academic reorganization · feminist health · gradgrind · guest post

Women, Academia, Sport: “Pink It and Shrink It,” the Tomboy Running Experience

Until the early 1990s the running industry’s philosophy towards women and running could be summed up by the phrase “pink it and shrink it.” This phrase was used in reference to women’s running shoes implying that they were the shrunken version of men’s and “feminized” by colouring them pink. Thankfully, largely owing to Nike and their recognition that women’s gait and biomechanics differ from that of men, this philosophy has since changed.
I grew up being that girl with untamed hair, ripped jeans, stealing my dad’s hats, and avoiding at nearly any cost the colour pink.  In short, I was a tomboy.  On entering the world of running I was overjoyed to discover that the industry had moved beyond the need to make all women’s running shoes pink.  Nike had set a new and forward thinking trend and not only adjusted the shoes to fit a women’s gait, but also had decided to give women the choice about the colour of their running shoes.
Nearly five years later, with still not-pink running shoes laced, I am heading to run club on Sunday morning much like almost every Sunday for the last five years.  When I first started going to run club I expected to find an all-boys club with only a few women – I was wrong. The room was packed and majority were women. Since moving beyond “pink it and shrink it,” more and more women have taken up running. I’ve really noticed the increase of women participating, as my running clinics are usually all women with one or two men. I usually start my new clinics with the opening remark: “running is more of relationship than a sport, and one that is sixty percent psychological and forty percent physical.” Running is more often a game of convincing yourself that you can do it and then pushing your body to do so. In this way, running is also the most freeing sport relationship. You decide how far, how fast, and how long you go. You set your own goals and if you stick to the training program you can achieve your goal. I wish I could say the same for academia.
Academia is the other major relationship in my life. Unlike running, there is no training program that I can follow to succeed as an academic. While my relationship with running has not always been straightforward due to injury or inclement weather conditions, there is always a sense of security because of the degree of control I have.  My success in academia, however, I only partly control. I can pour over books, jump through all the program hoops, and meet all the deadlines with no guarantee that I will be able to advance to the next phase of my academic career. While both academia and running operate on a schedule, the biggest difference between them is bureaucracy.
Academia has become more about jumping through bureaucratic hoops than actually participating in scholarly exploration. When I started graduate school I was under the impression that part of the reward of succeeding beyond the undergraduate level was the freedom to research and study what interests me, but like my expectations for run club, I was wrong, and this time it wasn’t a pleasant surprise. The higher up the academic ladder you climb the more bureaucratic and unpredictable it becomes. I wish academia were more like running where if you set a goal and stick to a training schedule you have the security of knowing that you could succeed on your own merit rather than your success being determined by the subjective and often conflicting nature of academic bureaucracy.

While my love letter to running is ongoing, my letter to academia has become a little bitter sweet.  It’s difficult to succeed in a discipline when the goals keep changing; when you’re cheering section and equipment are ill-fitting and change daily from “you can do it!” to “you’re just not good enough”.  I am sad to say I am only partially in control of my academic career.  The other part is controlled by the bureaucrats still making equipment that is a simple reduction and recolouring of the same flaws academia had a hundred years ago.  In short, I love you academia, but you are still in the “pink it and shrink it” phase and make it hard for minds like me to show you what I can do.

 

Liz Tetzlaff is an MA candidate in English at Dalhousie University, and running coach for Running Room, where in addition to coaching, I give outreach talks around the city encouraging others to get involved in the running community.  My research interests mainly focus on poetry of the female Great War poets and their engagement with radical pacifist movement. In addition to running and war poetry, I enjoy playing with puppies, listening to Sarah McLachlan, and watching BBC mini series.

academic reorganization · guest post · kinaesthetic thinking · play · women and sport

Women, Academia, Sport: A place in the league

Maybe My Derby Name Will Be Attack-Anemic

 

 

 
It’s Sunday afternoon, and I’m in a gym in Spryfield, Nova Scotia. I have just skated 20 laps in 5 minutes–my best time yet. We have reached the halfway point of the Anchor City RollersFresh Meat program, and one of our coaches is explaining how the league works: “We want you to know that no matter what your skill level is, there will always be a place for you to skate in our league.” This practice has been rough on me, but her statement affirms that I have chosen the right sport. I have avoided sports for years: I’m not competitive, I’m quite clumsy, and I associate sports with the burning shame of being the worst in the group. So far, roller derby is different. It’s terrifically welcoming and supportive. We are learning so many new skills–stopping, whips, transitions, crossovers, and endurance–all while trying to get comfortable on our skates. But the coaches are good-humoured and attentive in a way that makes it all seem achievable. When I start to feel like I’m falling behind, they roll up, ready to offer me guidance and help me recognize how much I am progressing.
 
Like Erin, I’m a walker. Mostly, I walk to campus and back–a solid walk through parks and a swanky neighbourhood. For me, walking is a time of mental processing. I usually don’t listen to the radio or music, because the sound crowds out my thoughts. Walking helps me sort my thoughts, ideas, and feelings. On days when I stay home, my brain feels cluttered with unsorted material.
 
But walking isn’t enough. I need something more active and engrossing, something to take me out of my head and into my body. I think this has always been an issue with sports; if I don’t enjoy the activity, I don’t commit to it mentally and physically. My discomfort erodes my attention, so I make mistakes that make me even more uncomfortable, and eventually I quit. I approached roller derby with the assumption that I would love it. I was so relieved to find that I did. It’s exciting enough to engage all my mental energy. It’s two hours a week when I don’t think about my research, my coursework, marking, or writing. It leaves me feeling exhausted but powerful. It’s a discipline totally removed from my other wonderful but totally fraught discipline–literary studies. I want to devote more of my time and energy to this feeling. I do squats while I wash dishes. I work on my balance while my students write a quiz. I do strength training throughout the week, because I like the idea of arriving to every practice just a little bit stronger.
 
And through it all, I feel a sense of security–there will always be a place for me in this league. Even if I’m the worst in the league, I still get to be in the league. I should note that I don’t work well under pressure. I never complete my work last minute. I am rigorous in my time management because otherwise I end up on the kitchen floor crying. For me, roller derby feels like a sport without all the pressure. I can progress at my own rate. I can set my own goals. I can participate as much as my schedule will allow. I can attend meetings and events, watch bouts, trade fitness tips with other rollers in our Facebook groups. So far, it’s the kind of space I wish academia could be. It’s the kind of space I try to build with my colleagues, the kind of space I see my mentors trying to make for me, and the kind of community that helps us endure in these broken institutions.
 
In a PhD program, no one–not even the most supportive colleagues and mentors–can assure you that there will always be a place for you. I receive two kinds of advice, usually simultaneously: do everything you can to be an ideal job candidate, and have one foot out the door. I don’t have to tell any of you how daunting that is. You’re here, making the choice every day to do more, work harder, try again, and/or you’re making the difficult, exciting choice to make a career elsewhere. I don’t know yet what my own path will be, but I’m starting to see the value in finding and building spaces for myself outside of academia. The mental space of walking, the physical space of roller derby, the community space of the league–hopefully, when the going gets tough I have these to fall back on.
 













Kaarina Mikalson  is a PhD student in English at Dalhousie University, and the project manager for Canada and the Spanish Civil War. Her research interests include literature of the Great Depression, the Spanish Civil War, and the intersection of gender and labour in Canadian literature. Besides roller derby, she enjoys sewing, comics, and lipstick. 

academic reorganization · kinaesthetic thinking · self care · women and sport

Women, Academia, Sport: I Dance Therefore I Am

The famed ballet choreographer George Balanchine once said, “I don’t want dancers who want to dance. I want dancers who have to dance.”
I have to dance. I do not think I could manage school, or much of anything else in fact, without dance. Unlike Erin, who calls herself a kinaesthetic thinker, I dance to get away from my thoughts and out of my head. Dance is the only thing I have ever found – except perhaps film – that allows me this reprieve. And as someone who struggles with anxiety, depression, and perfectionism, it is both a welcome and necessary reprieve.

I said I would dance anywhere. That includes near Parliament Hill!

When I talk about dance, unless I am referring specifically to my time inside a studio rehearsing a piece or working on my technique, I am usually speaking about improvisation. Though I enjoy these other aspects of dance, and recognize they are necessary to expanding my control over my body, and consequently, my ability to express myself as limitlessly as possible, I find the most solace in improvisation. Give me a dark room and some music, and my body takes care of the rest.

I will dance just about anywhere – from airports to parking lots, to between bookshelves in the library, in my room, and, of course, at dance studios. When I begin to panic and feel like my world is spiralling out of control, getting up and starting to move, with or without music, in any space, grounds me in my body. As someone whose mind is usually either stuck ruminating on the past, or else is speeding off into the future, dance draws me back into the present. I have been filled by some of the purest joy while dancing, but have also turned to dance when I am too numb to feel anything else. I often process my emotions, or at least allow myself room to feel them, through dance.
Ironically, I have both school and my perfectionism to thank for my years of training. Upon realizing that dance classes were perhaps the only things that would keep me from studying, over time, my parents gradually gave in to more classes, more workshops, and more competitions – anything to get me away from my textbooks. It was even thanks to my grade eight math teacher that I ended up at my high school where I studied dance. My parents were anxious to get his advice during a parent-teacher interview on where I might thrive most after middle school. As the story goes, he ignored their questions about IB and gifted programs, and instead asked if they had considered letting me go to an arts high school for dance. I have felt indebted to him ever since.
I have on occasion attempted to bring my love of dance into the classroom, and not infrequently use it as a frame of reference when trying to grasp new concepts. When we talk about gender roles, my mind inevitably turns to the tradition of ballet, which firmly relegates males and females to different choreographic parts[1]. When we discuss sexualisation, my thoughts turn to the alarming sexualisation of young children – mainly female – at dance competitions. When my sociology of education classes feel hopeless, I try to think back to my experiences of attending an arts high school, and I am reminded that there are alternative ways of approaching education.
I had a field day with my first aesthetics class in philosophy. I leaped at the opportunity to relate every assignment back to dance, which eventually led to me taking on an independent study on the aesthetics of dance. Though I enjoyed the independent study, I quickly realized that dance for me exists outside of the realm of the written word. My professor pointed out that my papers were riddled with unsubstantiated claims – but everyone can dance! We are born dancers! – and I learned that having the privilege to experience dance is enough for me. I do not want to try to capture something so elusive, magical in its nebulousness. Scrutiny can undermine sanctity. 
This summer my psychologist told me to make a list of all of my commitments I had signed up for during the school year. She instructed me to choose three to keep for certain, and to rank the rest in order of how much they would increase my stress and decrease the quality of my work. I tried to argue that my dance classes should not count as one of the three guaranteed commitments, because, like Gillian, who makes time for roller derby despite her packed schedule, dance is a given in my life. I simply don’t function without it. I take as many dance classes as I can, and have taught and choreographed dance for years. When I am asked what I do for fun (the list is scant), I sometimes forget to list dance because it is such an integral part of my life and identity that I do not see it as a hobby.
When I improvise, I feel seen, known, and understood. Improvising leaves no room to premeditate, no time to plan, curate, or refine the image you want to portray. This stands in stark contrast to my imposter syndrome and general insecurity, both of which cause me to feel like I am constantly “faking it”, and have yet to be found out for the (inadequate, terrible) person I really am. Being able to return to my body and know that embedded within it is an authentic version of myself is a blessing. Further, no one has ever been able to figure out why I approach everything in my life but dance with unceasing perfectionism. Somehow I have managed to reserve this one space in which I am allowed to simply be, and to enjoy myself. Though this is not the case for many dancers, especially those attempting to make a professional career out of dance and often those studying ballet, I am thankful to say my dance remains perfectionism-free.

Throwback to high school.
If you read this, and thought to yourself, “I wish I could dance,” please know that you can. Everyone can dance. I truly believe it is only socialized inhibitions, and perhaps in some cases, the limits and abilities of our bodies, that prevent us from dancing as we age. So turn off the lights and turn on your favourite song. And if you have a child and the means to do so, consider enrolling them in a dance class. You never know, you or they might just be someone who has to dance too.
 
My dance playlist is always evolving, but here are some songs that have stuck with me over the years (as well as a few that I am enjoying too much right now not to include).
Caroline Kovesi is a fourth year student at Mount Allison University. She is pursuing an Honours Bachelor of Arts in sociology with a minor in philosophy. She is passionate about de-stigmatizing mental health. Her academic work often focuses on the intersection of mental illness, disability, accessibility, and higher education. She recently started a blog exploring such topics called “for the love of a bear.”


[1] There are, though, some pretty fantastic ballet troupes beginning to play with gender bending, like Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo. Check this video out.
academic reorganization · guest post · kinaesthetic thinking · play · women and sport

Women, Academia, Sport: Daily Affirmation

I thought I was going to use this much appreciated opportunity to write out some kind of overarching argument for the importance of the intersection between athletics and academics, particularly for women. But as I’ve thought about this issue over the last month, it turns out I can’t in good conscience make this argument at all as women still, by far, undertake the majority of both service work in the university workplace and caretaking at home, a dreary and undebatable fact that means I’d be truly wrapped up in my own privilege if I were to say, “hey all you women, you really need to try training for something on top of all the other duties and responsibilities and drains on your time! I mean, it’s really great and you’ll feel good about yourself!”

It is great. And it does make you feel good about yourself. But the time I’ve spent as a competitive cyclist and now runner/occasional triathlete have shown me how the barriers to participation, let alone access, are still very high. I’ll return to this point toward the end of my post but to explain how I’ve come to this point, I’m afraid I need to indulge in some autobiography about my history as an athlete.

I’ve always been active and in love with running around and doing things, whether kicking or catching a ball, riding my bike on dirt or on roads, running around a track, or running on trails. But I always did this activities without any support network, with no understanding of training or technique or even nutrition, and – with the exception women like Missy Giove that I’d see in glossy magazines – with almost no role models. This isn’t surprising considering I grew up in the 70s and 80s, on what was then the isolated world of Vancouver Island. Still, I had this lurking belief I could be good at sport – that I was capable and strong, even if there was no real evidence for this belief.

Maybe it’s no coincidence my history as an academic followed a similar path, guided by my belief that maybe I could do this thing even if no one else around me thought one way or the other. So, after a few nerve-wracking years as a perpetually insecure, workaholic PhD student, I decided I’d try to build up my self-confidence from having almost none to, hopefully, at least having some. I started by coming up with an arbitrary amount of body fat I wanted to get down to at the local gym (incredibly, my personal life remained completely divorced from the work by Susan Bordo I was teaching at the same time), moved on to trying to do a sprint triathlon, and then – when we moved to Boulder, Colorado – trying what was for me the most intimidating of all: road bike racing.

I threw myself into training and racing road bikes for five years and, for those years, the sport gave me everything I was missing in the academic workplace. I wanted community, friends and connection and I found these things in spades, especially as a beginning Cat 4 racer. These women I trained and raced with, week in and week out for months at a time, were incredible – we pushed each other harder than we thought was possible; we learned together; we cheered each other on; we suffered together. It was a remarkable experience, especially compared to the profoundly isolationist and individualistic culture of academia.

Those years racing and training also made me a more interesting person, one who became capable of talking with lawyers, accountants, physiotherapists, marketing managers, and sales associates. Not only did I learn about and engage with communities outside of academia but I also developed a more expanded sense of where exactly I stood in relation to my local and global community. It’s such an obvious revelation, that existing only in a university environment makes one uni-dimensional. It’s also obvious one cannot and should not work as many hours a day and days a week as one can hack. But somehow, academia – largely made up of type-A personalities who cannot stop striving seven days a week because of the lack of clear work-life boundaries – makes access to these obvious revelations very difficult.

I quit training and racing road bikes a couple years ago when I realized I’d achieved the goal I’d set out for myself (all I wanted was to become a Cat 2 racer, because somehow, narrowly, I thought that would mean I could finally tell myself I was “good” at this sport) and I was finding the 15 hours of training a week onerous rather than empowering. But still, the act of training taught me one lesson in particular that still hasn’t left me: the value of having clear and bounded goals coupled with an acceptance of what I have today, who I am today, instead of who I could be or would like to be or should be.

Instead of the quiet but ever-present pressure in academia to continually work and produce, without rest and very often without end and without any clear indication of success (when is our work ever done? If you work for five years or longer to write a book and then wait a year and a half, sometimes two years, for the book to come out and be read by so few people, where is the triumph?), bike training presented me with the daily challenge to complete this set task, in this particular manner, in this set amount of time. Daily I’d ask myself, “Can I do this thing? Even though I’m tired? Even though I don’t feel great and even though I don’t have a lot of time? Can I push my body that hard? Can I finish the workout?” And very often the answer turned out to be “Yes, I can show up only with what I have to give today and yes, I can do this thing!”

Eventually, the tiny, daily acknowledgements of what I had to give, given the circumstances of the day, turned into tiny, daily triumphs and then these triumphs came to influence both the way I go about my work as an academic and the way I think about my worth. Eventually, I came to ask myself, “Can I write 500 words today? Can I teach my classes with the knowledge and the energy I have today, rather than what I would like to have? Can I do this work in this two hours I have, before I spend time with my husband or my friends, rather than the eight hours I wish I had?”

All I have to offer here are my personal revelations about why my personal and professional life would be so much less if it weren’t for sport. I especially can only speak for myself here, as I’m reminded of the day I showed up for my first cat 2 race and I saw only women who were either professional bike racers or women who were retired or women whose children were now in college or women who were fortunate enough not to have to work at all. It’s a tremendous privilege to have the time and the resources I have to train, to hire a coach, to travel to races, to set goal race times and so on.

The Author!

I know countless women who are tremendously gifted athletes but who cannot possibly add training to their already nearly impossible schedules involving work, committee meetings, student supervision/mentoring, not to mention their own childcare and housework responsibilities. I only wish we could find a way not so much to say, “You can do it! You can train for that event and compete in that race!” but rather, “We value your health, happiness, and sense of well-being! We support a shorter work week and after-school child care! We support a more even distribution of childcare and service responsibilities across genders!” 

Then imagine what women could accomplish.



Lori Emerson is amateur runner, cyclist, and fresh air lover in Boulder, Colorado. She is also an Associate Professor of English and Intermedia Arts, Writing, and Performance at the University of Colorado and Director of the Media Archaeology Lab

academic reorganization · guest post · kinaesthetic thinking · play · women and sport

Women, Academia, Sport: Academia On Wheels

                                                       Academia on Wheels
 
The Author! Photo credit: Martyn Boston
“What are you going to do to reduce the stress in your life?” the doctor asked me in September 2012 after I described the shooting head pains I’d been having for five months. We’d also discussed my middle-of-the-night hospitalization in July for chest pains the day before I submitted the manuscript for my second monograph.
My response to the doctor’s question? I laughed. My teaching term was beginning in two weeks. I couldn’t conceive of anything it was in my power to do, bar quitting my job, that would effect any sort of meaningful stress reduction.
But I did do something in the fall of 2012 that took me a while to connect to what the doctor had asked me: I went to a roller derby recruitment event. I had figure skated as a child, but I knew nothing about roller derby. A friend of mine had recently become involved (another academic, who is now a fantastic roller derby referee), however, and encouraged me to do the same. I watched Whip It!and was confused (turns out it’s not terribly representative of the actual sport). But the recruitment event was held down the road from my house, I was curious, and I had nothing to lose.
For those who don’t know (and/or have been equally confused by Whip It!), roller derby is a contact sport played on quad roller skates. Although men play it, too (both on men’s and co-ed teams), roller derby, in its current incarnation, is a twenty-first-century phenomenon initially devised for women. Its much-vaunted ethos of “by the skaters, for the skaters” has the effect of bolstering a sense of community both on- and off-track. While individual skaters may have different senses of themselves in relation to feminism, on the whole I would say that roller derby constitutes an empowering, feminist space.
What a difference, then, to the oftentimes explicit misogyny of the academic workplace. And while I often get asked about the risk of injury in roller derby—“Isn’t it really violent?”—I can’t help but think of myself in that doctor’s office, as she tried to point out what my body was telling me three years ago: it had had enough of what my job was putting me through.
“When do you have time?” I’m also asked, given my commitments not only as a skater on both A and B squads, but also, currently, a member of our training committee. When I started roller derby, I skated in the evening of my heaviest teaching day of the week, when the last thing I could do was keep working, and the only thing I could do, it seemed, was skate.
Gradually, I realised that roller derby was helping to save me. My acupuncturist, whom I consulted about those mysterious shooting head pains, told me I should think about my feet. It occurred to me that skating ensured I was thinking about my feet: certainly, to think about work in the middle of a contact sport would have been foolish. My feet enabled me to give my head a break.
When I was lying in the hospital bed in July 2012, I caught myself worrying about whether I would die before my book came out. My chest pains, thankfully, turned out to have a muscular, rather than cardiac, source, brought on by a six-week cough and the toll on my body of the final push towards my manuscript deadline. I was discharged in the morning.
But I was determined, as an academic working in the UK system structured not only by a lack of tenure (abolished, surprise surprise, by Thatcher) but also by “Research Excellence Framework” imperatives, never again to let myself think about my mortality as a publication record problem. I was determined to reclaim something resembling a life, and a healthy one at that.
It may seem paradoxical to think about a contact sport as a form of self-care, but roller derby has almost certainly played that role for me. And while my academic career is likely to last longer than my roller derby career, I am convinced that I am only able to keep going in the former because of powerful lessons taught to me by the latter.
Gillian Roberts is an Associate Professor in the Department of American and Canadian Studies at Nottingham University. Her focus is on Canadian cultural texts and their circulation and celebration examines how the boundaries of ‘Canadianness’ are constructed and reconstructed according to opportunities for Canada to accrue cultural power. Her work consistently returns to hospitality discourse both in its engagement with immigrant and hyphenate Canadian writers who become internationally celebrated and in my interest in the Canada-US border: in both these areas, she is interested in how a ‘Canadian host position’ is constructed, as well as in the discrepancy between Canada’s projection of itself as hospitable and the exclusivity with which ‘Canadianness’ is often defined. Her second monograph, Discrepant Parallels: Cultural Implications of the Canada-US Border, has recently been published by McGill-Queen’s University Press (2015).

academic reorganization · kinaesthetic thinking · movement · play · women

Moving, Thinking, Playful Thinking

Where does it start? Muscles tense. One leg a pillar, holding the body upright between the earth and sky. The other a pendulum, swinging from behind. Heel touches down. The whole weight of the body rolls forward onto the ball of the foot. The big toe pushes off, and the delicately balanced weight of the body shifts again. The legs reverse position. It starts with a step and then another step and then another that add up like taps on a drum to a rhythm, the rhythm of walking. The most obvious and the most obscure thing in the world, this walking that wanders so readily into religion, philosophy, landscape, urban policy, anatomy, allegory, and heartbreak.
 
That’s Rebecca Solnit, from Wanderlust: A History of Walking. I often think of Solnit’s work as I am walking. Walking to work. Walking the dog. Walking with the baby. Walking to think. Walking to breathe. When I am fortunate enough to be in a new place my favourite way of sketching it into my memory is to move through it at street level.

 

At my childhood home.
I come from a family of walkers. We are somewhat notorious for our devotion to travelling by foot. Indeed, my partner sometimes teases me when we are in the airport, and I head straight for the stairs despite carrying a bag, baby, and dragging a suitcase. Last year, I was seven months pregnant when there was eight inches of ice on the sidewalks and roads in Halifax and it was impossible to walk. I crept along at a snail’s pace, making the dog nervous. I crept along anyway.
I have always been a kinaesthetic thinker. Movement, whether through play, sport, or merely going form one spot to another, thrills me. I’ll go out of my way to make movement happen. When I was going my MA in Montreal, I would set my alarm for the early morning, wrench myself out of bed before the sun was up, and trudge across Parc La Fontaine to go swim laps at the pool. The monotony of the black line at the bottom facilitated all kinds of wonderful thinking. The dull splash splash of the water focused my mind. By the time I returned to my computer to work on my thesis I was, if not inspired, physically tired enough to not fidget.
Mar the Dog. Not amused by my exhortations of “do downward dog!”

 

The much-missed Felix. My first dog and constant walking companion
When I moved to Calgary to begin my PhD I ran, badly. I am not a born runner. Nonetheless, I would lace up my shoes, put the dog on his leash, and head down to the Bow River trail system and galumph my way along the gorgeous river. I tried yoga for the first time that year, too. I remember how hard it was to stand on my rubber mat on one foot. I can remember, too, laughing out loud in front of strangers after falling flat on my face during an attempt at a handstand.
My bike, 5:45 am, outside the yoga studio.
Later, when I moved to the East Coast, I returned to the early morning movement. This time, I set my alarm clock and met a friend, and together we would sleepily make our way to the yoga studio for practice. Have you ever been in a yoga studio at 5:30am on a Monday? Most people aren’t laughing. But for whatever reason M and I were. Always. Often. After we finished our practice I would drop her off and go home to get ready for work. As I sat at my desk through the day I could feel the physicality of what I had done that morning. Is it an exaggeration to say that it fed or facilitated the work I did at school? For me, it isn’t. For me, it did.
M. and me, early, laughing.
I’ve been thinking for a while now about how women — able bodied or differently abled, straight or queer, cis or trans — think about and experience movement in relation to their work in academic settings. Does movement, or sport, or play fit into other academic women’s lives? What might that look like for them? How does movement or sport or play affect their academic work, their sense of self, their sense of fun?
Over the coming weeks, starting tomorrow, there are going to be a series of guest posts under the heading “Women, Academia, Play, Movement, Sport” that offer some snapshots of some ways people have taken up these questions. If you’d like to add your voice please contact me to pitch a post.
Happy last week of February. May you find some play in your day and generative movement in your thoughts.
academic reorganization · Audre Lorde · Sara Ahmed · self care · women

Self-Care As Radical Feminist Praxis

Self-care as self-preservation. That’s how Audre Lorde cast her own fierce fidelity to caring for herself, her feelings, and her thinking in the face of racism, misogyny, and, in her own body, cancer.

Self-care as feminism. That’s how Sara Ahmed thinks through Audre Lorde‘s writing to address and give voice to the ways in which systemic oppressions act on bodies, accrete in spirits, and chip away at the soul. 

Self-care as feminism and community building. That’s Ahmed thinking through Lorde, too. Self-care not as a kind of selfishness or self-obsession, but as a voicing and spacing; as a forging of voice and space for those voices that are delegitimized, devalued, effaced, and drowned out by racism, misogyny, and the isolationism of our neoliberal moment.

Self-care as radical feminist praxis. That’s how I read Ahmed reading Lorde. Self-care as a drawing in, as a meditation, as a looking to yourself and, when you have time and room and are refueled, a looking to others; and attending. A being present.

Self-care not as narcissism, but as affirmation: I deserve to be in this world, this country, this city, this community, this institution, this classroom, this legislature, this street. 

Self-care as reorientation, of my own attention and my ability to attend to others.

Self-care as breath, writes Aimée, on the first of a series of posts we will be writing for the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Vitae.

Self-care as radical feminist generosity. Self-care as world-making. Self-care as a crucial step in solidarity. 

Take care, readers. Take time. Take it in. Regroup. Gather, find or forge warmth. Be generous with yourselves and with others. There is so much feminist work to be done.

#FergusonSyllabus · academic reorganization · change · feminist digital humanities

#inclusivesyllabus

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?

#inclusivesyllabus

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!

#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. 
academic reorganization · academic work · adjuncts · guest post

Guest Spotlight: The Crisis Goes Deeper Than We Think, part 2

This is the second of a two-part spotlight on the crisis in higher education written by Sarah Waurechen. The first part, originally published at rabble.ca, was posted Friday and can be read here. 
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Teachers who work in Continuing Education in Quebec CEGEPs, like adjuncts who work in the universities across North America, continually face a dilemma: how do you strike a balance between the need to protect yourself and the need to protect your students? The short answer is, you don’t. Most of us perform significant amounts of free labour in order to provide the extra support that will help our students succeed, sacrificing our personal time and private lives at the altar of higher education in the process.
I’m not sure that this would be healthy even if it did work, but the issue is that it clearly doesn’t work. The number of vulnerable students is on the rise, and students who need extra guidance and protection from the realities of budget cuts and restructuring are legion. Teachers simply cannot help them all. There are no more compromises to be made, and every attempt to protect one student seems to end up hurting another.
I work at a Cegep where the size of the Continuing Education program has doubled in the last decade. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 30% of the overall student body is now registered in Continuing Education classes, which means studying in the evening or on weekends. These classes attract mature students, immigrants who are trying to integrate into Quebec society, and a growing number of working-class individuals who just can’t afford to study full time or during the day.
The demographics of Continuing Education therefore mean that these students tend to need more help, not less. Continuing Education students are tired because they work all day and then go to school for 3-4 hours at night. They eat on route or during break, and sometimes have difficulty staying awake through class. Some of them have small children or sick family members to care for at home; others are sick themselves, or are members of the LGBT community and navigating the troubled waters of identity politics.
Despite this, I am not paid to answer their emails or meet with them during office hours. Continuing Education students are, instead, left to fend for themselves. And while my colleagues and I do our best to help them via informal consultation, there are simply more students who need help than there are hours in a day. 
More troubling still, students who are suffering from emotional distress, or those in need of serious career advice, need more specialized help than a teacher can provide.  But Continuing Education students don’t have reliable access to the services that could help them with these problems. This is because Counseling Services and Academic Advising both close before night school begins.
As the provincial government has reduced funding and imposed austerity measures on Quebec CEGEPs, teachers and professionals have made compromises. The availability of support services has failed to keep up with demand, but the services themselves do remain available. And although positions aren’t replaced as people retire, everyone else has tried to pick up the slack.
But these compromises have not been enough to protect everyone, and they have been made with an eye to regular day-division programs. Facing a very real lack of resources, colleges like my own have therefore been forced to rely on the funds generated by Continuing Education to make ends meet.
Once you understand this reality, the expansion of Continuing Education makes sense because Continuing Education is very profitable. Students in night or weekend classes still pay student fees that help fund things like Counseling Services and Academic Advising, even if they can’t get to school while those services are open. They also pay a certain amount of money per course, if they’re not full-time. And don’t forget, the teachers who work in Continuing Education are paid only half the salary of their counterparts who teach during the day.
In sum, we’ve created a context wherein colleges are encouraged to turn to exploitative systems like Continuing Education in order to keep everything else running the way it should. We’ve reached the point where the only way I have left to protect my students is to advocate for them, and for myself. Making more compromises would make me even more complicit in the system than I already am – and I cannot allow that to happen. For me at least, it’s time stand up, raise my voice, and fight.
Sarah Waurechen has a PhD in early modern British history from Queen’s University, Kingston. She has taught courses on a contract basis at the University of Alberta, Queen’s University, and McGill University, and currently works as a Continuing Education instructor at Dawson College in Montreal.