#FergusonSyllabus · academic reorganization · change · feminist digital humanities


Opening Questions

What would it take to start a movement in which every new course proposal aimed for inclusivity and diversity?

What would it take to have sustained conversations about diversity and inclusivity in course development and delivery?

What would it look like if every required course syllabus was regularly reexamined with an eye for inclusivity and diversity?

What would be possible if suggestions like these weren’t met with raised hackles or self-defensive positioning?

What would first-year courses look like if each syllabus was designed to deliver introductory content and inclusive and diverse methodologies?

What would department meetings look like if diversity was an agreed-upon requirement and practice for teaching and learning?

What would you change about the syllabi you’re teaching this semester, were you to do a gender audit or an accounting for diversity of authors?

Do these seem like impossible questions to answer? Do they seem all too familiar?

The Context

Last week as I was grading procrastinating, I stumbled upon something very exciting happening on Aimée’s Facebook wall. An amazing discussion was unfolding about the need for, well, more public discussions about how we teachers replicate our own knowledge, and in so doing, unwittingly replicate our own biases. Without reproducing the discussion in full here, the gist was this: despite it being *shrug, mic drop* 2015, syllabi are, for the most part, remarkably lacking in inclusivity and diversity. Why?

Once we are in a position to be hireable to stand at the front of a classroom and teach, presumably we have developed a degree of expertise. Expertise may be in the content of your research, or in your learned ability to structure compelling lecture-techniques to deliver content. You may be an expert at walking into the room and guiding discussion with no notes. But none of us are wholly expert in all things. That belies the definition of what an expert is. And so we are, as teachers, both able to stand tall in our own areas of expertise and, I should hope, recognize where we each, all of us, have room for improvement. For consultation. For collaboration and learning. Right?

Uh. Maybe not, eh?

Maybe collaborative discussion is happening around learning outcomes and syllabus development in your department, and then again, maybe not so much. Maybe not at all? Certainly, not enough.

As I watched the conversation unfold it became clear that while there may be a deep desire for meaningful and sustained conversations and practices around creating inclusive and diverse syllabi, most of the people involved in the conversation were not seeing that in their own departments. But rather than fall into frustrated silences the people Aimée had a suggestion: why not start a discussion and collaborative brainstorming/resource-sharing movement on Twitter?

This reminds me of another version of Marcia Chatelaine‘s #FergusonSyllabus, which used Twitter first as a call to action in the classroom, and then as a collaborative brainstorming session about how to facilitate meaningful discussions about racism in America in a variety of learning contexts.

This suggestion also makes me think of the shadow syllabus.

So let’s get to it, shall we?


This is the hashtag Aimée has devised, and we’re getting started today!

If you are interested in thinking through and working to build inclusive and diverse syllabi for your courses next term, search #inclusivesyllabus

If you are an expert in building inclusive and diverse syllabi in your field, share your process #inclusivesyllabus

If you think that your field/period/genre/methodology doesn’t allow for inclusivity and diversity, try thinking that through #inclusivesyllabus

See you there!

#alt-ac · day in the life · PhD · writing

How Did I Not Notice I’d Become a Writer?

As I do every weekday morning, I’m sitting at my little desk tucked into the corner of our spare room, writing. I wake up at 5:30 and write until about 7:45, and then I get ready for work. The soundtrack to my writing is my partner’s deep breathing upstairs–he won’t wake up for awhile yet–and my cat loudly wondering why I don’t come play with him. I don’t have to worry about any small people waking up to disrupt me. I just have to worry about getting my butt in the chair and my hands on the keyboard. 

I don’t keep track of how many pages I produce per day, but I do keep track of how many days of the week my butt gets in the chair. I’m a religious (albeit very idiosyncratic) bullet journaller, and writing is the first thing on my list every day. And that consistency is really helpful. In the last two weeks, I’ve submitted a chapter, gotten back (and completed) the revisions on another, and made progress on a third. My committee is really happy with the project, and so am I. I look forward to my writing dates with myself. Despite being entirely happy with my choice to become an academic administrator rather than an academic, I love the two hours a day that I get to be a researcher and a writer. I also love that that time has finite limits, and I think that’s what makes the difference. 
I am, you see, the person who is a grad dean’s time-to-completion nightmare. I started my PhD in 2008, and I won’t be done with it until the spring of 2016. I’ve been working on it part-time since 2013, yes, but I also finished writing my dissertation proposal in November 2011 and it took me until the spring of 2015 to get halfway done with the actual dissertation. Writing used to be torturous. I must have rewritten the second section of my first chapter fifteen times, easily. Writing was either so slow that I felt like someone was pulling words out of me with pliers, or so dammed up that the words stayed inside where they’d prick and niggle and reduce me to a quavering ball of anxiety and fear. I didn’t know how to learn how to write in a new style–as my dissertation is not modelled on others in my field–or for a new audience–for despite repeated warnings not to, I’m writing the book, not just the dissertation–without trying and failing hundreds of times. I almost gave up, so many times. I didn’t much mourn the loss of my writing time when my first admin job required hours and hours of overtime. I devoted dozens of pages of writing just to figuring out why I was writing at all. 
I can’t tell you exactly when that changed. Finding a different supervisor, one whose approach and interests better match what my research looks like now, helped a lot. Finally getting that second section right, and then knowing how to move forward, made a difference. Figuring out why I was writing, the reasons besides getting a PhD, broke down barriers. Without realizing it, I started to think of myself as a writer. I sit down every day and tell stories about being a woman writer in Canada in the 1950s, about how other people also figured out how to become people who have to sit down and create something out of words every day, and about what happened when they did. They didn’t find it easy either. They doubted, and nearly quit, and mourned their lack of community, and assumed that their most recent bout of writer’s block would last forever and they would never write again. They also went on to win the big awards and sell thousands of books and change the way we think about writing and the world. I’ve started to write down ideas for my next project, because these hours at my desk have become precious to me and I won’t give them up even once this is done. 
Doing a PhD–deciding to finish the PhD that I started, more accurately–has been one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. Not in and of itself, but in how it made me get in my own way until I learned how to get out of it. Somewhere in there, I became a writer. The dark days seem very distant now, and I’m not precisely grateful for them, but it’s the best word I can think of. It was hard, but necessary, to stop defining myself as an academic when I decided to move into administration. It felt like giving something up. But I have more, am more, now. I have a job I love, and I became a writer.  
enter the confessional · grad school · grading · teaching

Show your work: modelling scholarship in teaching

This week, no one did the readings, and we had a great class anyways.

How can it be week 11 of the semester already? The students in my graduate seminar on Writing the Self Online have already done two or three response papers, produced an autobiographical writing project online, cultivated an audience, and written a short analytical essay about their experiences, and, last week, submitted proposals and bibliographies for their final projects. I collected those last into a pile very early Friday morning as I handed back their projects.

This is a little bit a story about how it soon became pretty obvious that no one had done much more than skim the readings, hoping that others would have done so more carefully and they could float through. They’re really busy with the flurry of end-of-term assignments coming hard and fast now, both the ones they are producing and the ones they are grading. It’s dark, they’re tired, I get it. It’s easy to write about this. But this is mostly a story about how I wasn’t really as prepared as I wanted to be to teach: it’s dark, I’m tired, I’ve been hauling ass for several weeks assessing SSHRC apps, graduate course proposals, extra office hours, travel, grading assignments.

What we did was this: broke into groups of four, each group assigned one of the three scholarly articles, and produced reading notes and lesson plans. Each group spent 25 minutes cobbling together their best notes on the article. Then the timer went off and they shifted to 15 minutes of producing a credible lesson plan so that they could teach their article to the other groups.

To begin, I put up on the white board my own process–how I take notes on materials I intend to teach, and how I build a lesson plan from there. I told them to snap a pic of the boards, that this was information they could apply to any teaching situation. We went meta: the class became as much about time management and note taking and lesson planning and teaching as it was about Twitter and collective life writing.

It went so well, I had to increase the time.

Each group took a turn to teach their material, instead of simply presenting it. Everyone else took notes. We debriefed afterward about what parts of which teaching were most effective. Students looked way more awake, way more engaged, and way more confident that they knew the material.

In one of the presentations, a student asked all of us to take a moment to craft a Six Word Memoir (hat tip to Laurie McNeill’s book chapter on Life Bytes!). I took a risk and wrote this for mine:

“Grading done, lesson not done–crowd source!”

I was so impressed with how the class had pulled a really creditable session together that I felt I had to fess up: I was overwhelmed and under prepared too, and I knew it had nothing to do with motivation or interest. That I was in exactly the same boat as they were, but we could do something great anyways.

I’m trying to do more of this, more of the explicit modelling of scholarship and teaching by making visible the cracks and fissures in my work as much as I share tips and tricks to make it all manageable. There’s clearly something valuable in me teaching my students to read efficiently and make useful lesson plans. Of course. But there’s something just as valuable perhaps in showing that the reason I need these tricks and tips is because I run out of time too. Out of patience, out of breath, out of energy, out of ideas, but can find a way to keep going that’s based in compassion for myself and compassion for others, to keep the the whole apparatus on track.

It’s possible that I could have lectured for three hours–I did know the material, even if I hadn’t pulled together a real lesson plan. I could have wagged my finger and chastised them for not doing their part of the work. Probably class would have been pretty dead: me asking pointed leading questions about the readings and then glaring at them as they struggled to find answers. This would have been an impressive display of my moral rectitude, greater knowledge base, and authority. But it would have been awful and no one would have learned anything.

It’s a lot easier to say; “Ugh, my students didn’t do any of the readings barely! Kids these days!” But it’s a lot more productive to say: “You know what? I feel like I ran out of time this week, too. It’s a hard, and busy time of the semester. What can we do in our three hours together to get back on track?”

All semester, my students have been impressing me with their smarts, their diligence, there creativity. I told them so and I will keep telling them so, even when they didn’t do the readings this one time. Because I know, because we’re all in this together, and maybe we can learn something new now, about how to ask for help, how to work together, how to make something great simply by admitting we’re not ready to do it alone.


Boast Post

November is a hard month, no? The lovely fall colours are gone; it’s cold and dreary. We’re in that tough part of the semester where students’ enthusiasm wane as their work loads edge higher, mirrored by our own increasing stacks of grading. Here in Edmonton, despite the shortening days, we usually get a few hours of brilliant sun shining on the crisp bright white snow, but this year, we’ve gotten a lot of dreary grey. And then there’s the utterly devastating state of the world right now, (not to mention the fights we’re all having about those world events on Facebook and Twitter). I think I can safely say we’re all in need of a little pick-me-up.

Sooooo: Boast Post! Let’s offer each other a little cheer, and cheer each other up!

You all know how it works by now, right? Do you have something that you’re proud of, or did right? Did someone offer you a piece of praise? Did you finish a dissertation chapter? Have a conference proposal accepted at a competitive conference? Get through a challenging semester of teaching? Did you submit a ton of postdoc/job applications? Get invited to present your research? Tell us! And tell the world on Twitter with the #boastpost hashtag! It can feel a little weird and awkward, but it also feels great to celebrate our accomplishments, and have others celebrate with us.

I have three things to celebrate over the last semester:

1) I have now finished submitting revisions for two articles and one chapter that are forthcoming in the Journal of Modern Periodical Studies, the Victorian Review, and (co-authored with the brilliant Kathryn Holland!) the forthcoming book Reading Modernism with Machines (Palgrave McMillan). It’s thrilling to see the work of the last couple of years come to fruition!

2) I finished drafting my Mona Caird Chapter, and have begun writing THE FINAL CHAPTER of my dissertation! This one is on Henrietta Müller, Olive Schreiner, and the Women’s Penny Paper. I’m really excited to be writing it!

3) I just finished presenting on a fantastic panel at MSA17 on feminist approaches in DH and Modernism, and it was wonderful connecting with other women who work at the intersection of feminism and DH. I also have an upcoming jointly-organized panel at the Victorian Studies Association of Western Canada (VSAWC). Conferences. They’re so fun!

Okay folks, true story: I actually had a hard time keeping it to three things here. I’m kinda shocked. I have been feeling super low about my accomplishments over the last little while. November has really gotten me down. Let me tell you: it feels really great to think through what I’ve accomplished. So: YOUR TURN. Turn off that part of your brain that is telling you it’s gauche or shameless, and boast!

academic work · community · day in the life · emotional labour · fast feminism


Late last week I was chatting with a friend of mine and we asked one another, “how are you?” And then we both giggled. Okay, actually we sent one another ellipses and exclamation points, because we were chatting on Facebook. The hilarity and lack of verbal articulation came from the fact that my friend, who is a single parent, is teaching four classes this term, and I, a co-parent to a six month old, am teaching two classes while my partner teaches three. We have no child care. My friend was up grading papers after teaching three classes, running tutorials, and making sure her own kids were well and fed and getting what they needed. I was awake working on a job application after having driven with my partner two-thirds of the way to New England for a conference at which he was to give a paper the next day. My partner was working on a paper after having taught a class and driving for six hours. Our kiddo, generous being that she is, was asleep in her portable crib in the middle of the hotel room.

How are you?


Our wordless pause came from this, then: we are both in it up to our eyeballs, my friend and I. We are running from the moment we wake to the moment we drop into bed. We are, neither of us, in stable work, so there’s the usual scramble to keep it all afloat. And yet. And yet as my friend and I agreed, the things that keep us grounded–the mornings, when my girl wakes us up singing in her tiny infant voice, the afternoons when my friend steals a moment to write–these things are good. There are roots in our lives, we agreed.

But let’s not deny it is hard. Let us not deny the feeling of being eaten alive by bureaucracy, Brazil-like. Let’s not ignore the data that suggests that nearly half the people working in higher education exhibit symptoms of psychological distress.

I want a word that means more than “surviving” without losing that hard-scrabble fact of what is really going on. I want a word that defies the isolation that comes with working in the academy, because my work–the job I go and do–can and does bring me joy, even if the conditions of that work cannot. I want a word that acknowledges the emotional labour, the sheer physical labour (you should see how quick I am on my bicycle, zipping to campus and class as soon as my partner gets home from his class to take bébé).

“I hope survival turns to thrival,” I wrote to my friend, in an attempt to name our own daily work of making our lives good despite, or in spite, or just in the midst of the long, hard work.

“Here’s to surTHRIVEal!” she wrote back, proving once again (let us acknowledge it here) that poets are indeed the legislators of the world.

So here’s to surthriving. To the precariate, doing your jobs and keeping your head and your spirits above water: surthrive. Find what lifts you. To the graduate students, filled with fear and anxiety about what is next and what is now: surthrive. You are smart. To the assistant professors, finishing their first terms and finding that the dream is still a f*ckload of work: surthrive. You deserve your job, we need you there. To the associate professors, keeping it all going despite the oft-unacknowledged workload: surthrive. You are in positions of power, don’t forget that. To the full professors, wondering, perhaps, what happened to the university you came to at the beginning of your career: surthrive. We need you. To the undergraduate students, facing student debt, facing final exams, trying to keep a social life and likely a job, too: surthrive. Find what lifts you up and hold onto that shining thing and let it light your way. To the administrative staff, keeping us all organized, and keepers of our quiet and not-so-quiet sorrows: surthrive. You keep this whole boat level and moving forward with the band playing.

Here is to surthrival. Here is to refusing to lose the light while acknowledging that the darkness is coming earlier these days. Here is to remembering that there are good moments in each day if we look for them. And here is to refuelling our resolve to make more of the day good, generative, and generous.

#alt-ac · #alt-ac 101 · advice · grad school · supervision

#Alt-Ac 101 for Supervisors

While I’ve never been a supervisor of graduate students, a big part of my job is working with supervisors to give them the resources they need to ensure that their graduate students and postdocs succeed in and out of their research. And supervisors, I see you. I see how hard it is for you to not want for your graduate students what you found, the academic career you were told you were training for when you started graduate school. I see the ways you work to fight against the indoctrination that plagues both you and the people you supervise, that says that an academic life is the only challenging and worthy one. I see you struggle to know what to do, what to say, in the face of numbers like these: that only 18.6% of the people you supervise who finish their degrees will get full-time academic jobs, and about half of the people who start out with you won’t finish at all. I see you avoid the topic of non-professorial jobs because you’ve never had one, and you don’t know what one of those might look like or how you might best help your students and postdocs prepare for one.

I don’t think that supervisors need to be everything to all people. I don’t expect you to be career counsellors as well as brilliant writers, researchers, teachers. I don’t expect you to know the ins and outs of every career your students and postdocs might be interested in. I don’t expect you to stop doing the work of being a researcher and teacher you’re doing. But I do expect you to acknowledge reality, and to do what you can to ensure that all of your students and postdocs succeed, not just those very few who follow in your footsteps. And I’ve got some practical ideas about how.

1. Talk about all kinds of career paths and valourize none. 

Ask your students where they want to end up. Ensure that they know the numbers, nationally and within your program, of tenure-track placements. Encourage them to think about a variety of post-degree career paths. Never talk as though the assumption is that everyone will become a tenure-track professor, and never denigrate non-professorial careers. Talk about all kinds of careers as equally valid, and equally valourous. 
2. Keep track of your graduates, and not just the ones that become professors. 

Know what your supervisees are doing with their PhDs. Be able to point to specific careers when your current students and postdocs ask what people with a PhD in their field could do. Know at least a little about your former students’ transition stories, how they got where they are, what they did to get there, and so that you can help your current students decide what they should be doing to prepare for their post-PhD lives. You already know how to help your students prepare to become professors, but learn how to help them to become other things as well. 
3. Know where to refer your students when you’re out of your depth. 

Almost certainly, your university has a graduate professional development program. It also has a career centre, one that has at least some capacity to support PhDs in their career development and preparation. It has people like me, whose job is to help both faculty and students navigate the changing academy and what comes after. There are also tons of skill and professional development resources open to students and postdocs looking to diversify their skill sets. Good ones to know about include: 
  • myGradSkills.ca: online professional development workshops in career development, communication, entrepreneurship, research, teaching & learning
  • Mitacs STEP: one and two day intensive workshops in leadership & management, communication & relationship building, personal & professional management, entrepreneurialism 
  • Lynda.com: over 3,500 online skill development workshops which are free to people with library cards in Toronto, Winnipeg, Regina, Edmonton, Vancouver and many other Canadian cities.  
4. Give your students and postdocs things to read. 

The number of resources out there for PhD-trained job seekers has grown exponentially since I was conducting my own job search, and being tapped into the higher ed web will help ensure that your students are aware of the realities of the academic job market and glorious variety of places PhD holders happily end up. Some good resources include: 
Some really, really do want to become professors, and some will. Some see their PhD as a six year contract job that can pay reasonably well. Some want to return to a past career with enhanced credentials. Some don’t know anything beyond the fact that they want to spend a few years immersing themselves in a subject they find fascinating. All are valid, and all should be openly acknowledged. But faculty should also be aware that the culture of academia is such that many people who start not wanting to become a professor will end up internalizing that desire by osmosis. Do what you can to keep that from happening: 100% of people desperate for the thing that less than 20% will find is a recipe for misery. 

6. Be open about what a professorial career is actually all about. 

Your supervisees see you do very few things. They see you teach and supervise (them). They might see you do limited parts of the research part of your job. They read your finished publications. They rarely see the service, the paperwork, the administrative minutiae, the hours of class prep, the shitty first drafts, the lonely hours writing along with your cat, the struggle to stay funded and keep your lab running, the politics, the meetings, and on. Being an academic is a job like any other, with its good and its bad, and you owe it to your students and postdocs to ensure that they understand the reality (not the fantasy) of doing what you do. PhDs often choose to pursue a professorial career without actually knowing much about what that job will be like, and I’ve seen the reality of a professorial career be an unpleasant surprise more than a few times. 
administration · modest proposal · structural solutions

The TP Index

Recently, when an intrepid undergraduate, Laura Woodward discovered, as a result of her investigative journalism, that Ryerson has an institutional double standard in terms of access to two-ply toilet paper (not surprisingly, students get single-ply whereas a range of administrative offices seem to be supplied with the cushy stuff), I made a joke on facebook about the TP index as a quick and dirty (sorry) way of measuring administrative bloat (I just can’t seem to help myself) in higher education.
But then I got to thinking about another TP index: the ratio of tuition to presidential salary.
I got to thinking about this because I showed this slide in my first-year course on business and literature (really, it’s not as bad as it sounds):
(Note the particular elegance of the parliamentary formula for prime ministerial compensation where the PM’s salary is exactly double that of the average MP.)
We had been reading Thomas Piketty on income inequality (and the really interesting ways that he uses the literature of Jane Austen, Honoré de Balzac, and Henry James in order to illustrate the effects of income disparity) and the rise of what he identifies as an era “extreme meritocracy” where executive pay has climbed to new levels. As the 25 September 2015 Times Literary Supplementreports in its review of Piketty’s new book, The Economics of Income Inequality, “Over the past two decades, the ratio of CEO pay to the average pay of their workforce has widened in the USA from 20:1 to 231: 1 (with banks themselves leading the way with a ratio of 500:1).” The AFL-CIO measuresthe rate of CEO pay in Canada to be approximately 206: 1. In the university community in Canada, we have started to pay more attention to administrative compensation than ever. Perhaps most famously, there was the recent Chakmagateat Western where we find President Amit Chakma apologizing for his $924,000 compensation in 2014 and offering to return half of it. So, well, yes.
But to return to the scene of my undergraduate classroom, there was at first confusion about the guy on the on right. Understandably, we can’t all be expected to know who the president of York University might be or what he might look like and it seems okay that he is somewhat less recognizable than our current prime minister. But after we sorted out the who’s who, we did of course try to figure out craziness of these metrics. How is it that two public servants can be compensated in such a way where the guy who decides if we should go to war is paid much less than the guy who decides what tuition should be? My point here is not that the prime minister should paid more, or even that the president of York is paid too much. I did stress to my students that President Shoukri’s pay is completely in line with that of other university presidents in Ontario and around the country.
However, they were understandably still perplexed by the actual numbers. To be honest, I am too. I don’t really know why or how we have come to these salaries. I am especially confused by the fact that this compensation extends past their tenure as presidents. But this is not a discussion about how Canadian university presidents’ pay has skyrocketed. And I know that we are all confused about where the money goes.
I just want to talk about how my students processed all this information and what we can take from that.
My students immediately talked about way in which they experience university as a financial problem: tuition.
Although I will be the first to resist the narrative of students as consumers, I do think that considering tuition in relation to administrative compensation would offer a useful way to think about the connection between university administrations and students.
For example, high pay + low tuition would mean that this is one of the few times when a high ratio or a significant gap would be welcome.
Of course, the ideal would be low pay + low tuition.
At my university, full-time tuition for most non-professional programs, including compulsory supplemental fees is $7102.
That means that the TP index at York is about 65:1.
At the University of Alberta, the outgoing president, Indira Samarasekera took home $544,00 in salary and just over $1.1 million in total compensation last year. Full-time tuition and fees for most programs comes in at $7068. That means the TP index at the U of A is about: 156:1.
Of course, indexes are just numbers and they are not numbers that tell us the whole story about any story, especially one as complex as one this one where we need to take into account plummeting levels of public investment in higher education and a range of other pressures on the university system as a whole.
But they do help us get to some big picture questions. How can we understand university executive compensation in relation to the other numbers that we have to think about? At my department meeting today, I was told York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies (where the English department is housed) is looking at a deficit of $6.6 million in 2015-16. At Faculty Council, I was presented with similarly dire numbers where the bars and arrows on the graphs were all going in the wrong direction. But there were no graphs on executive compensation even though I think we all know which direction those bars and arrows would go.
I’m not that interested in the actual numbers as far as executive compensation goes. But I’m very interested in the relationship between numbers.
In talking about income disparity, the general trend is to talk about executive pay as a ratio of that of the average worker. However, in universities, the vast majority of people who take part in the institution are students, and not employees of the university. To think about their place as indexed to that of the compensation of leader of the institution is to ask us to think about other kinds of disparities.  Here, we can go beyond access to two-ply. We can talk about access to education first and foremost. We can talk about access to having the kind of space for breathing and dreaming that an undergraduate education should enable but which many of my undergraduates do not feel that they can afford because they are terrified of being jobless at the end of their degrees. Last week, in a casual conversation, an associate dean in my faculty mentioned that our students seemed to have a kind of “hope deficit.”
I’ve been thinking about that a lot. My experience of  teaching undergraduate students has generally been one of overwhelming gratitude for the courage and perspectives they bring to my classroom. But I know what this associate dean meant when she talked about a hope deficit. Our students are also often desperately uncertain about their futures and this uncertainty leads to a lack of hope and thus a real fear that studying something that might bring them real joy and pleasure can only come at some kind of terrible unspecified future cost.
And yet, we are in a national moment where even unicorns might be real. Or, at least, where the long-form census, un-muzzled scientists and diplomats, and gender parity in government cabinets are suddenly quiet real.
So, maybe what I want from the TP index is not so much all the outrage about outrageous pay packages (don’t get me wrong, I still care about that!), but rather something that takes up a deficit I really care about: hope. And with that hope a genuine belief that a university education really does, as I believe, make life better.
I’m not asking for unicorns (although I too would like braid their glorious manes.) The TP index is just my way of saying that we need a more profound connection between the president of a university and the students who are at the core of the university’s mission. But I’ll take some unicorns too.
emotional labour

Self care and emotional labour

I made it about a block from my house yesterday, walking to the office, before I turned back and got in the car. I didn’t want to. It was starting to rain really hard, and was just going to rain harder on my way home, so it was more sensible to drive.

I need to walk on Tuesday, because Tuesday is the day I have my open office hours.

As you now, I detest email and phone calls and have been trying to set some boundaries around the care work involved in being grad chair. The strategy I landed on is a two and a half hour block of time on Tuesday I call my “open office hours” where I agree to solve any and all problems, from the trivial to the immense, for anyone who shows up. It’s intense, with lineups sometimes from the minute I pull my key out of my purse to the moment I race out to meet my daughter’s bus back home, but at least it has a clear beginning and an end.

Only, I discover, it doesn’t. Open office hours call upon all my talents: rule-enforcing, help-finding, recruitment, retention, firm talking-to, conflict management, bureaucracy-explaining, book-sharing, draft-reading, truth-telling, accommodation-finding. Sometimes professors and staff come to my open office hours, and I shift gears to help them as well. Many people enter upset and leave calm. Other people enter calm and leave upset. I have to make sure to have a cup of coffee in my hand when I arrive because I almost never have time to put up my “Back in Five!” sticky note on the door and go buy myself a cup.

For each student, I try to figure out the emotional temperature so I can adjust my affect. This might involve burying my own frustration to appear friendly. Or it might involve hiding my sadness. Or it might involve restraining myself from talking too much because the student needs the space to articulate her ideas and I am just supposed to listen. It might seem to students that I use my office hours to issue edicts and enforce my will on everyone, but most of the time, I’m really busy orienting the interaction to what I think the student needs.

God, this is as exhausting as it is necessary. I am so honoured to do it, but it is so, so draining. It’s hard work for me to sublimate myself and pay attention to everyone’s feelings at the same time that I am enacting authority, and care, and support. It is also both an honour and a burden to carry the emotional weight of these interactions. People laugh, people cry, people are angry, people are vulnerable–it runs the whole gamut. And these feelings attach to me, and I carry them in my body on Tuesdays.

It is an honour. The work is necessary. I truly am glad to do it.

But. I find that Tuesday nights I put my pyjamas on when I get home at 4 in the afternoon. I have a glass of wine. I go to bed at 9. I’ve tried this fall to develop more active and energetically replenishing  ways to find my equanimity on Tuesdays. If I walk to school, I feel fresh when I start, and if I walk home, the fresh air and the exercise helps reset my mood and blows the cobwebs out. Failing a walking commute, I go for a late afternoon run–I push myself hard, and I run outside, and the combination of tired quads and expanding lungs, along with sunshine and birdsong, really, really helps.

Only now it’s cold, and it’s dark. I’ll need a new self-care strategy moving into the winter, and in the absence of one yesterday, I’m feeling a little off, a little depleted.

What are your self-care strategies for the more emotionally demanding parts of your role in the academy?

#FergusonSyllabus · academic reorganization · classrooms · empowerment · pedagogy

The Shadow Syllabus

Do you ever find yourself revising your syllabus as you move through the semester? I don’t mean small things like shifting a due date or adding or subtracting a reading. I mean have you ever realized part way through the term that while you are technically teaching what you proposed in reality there is something else, something subversive, something exciting happening that is not on the syllabus? 
I have. In fact, I am experiencing this in a class right now.  
There is some context: I hadn’t really planned to teach this fall. When classes started our daughter was three months old. And so when the opportunity to teach two courses came up in late August (#precarity) I launched into syllabus writing mode so quickly I might well have looked like a superhero or a bedevilled scribe. As I scrambled to order texts and build online learning sites I also fiddled and fiddled and fiddled with my syllabi. One class in particular was brand new for me: writing in the digital age. After consulting with a number of digital humanities friends and colleagues, attending an online workshop on digital and collaborative teaching (thank you, FemTechNet), and reading an astonishing amount of material in an equally astonishingly short time, I built a syllabus I was proud of. And now I am subverting it. 
Here’s what I mean: the syllabus I built is strong. I feel good about it, colleagues who also work in the field were complimentary of it. But what I could’t have expected at the time was the need to work in contemporary issues on the fly. That’s the thing about teaching the contemporary field: things happen as the semester progresses. So, we have worked into our classroom opportunities to close read the performative politics of the election, for example, which in turn has had us thinking through the politics and poetics of the performance of self in everyday digital life, which in turn has become a conversation about the ethics and politics of power in our digital lives. 
What we are building, my students and I, is a shadow syllabus. 
I first heard the term when I came across Sonya Huber’s wonderful writing where she poetically outlines the intersectional politics and affects that structure any classroom. It was last week, though, that I came across the term again and thought about it in relation to my own present and future classrooms.

Last week I had the opportunity to listen to Dr. Marcia Chatelain–who is an incredible speaker– give a talk on teaching in the age of #BlackLivesMatter. Dr. Chatelain, who is the brains behind #FergusonSyllabus, spoke to the audience about how she used Twitter to develop a national and international teach-in. Our role in the university is to assess what is going on in the world, make it accessible, and mobilize discussions in communities, she told the audience. Creating the #FergusonSyllabus was a practical and politically engaged call to discuss the events of the shooting of Michael Brown by a white policeman in Ferguson, Missouri. Dr. Chatelain challenged colleagues to talk about the events–and the systemic inequity and racism that made them possible–in their classrooms on the first day of school. 

The shadow syllabus, she explained, emerged as a tactic for working in how to talk about meaningful and vital current events that may not meet institutional approval. For, as Dr. Chatelain related, in some elementary and high schools teachers were not allowed to talk to their students about the events. 
Enter the shadow syllabus.

A shadow syllabus is shrewd. It allows you to meet course and learning objectives while simultaneously working in the contemporary, the political, and, according to my students, the vital.  You want to teach students about systemic racism but can’t because you’re under a gag order? No problem. Teach them about housing policy in the municipality in question! You want to teach first year students about the corporatization of learning? Use the university’s mission statement and the twitter feeds of Provosts as texts for close reading. The shadow syllabus emerges as a practical application of Huber’s poetic thinking. And it is, I wager, both a means of working in what the institution does not recognize, and a way to work organically as a class. 
While my class and I are not developing a shadow syllabus as a means of working around a gag order, in the way that some of Dr. Chatelain’s colleagues were, we are working with the contemporary field as it happens, and that? That is exciting. It is hard and exciting. It is learning. 
fast feminism · feminist win · hope · politics

Because It’s 2015

Photo credit: cc//Rt. Hon. R.B. Bennett, Prime Minister of Canada, surrounded by members of the Cabinet (1931), Library and Archives Canada

Inuit girls throat singing, and giggling, at the swearing in.

A cabinet “family photo” with fifteen women in it. And people of all kinds of races and ethnicities. And people with disabilities. And gay people.

A First Nations woman as Minister of Justice and Attorney General.

The reinstatement of the Minister of Science position, and the assignment of that position to a woman. With a PhD.

A female Minister of the Environment and Climate Change.

A Minister of the Status of Women who was, until her election last month, the head of Thunder Bay’s largest homeless shelter.

The reinstatement of the long-form census, and of the ability to collect data that will allow us to accurately count vulnerable women and girls, conduct gender-based analysis of programs and policies, and evaluate the impact of programs and policies on the status of women.

A promise to immediately launch a national public inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada.

A female Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs who has publicly committed to the principle of “nothing about us without us,” and who has indicated that consultations with First Nations, Métis and Inuit people about the inquiry will begin immediately.