender, racial, and sexual injustice and inequity. That’s not my job, and it requires that I check my ego at the door. 

Marusya Bociurkiw recently wrote a post for entitled “Six Reasons Why Calls to Fire David Gilmour Miss the Point.” Reading it was for me another iteration of what a feminist classroom looks like. You can find her list here. You can add your lists in the comments section.

Like Bociurkiw, like Melissa, and like Jana I am ultimately heartened by the opportunity to remind myself why I am a feminist and how I can take that research and activism into the classroom as praxis. And like Aimée I am acutely aware of how challenging that pedagogical move can be.     

bad academics · empowerment

What David Gilmour Teaches us about the Importance of Education, Community, and Collective Action

Today’s post comes from Jana Smith Elford, who has written for Hook and Eye before.
Last week Margrit approached me to write a post about the (sometimes uncomfortable) intersections between theory and praxis. 
I was going to elaborate at length about my recent research on late-nineteenth century British feminism and socialism, and how my investigations of these historical social movements had suggested to me the importance of (in the words of one of the authors I study) “joining something, siding with somebody, letting your comrades have the strength which added comradeship brings, identifying yourself with the side you wish to win, and not being so cowardly as to wish for victory without daring to fight for it.” My intention was to suggest the importance of creating vibrant communities of passionate individuals who can effectively advocate for structural change through a combination of education, community-building, and activism. I was going to discuss how the women I study managed so effectively to advance both the idea of social change and actually effect its becoming, and then muse on how these principles might influence our efforts today.
Like most of you, I was initially shocked and dismayed by the views espoused by Gilmour in the interview. I mean, my very first response was complete disbelief that this guy was for real–I thought the article had to be satire, from The Onion or the like. When I got over my disbelief, what was left was something very close to despair. After this many years of feminist activism, the academy still privileges someone like this? With all the excellent, well-trained PhDs out there who are chronically underemployed and underpaid? 
But then . . . David Gilmour was totally schooled. Again, and again, and again.
In fact, he was so quickly and collectively castigated by the wide literary and academic community that my despair turned into heavy relief, followed by a warm, fuzzy feeling in my stomach that I subsequently identified as “joy”.  (You’ll forgive me: I don’t always feel this way about the literary and academic community.) My take-away? Yes, there are professors (and colleges) out there who privilege this kind of misogyny and racism, but there are many many more who simply won’t stand for it. 
Honestly, I was really heartened. And I think the crux of why I was so heartened comes back to theory and praxis.
I often feel that we in the academy have issues with connecting our research to our practice–that we’re too isolated, that our ideas sometimes remain within our own heads, that we fail to adequately advocate for the importance of an education in the humanities, that we miss how important it is to actively participate in wider movements, activities, and organizations. 
But this whole debacle has motivated a beautiful dovetailing of education, community, and collective, cohesive action. David Gilmour was TOLD (helped out *gasp* by the National Post). Members of the progressive literary community mounted excellent defenses of the way they read, and write, and teach. Many, many individuals across Canada and beyond joined together–online and in person–to remind each other and the wider community of what it is, exactly, that the humanities stands for, and advocates against. 
Yes, it is unfortunate that it took Gilmour’s deeply troubling remarks to get here. But occasionally this kind of event is the type that motivates further activity and action. Let’s hope our responses can continue to, as a friend of a friend of mine put it, “out-good Gilmour’s bad.”

(And, Toronto friends, if you can, please attend this event!)
backlash · sexist fail · slow academy · teaching

Why We’re Here (Or, the Inevitable David Gilmour Post)

As you’ve probably heard, there are still professors out there who say things like this:  

“I don’t love women writers enough to teach them. That’s all I’m saying. What I teach are guys. If you want women writers, you go down the hall.” (David Gilmour)

“I got this job six or seven years ago, usually the University of Toronto doesn’t allow people to become professors without a doctorate. You have to have a doctorate to teach here, but they asked if I would teach a course, and I said I would. I’m a natural teacher, I was trained in television for many years. I know how to talk to a camera, therefore I know how to talk to a room of students.” (David Gilmour)

“But I can only teach stuff I love. I can’t teach stuff that I don’t, and I haven’t encountered any Canadian writers yet that I love enough to teach.I’m not interested in teaching books by women. Virginia Woolf is the only writer that interests me as a woman writer, so I do teach one of her short stories. But once again, when I was given this job I said I would only teach the people that I truly, truly love. Unfortunately, none of those happen to be Chinese, or women.” (David Gilmour)

And then blame any offense on misinterpretation, or bad intent, or being distracted by a Frenchman:

“And this is a young woman who kind of wanted to make a little name for herself, or something…” (David Gilmour)

“I’m sorry for hurting your sensibilities…” (David Gilmour)

“Quite frankly, I was speaking to a Frenchman, so I was more concerned with my French than I was with what I was saying to this young woman. But I think anybody who teaches Truman Capote cannot be attacked for being an anti-anything.” (David Gilmour)

But provide opportunities for smart and open-minded critics to say things like this: 

“I’ve got a dare for you, David Gilmour. I dare you – I fucking dare you – to spend six months reading nothing but writers who aren’t white cis males. Read female writers. Read Chinese writers. Read queer and trans and disabled writers. Read something that’s difficult for you to love, then take a deep breath and try harder to love it. Immerse yourself in worlds and thoughts and perspectives that are incredibly different from your own. Find a book that can change you and then let yourself be changed.” (Anne Thériault)

“I now believe that professors have an ethical responsibility to show their students the world, as best they can. I’m not calling for quotas, and I’m not saying bad books should be taught through affirmative action. I am calling for those in positions to influence the understanding and discussion of literature to think bigger and better, to see farther and wider. To, quite simply, do better. We’ll all benefit.” (Jared Bland)

“Let’s implore all those ‘girl’ students who have had the misfortune to enrol in Gilmour’s class to keep walkin’ “down the hall.” That’s where they’ll find the trained underemployed Ph.Ds who know how to teach a diversity of great books, even if they don’t speak to their own narrow middle-aged guy perspective.” (Cheryl Cowdy)

“‘And I said, “No, I tend to teach people whose lives are a lot like my own, because that’s what I understand best, and that’s what I teach best.’ Oh, oh, but he feels qualified to teach Tolstoy and Chekhov? He probably has a Russian soul, that one. … Completely unable to reflect on what he is actually saying. Translation: I feel that a nineteenth-century Russian male serf-owner is more like me than a North American woman who is my contemporary. What a prince. Not a sexist bone in his body indeed.” (Наталия Хоменко)

And call attention to the ongoing necessity of organizations like this, and blogs like ours:
“Every time Gilmour opens his mouth, you’ve got a reason to support CWILA’s work for gender and racial equality in Canadian literature.” (CWILA)
In the end: 
That there are still university syllabuses that include only straight, cissexual, white, able-bodied, neurotypical men;
That there are universities who hire the people who design those syllabuses and teach those courses over those who are open-minded, inclusive, and skilled as both readers and teachers; 
That being offended by casual and blatant sexism and racism still invites accusations of oversensitivity and overreaction;  
That men are always men but women are often “girls”; 
That students are still walking out of some university classrooms with the impression that women, non-Caucasian people, transgender people, queer people, differently-abled people, neuroatypical people, Canadians, are third-rate writers and unworthy of our attention and of having us experience their perspective for as long as the story lasts (and hopefully long after);
That’s why Hook & Eye exists. So thanks to David Gilmour for demonstrating how vital our project really, and still, is. And for showing just how big the community of pro-diversity, good humoured, literature-loving, brilliant, and student-centric people really is. It wasn’t what he intended, but as he claims not to have intended much of what he said in his original interview, it seems apropos.

Note: “Don’t read the comments” doesn’t apply here–the comments on both of Gilmour’s articles, the transcript of the interview, Bland’s article, and Theriault’s post are incisive, supportive, and heartening. And for a special treat, check out The Toast’s “The Life of Virginia Woolf, Beloved Chinese Novelist, As Told By David Gilmour.” And, of course, there’s Twitter.
faster feminism

Solidarity? Or Silencing?

A graduate seminar on Public Feminisms during my PhD was one of the formative experiences of my academic life, in some ways you can probably guess and in some ways you probably can’t.

It was a pressure cooker, fully enrolled and then some, with something like 18 students, mostly if not all women, in a too-small glass-walled seminar room without enough space for all the coats, books, bodies, tempers, ideas, egos, and agendas. Not enough room either for all the possibility, the joy, the injustices and tragedies and triumphs we were learning about. The course was team taught–which is to say, serially instructed by three different women. This took away from some of the coherence, I think, and the room sometimes developed a kind of Lord of the Flies atmosphere barely kept covered by an avowed hewing to the common purpose of the Cause.

We all self-identified as feminists. I honestly think you couldn’t not, in that room, and survive until the coffee break. From this shared self-identification something unhelpful happened: we thought we were all alike. And from this misunderstanding sprang a regrettable tendency to view one perspective or practice as ideologically pure, and all others as unfeminist. Or even misogynist.

We were not alike, I probably don’t need to tell you. Among the many unacknowledged differences in the room were nationality, class, sexual orientation, age, temperament, work experience or disciplinary training. And what resulted was that while we all expected ourselves to think alike on all feminism related topics, we didn’t: how could we? But when we differed, we weren’t really able to cope with the idea that someone’s career being advanced by housekeeping provided by immigrant women looks liberating or exploitative depending on whether you’re the career woman or the immigrant.

We fought. Instead of really listening to one another, or grounding our own interpretations of a text or our own practice of some or another fraught engagement, in the contextualizing preamble of our own positionally, we tried to determine by various means, which idea was right. And which was wrong.

I remember feeling perpetually frustrated, often angry, usually helpless, sometimes despairing: I am obviously not a good feminist if I can’t get along with feminists, if they make me angry and they think I’m totally wrong. I think a lot of us experienced those feelings.

One class we were considering the pornography wars of the 70s and 80s, and the notions of representation and sexualization and objectification of female bodies for the male gaze (or the male meat grinder as in that famous Penthouse cover). I did a presentation on an American photographer whose work had all been confiscated, his equipment seized, his business shut down because a FotoMat employee printing some test shots noticed there were naked children in them. Since I was trained as a fine art photographer myself, and knew this artist’s work very well, I had a particular slant I wanted to argue. I was totally unprepared for the total shitstorm of rage that rained down on me that day. This happened a lot, not just to me, but to others. Nearly perpetual misunderstanding, hurt feelings, accusations of racism and sexism and homophobia and various other kinds of heresy and more.

I’m still working through what happened over those two full semesters of that course. The very difficult and challenging materials we read are pieces that have ultimately made me who I am–a lot of that work was the pit in which I was forged as a thinker. But the classroom space has always left a bad taste in my mouth, this tendency we all had to want to be right, to find the one right theory, right answer, right practice and to lash out at anyone who thought, said, did anything differently.

If a room full of feminists working on feminism can’t find a way to be respectful and kind in working through the ideas from that field, what hope do we have in the rest of the public sphere.

I’m asking now because Things Are Going On on the Internet, where some of the most vituperative attacks on feminist writers are coming from other so-called feminists. We need to find a way to talk to each other, I think, where we can really listen to one another’s ideas in the full contexts in which they are offered. But how?

The personal is the political after all … but how this became a license to engage in ad hominem attacks is a question that remains to be answered.

For the most part, in 99% of what you see here, people are kind and respectful and interesting and engaging. That’s awesome. Some posts that draw a lot of outside traffic (like the post on Amanda Todd and a couple of others) draw some random loons from the broader internet who have some anti-feminist agenda to promote. We have a policy where if the attack gets personal or off topic, or, actually, attack-like, we just delete it.

But the internet at large is undeletable. And we need to start thinking more seriously about what a normative style of interaction based on flaming does to participation in our debates, and to the participants.


No More Self-Effacement! Or, some thoughts on asking questions

Every time I stand at the front of the class and pose a question to my students I’m reminded how challenging it can be respond on the spot. I mean, I very rarely ask a question that will result in a one-word response. Nope, I pose layered questions geared at getting the students to think about the material and think about their own knowledges. Good questions often take time to answer well: you need to listen, process, and orient yourself in relation to what’s been asked. You need to decide whether or not you have something to say, and then you need to say it. Out loud. In front of other people. It’s hard work, saying what you’re thinking while you’re still in the midst of thinking it. It is hard and I think it is necessary. Asking questions and responding to them publicly lets us think together. It is a dynamic process. Risky? Sure. Hard? You bet. Rewarding? Yes, it can be.

I found myself thinking about the difficulty of asking questions in a public setting this weekend while at a conference. Last year a friend and colleague told me I was someone he counted on to ask challenging questions. I expressed shock. I hate asking questions in a conference setting. I rarely feel as though I have had enough time to process what has been said, and to be honest I get really nervous speaking up. Never mind that I have lectured to classrooms of more that a hundred students, I still get a racing heart and shaky hands when I am about to ask a question. When I told my friend this he laughed and replied that he experienced the same kinds of physical manifestations of nerves. We told each other how surprised we were that the other person felt that way. And then we started talking about why we ask the questions even though it is rarely easy or comfortable. Its about responsibility, we agreed. Asking questions and creating a moment of dynamic discourse is part of our responsibility as participants in various intellectual communities.

So as I sat in various classrooms over the past few days I have been paying attention to how people ask questions. I’ve noticed how very many people preface their queries with an apology. I’m sorry if this takes me a while to articulate. I’m sorry if I didn’t understand everything you said. I’m sorry I’m trying to engage with your thinking. Sure, not every question is a good one and there are far too many times that people seem to talk just for the sake of hearing themselves talk, but I was struck by the number of times I heard people use self-effacement as a way of entering a conversation.

Surely there’s a better way. There is also this hilarious map to help us avoid being the talk-for-talking’s-sake-people.

Next time you ask a question try cutting out the self-effacement. I will too.

networking · promotion

On Feminine Modesty and Self-Promotion

At the interview for my new #alt-ac job, there was only one question that really threw me for a loop. After the Associate Dean asked it, I looked down at my hands. I paused, for more than a second. I might even have blushed. The question?

“Tell me what your peers would say the best things are about you as a researcher and a colleague.”

 Maybe the question shouldn’t have surprised me. Is this the new “Tell us about your strengths /weaknesses”? Maybe those of you who are on hiring committees know. But interview pressure or no, this is a hard question to answer. Because as women–and especially as female academics–we are taught that to speak highly of ourselves, to speak strongly about our strengths, to shine light on our positive accomplishments and qualities, is braggy. Not humble. Unbecoming. Immodest. As Lee puts it,

 Good Female Academics are mild and quiet and work away at their jobs, hoping to get noticed, but well aware that any attempt at blowing their own horn will be met with derision and dismissal….This is the message we’re sent as girls and as women. To believe in ourselves is arrogant, unfounded, untrue.

 So to be asked to do just that, to blow my own horn, even in an interview–which is explicitly an exercise in presenting a public, polished, and promotional version of oneself–was really hard. It felt not unlike realizing that I’d left the house pantsless. And especially hard because of the way the question was phrased. Not only was I being asked to speak positively about myself, but I was being asked to do so on behalf of others–not just to think highly of myself, but to own that others thought highly of me too, and to speak in for them.

I was lucky that I’d already established a good rapport with the interview panel by that point, and so I could laugh about how difficult being asked to answer that question was as I formulated an answer. I told them about qualities and achievements that I thought my colleagues appreciate in me–my work to build opportunities for teamwork and skills development among graduate students, my attempts to create forums where my peers could showcase their research, my ability to effectively coordinate large groups of people and projects with lots of moving parts, the great parties I throw–but it was uncomfortable. It’s uncomfortable repeating it here. But I’m doing it, because I don’t think that we, as female academics, will stop feeling like self-promotion–even self-belief–is unbecoming, immodest, or arrogant unless we keep doing it: talking about what we’re good at. Celebrating our accomplishments. Making others aware of our work. Sharing our knowledge publicly. Convincing others that our voices need to be part of the conversation. This is what CWILA is doing in encouraging women to pitch book reviews. And what does when she exhorts us to say yes when the media calls. And what Hook and Eye’s boast posts encourage us to do on a regular basis. 

It’ll get easier. It is getting easier: for us, as women, to answer questions like the one that I got without demurring, or blushing, or laughing. And for those around us to get used to the idea that yes, we are knowledgeable, effective, powerful, respected. And it’s okay to hear us say that. Because it’s true.

What about you, dear readers? Do you find self-promotion an uncomfortable experience? Been judged for doing it? How do you work against the spoken and unspoken expectation of Good Female Academics? Or have you figured out how to transcend them in ways that you’d like to share?

photo by Arturo de Albornoz // cc

academy · equity · faster feminism

Microaggressions and what your university’s home page says about gender and research

This is the page I see when I open a new browser window. It’s the University of Waterloo home page. I open a lot of browser windows, owing to I fart around on the Internet for a living, so I see this page somewhere between 10 and 50 times a day. One of the cool features of the UW home page is that right up at the top, above the fold, there’s a slide-show of profiled researchers. You can click on their pictures or the brief description of their work in order to see a full length profile. I like this, in principle: it’s a great way to showcase, every week, different aspects of the research life of the university, or, less often, some aspect of student life or teaching.

The problem is, since the beginning of September, the stories have all featured men. Oh, and one featured a spiffy new building, that’s mostly filled with male researchers.

Open browser: smiling dude working in nanotechnology.

Open browser: smiling dude working in nanotechnology.

Open browser: back of some dude, talking about quantum computing.

Open browser: extremely expensive room in extremely expensive building, for quantum nano.

Open browser: smiling Twitter founder (dude), coming for a lecture on being an entrepreneur.

Browser after browser after browser, for a couple of weeks, and I was starting to simmer a low grade annoyance on the back burner of my consciousness. Yesterday, I figured it out: I was feeling excluded, as a woman and as a humanities researcher. I was feeling like the university was trying to represent a normative research agenda and researcher, and it was engineering focused, and male. It felt like a personal insult.

It was a microagression. Just a tiny, little inconsequential thing, that over time, and repeated exposure, turned into, well, feelings of unbelonging and stress. Microaggression: it’s the nanotechnology of exclusions.

I wrote to the head of Communications and Public Affairs (because it’s the PR people who get to decide what the university is all about, and how to pitch it to the world, which is another post, probably) and mentioned both that I love the stories, individually, but that I’d noticed what I’d noticed and I thought it should be fixed.

She wrote back to say that feedback is always welcome and my input will eventually be considered.

Um, no.

I think this is important, actually. You know, I featured in one of those stories last year, in the same week as two other female researchers. Some of my other female colleagues–including some humanists and social scientists, have been profiled, too. I don’t think CPA is being deliberately sexist and exclusive. I just don’t think the balance of fields, disciplines, and genders is something they’re explicitly planning for. They should. Because when you leave it to chance, sometimes September is all men and all engineering all the time. Sometimes, when you don’t make a conscious effort at fostering and celebrating diversity (of fields, of scholars, or even of the balance between the research and teaching and service mandates of the university) you replicate the easy inequities of the culture at large. And that feels icky, to at least one female member of this institution.

academic reorganization · emotional labour · empowerment · stockpiling letterhead

Dreaming Communities of Care in the Academy

Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to think about what it means to be a member of a supportive community. The beloved cafe in my new home town has experienced a misunderstanding with the town council over patio space. The short term result has been for the cafe owners to take a vacation and recharge. It isn’t just that we are missing the excellent espresso and St. Viateur bagels. It is that we are missing the people we get to see on a daily basis. That’s the thing about a small town: if you’re feeling lonely or needing a wee break you know you can head down to the cafe and have a chat with folks. In the meantime, I’ve witnessed a community of care rally to try and rectify the situation for everyone. The aim, it seems to me as a newcomer, is simply to make our town better for the whole community.

What does this have to do with academia?

It is fall, and as jobs are posted, the MLA job list opens, and grant application deadlines seem to be running straight towards us rather than looming in the distance I’ve found myself wondering once again what a community of care in the academy might look like.

Sure, these communities of care happen on a micro-level: reading groups, friends, small trans-university networks. I can think of many times when these communities pop up on a smaller scale. For example, having someone offer to show you his successful grant application as you write yours, having a mentor offer advice about where to send those revisions, talking with friends and letting of anxious steam, having a colleague offer you letterhead so you can continue to apply for jobs, having an institution offer you adjunct status to allow you to apply for grants: these are all small-scale instances of care within the academic community.

But what might it look like to create large-scale communities of care in the academy? What kinds of specific structural changes could happen at the classroom/ departmental/ faculty levels? What kinds of changes might happen if we — and by “we” I mean those of us working in the academy in full- part- and precarious-time positions — simply to make things better for the whole community?

collaboration · community · empowerment · reform

Imagining structural solutions

Do you know what day it is today? It’s the day the hallowed MLA Job Information List (JIL) descends upon us, enabling the birth of many a hope, a dream, and/or a plan. For people happily not acquainted with the JIL, allow me to inform you: it is *the* list of academic jobs in the field of languages and literatures, open across US and Canada, but increasingly also in Europe and Asia. The UK and Australia, and some of Asia, run on a slightly different academic-job recruitment schedule. In brief, for many PhDs and ABDs in English and other language/literature fields, the publication of the JIL initiates the bulk of the academic-job application process and its attendant emotional and material labour.

The ugly truth that has emerged in the past years points to the numeric inadequacy of the list, which I’m holding up here as a symbol of the job market. For the first time ever this year, the JIL will be accessible free of charge, rather than by subscription. However important this gesture, it cannot mask the simple fact that there are not enough jobs. Many conversations around the internet, twitter, facebook, departmental water cooler, etc. revolve around the absence of sufficient and appropriate employment for higher degree humanities graduates. A significant amount of media commentary also rose in response to the generalized attack on the humanities, especially in its higher education form. In addition, the advice industry and academic coaching has bloomed, while many PhDs and ABDs are urged to orient themselves toward #AltAc and #PostAc careers. Congratulations to Hook & Eye’s own Melissa Dalgleish for acting on that advice and succeeding!

There is thus no shortage of band-aid solutions to what we should recognize as a structural problem. It is NOT the fault of the individual PhD or ABD that s/he has not secured a permanent job. It is NOT up to the individual candidate with a #HigherEd degree to prove to industry and other #PostAc venues that s/he has all the skills to perform in a given position and then some. We should recognize and excise the blame-game rhetoric out of our conversations, especially in the malicious reactions to bona fide attempts to open up discussions of this systemic issue.

Instead, we should look for both ways to advocate for the people we train and their invaluable skills. I’m sure when we put our smart, creative, and experienced heads together, we can come up with many reasons why higher education in the humanities is valuable. The question is, how do we propagate our message? Many of us happily shared a variety of articles extolling the virtues of employees majoring in humanities disciplines. Shouldn’t we do more of that work ourselves? In an organized, collaborative way? Dare I dream: in an institutional way?

Shouldn’t we, with our magisterial critical thinking skills, expose the structural issues, and respond with structural solutions? You see, the reason I put up the Chomsky quote up there is that this disciplinary technique works across the entire education system: students are incurring record amounts of debt, while faculties are being defunded and told to fundraise, and departments are being obliterated. The seemingly generalized defunding of higher education has been hitting the humanities and social sciences disproportionately, and many people are doing a tremendous amount of work fighting and responding to those attacks. That work exerts a huge emotional toll, and takes a lot of time and personal resources. People who do put up that fight on behalf of the larger community may become depleted, burnt out, and sometimes bitter for lack of more wide-spread support. The reason for that lack of support is also simple: neoliberalism has inculcated the belief of the possibility of individual exceptionalism–“if I work hard enough, and play by the rules best, I’m sure one of those jobs/grants/positions will be mine! Mine, I tell you! Mine!”–so we keep our heads in our research, or ever growing teaching necessary to make a decent living or a poverty wage
September is the craziest time of the academic year in Canada and the US, and it’s exactly this sensation of being transported at supersonic speed toward a wall of bricks you know you cannot avoid that gave me pause. I know so many academics who teach and practice thinking against the grain. I know so many academics who are dedicated to finding better, more equitable, more ethical ways to live on and share the planet with others. This is important work. So, how do we extract ourselves from the daily grind and from the desperation of our disciplines’ dismal fiscal situations for long enough to begin a conversation about structural solutions that are applicable now?
#alt-ac · administration · best laid plans · transition

Welp, So Much for a Gradual Transition!

The last time I started this post, on Monday, it went something like this:

Today is my last first day of teaching–in the university, at least. Both my funding and my dissertation will wrap up this year, and next September will see me goodness-knows-where. Not in front of a university classroom, though. You see, I’ve decided to go on the alt-ac/non-ac track. To hang out my shingle as something other than an adjunct or a seeker of a tenure-track job. The professoriate and I are parting ways.

What I didn’t know then was quite how quickly that parting of ways would happen. My thought was that I’d keep my eye out for suitable positions in the spring, once my classes were winding down, and that I’d start my new life as a “real person” (as the lingo goes in my graduate program for people who move out of the academy) in the summer or fall. It would be gradual. I’d have lots of time to wrap my head around the fact that things were changing, and I’d finish one thing before I started another. But life happens, and when a friend (who you really should read) posted a job that sounded positively dreamy–research focused, helping grad students, in my city–I decided to give it a shot. Couldn’t hurt, I thought. Good practice at turning the ol’ CV into a resume and talking about myself to other people, I thought. I’ll never get it, I thought.

I start on Monday.

So, there you have it. You were going to get, among other things, my thoughts on transitioning out of academia, or into non-professoriate parts of academia, from the perspective of a late-stage graduate student–one who was gradually entering the job market and trying to figure out where she, with an English PhD, could fit. Instead, you’re going to get posts on transitioning into the alt-academy (for I’m remaining at the university, my university, just in a different–but in many ways not so different–role) from someone who has just effected that shift. I’ll be writing as someone who is learning a new job, who is figuring how to be a “real person” and a PhD student (because I’m staying that too). Oh, and who has between now and Monday make that transition make sense in her head. Hang on for the ride!

And for those of you who might be considering a hop onto the alt-ac/non-ac track, here are some resources to get you started, or to add to those you’ve already got: