#post-ac · administration · change · dissertation · flexible academic · grad school · PhD · possibility · research · research planning · September · writing

Firsts and Lasts

This post marks a big last and a significant first for me. While I’ve been Hook & Eye’s de-facto alt-ac voice for the last few years, I’ve also continued, along with Boyda and Jana, to write about the trials and tribulations of grad school. My last trial–the big one, the defense–is happening tomorrow, and so this is my last post as a graduate student.

It’s been a long road since my “I quit” post back in the fall of 2013, when I took my first full-time academic administrative job. I’m in a different job now, one that has given me the time and mental space I needed to finish my dissertation. After a long period of uncertainty about the value of finishing my PhD, I’m still having a hard time believing that I’ve done it. I’m nervous about tomorrow, despite the many reassurances of friends and committee members. I spend most of my time developing professional skills curriculum, administering research funding, and writing policy, not reading theory or publishing articles. In doing my job, I’ve learned how to explain my research to people far outside my field. I’ve learned to feel confident walking into a room and sharing what I know regardless of who is in it. I’ve learned to identify what my research can tell us about the persistent gendered inequalities of Canadian academic and literary communities and how we might address them. But I’m nervous about being questioned by a room full of people who are full-time academics, who swim in those intellectual currents in a way that I no longer do. I’m also looking forward to spending time talking about a project that I care deeply about with smart people who care about my work, and about me. Now that the day is almost here, that alone seems like a pretty great reason to have committed to finishing my dissertation. The added credibility I’ll have at work is a nice bonus.

My defense tomorrow also means that this fall is a first for me.  It’s the first fall since I was four years old that I’m not going back to school. If I wasn’t already three years down a career path that I anticipate staying on, I might find facing this new beginning scary. But I went through the difficult transition that many PhDs who move into alt-ac and post-ac careers face back when I took my first administrative job. I’m instead looking forward to this first fall, and the year that follows, as a time to experiment with what life as a scholar-administrator could look like now that I can shape my research trajectory however I please.

I’m not really a new breed of researcher, although it sometimes feels like I am. Ever since the academy began producing more PhDs than it could employ–since always, basically–there have been those of us who have moved outside of the professoriate and yet continued to pursue research. The increasing casualization of the professoriate means that there are fewer and fewer people whose job it is to research, and more and more people like me who pursue research but make our money in other ways. We have the desire, the expertise, and the time to remain active researchers while we work in other careers. There’s great freedom in that, for the quest for tenure and grant funding as often blights research creativity and experimentation as it enhances it. I’m going to be using the blog this year to write through the process of crafting a research practice outside of the professoriate. At the same time, I’ll be writing through the process of crafting a life that makes space for multiple identities as administrator, researcher, creative writer, consultant, editor, cook, partner, and more.

Later this month I’ll be starting a new series of posts on transforming my dissertation into a book and live-blogging the process of getting it published. I’ll be continuing the alt-ac 101 series for people who are looking to move into non-professorial jobs or who advise people who are. I’ll also be writing about equity issues in and out of the academy, especially those relating to graduate studies and postdoctoral work. I’m also going to practice what I preach to my students about working to share our research beyond the bounds of the academy by blogging about my dissertation, especially the parts that look at gender bias and rape culture in Canadian literary and academic communities in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s.

If you’ve just found us, welcome! And if you’re an old friend, welcome back. It’s good to be back here with you.

academic work · adjuncts · affect · change · classrooms · emotional labour

Returns, Rituals, & the Road Ahead

September makes me both nostalgic and thrilled. It never fails: whatever my working conditions, when Labour Day weekend rolls around I feel a tug at my memory. My heart starts racing just a little bit. I make more lists that I do in the summer.

My first memory of going to school is hazy. I remember lunchtime which, for me, meant opening an orange plastic lunchbox with the Muppets on the front. The edge of the decal was worn because the lunchbox was a hand-me-down from my babysitter’s older children. I remember the sound of the front snaps and the smell of my sandwich. I remember my thermos filled with water or juice. I remember being excited on the days I got a juice box.

I remember the first day of grade six more clearly because it was the first day in a new school in a new country. My mom drove me. I was nervous. I wore purple overalls because they were my favourite and they made me feel brave and cool. Until this year I had never had a long commute to school. I’d either walked or taken the city school bus.

Yesterday, I texted my mom and asked her if she remembered dropping me off at university for the first time. She did. Of course she did. We had driven nearly twenty hours from Ontario back to North Carolina. We’d made the geographic shift from the cool mornings of August in Halliburton County to the oppressive humidity of Chapel Hill where walking through the early morning air feels a bit more like swimming slowly than anything I’ve ever experienced (except swimming slowly). I remember the yellow painted concrete of my dormitory walls, the surprise at how small the room was and how close my new roommate’s (a stranger) bed was to my own. And I remember struggling with the campus map trying to find my 8:30am Philosophy class.

I remember the first day of graduate school–how excited and nervous I felt to be in Montreal. How fancy everyone looked to me, how polished, how prepared. How unlike me. I remember the first day of my PhD, walking for a full hour around campus confused by the sign for the Art Building and not thinking to look in the Social Sciences tower for my orientation room.

I remember the first day of not starting classes. Or rather, I remember the first day of being the instructor fresh out of graduate school and trying very hard to sound as professional and in-charge as I wanted to feel. I remember driving between the campuses where I taught and thinking, after the first week of introductory lectures and syllabus questions, that perhaps teaching four new classes was going to be too much.

I remember my first “real” job–the excitement of an office with my name on the door, a schedule of department meetings (I know, I am one of those people who loves department meetings…), and a fresh agenda waiting to be filled with lists. I remember my second “real” job. I remember the years, most recently, of going back to sessional work, and how, despite the difficulty of shifting into underpaid labour, I still felt excited at the start of a new year. The first day of school matters, for so many reasons.

This year, as I sit at my new desk having just completed my new hour-long commute, I find myself so eager to take this moment and reflect on what it means to be able to begin a new year on campus. Sure, I am obviously nostalgic. My memories are grounded in my own experiences and affects. And I am also aware–so aware–of the ways in which university and college campuses and classrooms are challenging, restricted, and often inaccessible spaces for so many.

As we begin the new year let’s take a moment to think of our own first days. As we ready ourselves and our classrooms or offices or cubicles or cars or library spots for the labour of teaching and learning in vastly different material conditions let’s try to see one another’s work and support it. Let’s imagine that in spite of inequities (among students, among teachers, among academic workers) we can in our own ways contribute to making the project of higher learning more equitable, more just, and more exciting.

Happy September, dear Readers. Take care of yourselves as we begin.

change · women · women and violence

Thoughts On the Day After

What happens the day after we publicly remember? After the social media reminders and the public declarations, how do we continue to remember?

How does memory get turned into action?

How do acts of remembering, naming, and publicly declaring those names and memories reverberate into other days, thoughts, and actions?

Here’s what I think about today: I think about what it might have felt like in 1989 to wake up to a world that said, in no uncertain terms, women are not people, that young women do not belonging classrooms.

I think about the women who have been murdered or disappeared.

I think about the lengths to which media will go to sustain the “lone shooter” fiction.

I think about empty desks in classrooms.

I think about them as I write my syllabi and work for inclusivity and diversity.

I think about them as I stand at the front of the classroom.

I think of them as I speak publicly about gender equity.

I think of them as I listen to other women speak and write and sing.

I think about things, and these women  on December sixth, and I think of them on December seventh, and on December eighth. I think about them every day.

#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!

#alt-ac · administration · banting · change · equity · research · scholarships

The Challenge of Challenging Unconscious Bias

I talk more about the professional and career development parts of my job here than I do the research funding part, mostly because the PD and careers stuff seems like it would be more useful to more readers. It also tends to be more political, and that’s what we often like to focus on. But research funding administration takes up a good chunk of my time at work, although less now than it used to, and it’s just as political as the state of the academic job market. Because I’m running fewer funding competitions now that I’m at a smaller institution, I’ve got more time to think about the issues with the way that research funding gets applied for and distributed, and to focus on improving our processes and documentation, both for the people applying for awards (graduate students and postdocs) and for the people supporting applicants (their current and former professors and supervisors).

A big chunk of the time I spend in every funding competition is reviewing applications–to make sure people are applying to the right Tri-Council agency, for completeness, to help the students and postdocs I work with to develop their applications and make them more competitive. In consequence, I read a lot of reference letters in a year–easily a couple of thousand. Given how necessary and ubiquitous reference letters are in academia–for funding and admission applications, for tenure and promotion, for job applications–I had never read any, at least of the ones written about me, before I started working in admin. That’s pretty normal, I should think, given that letters of reference are supposed to be confidential. It’s been enlightening to get to read not just a few, but a glut of them. Mostly, though, in terms of how bad some of them were. And not just bad, but so, so biased.

If you were to walk past my office during an intensive application review session, you’d hear a lot of groans and the occasional derisive shout. And those mostly come when I’m reading the letters written for women. If women scholarship, fellowship, and job applicants knew how biased their letters were, they’d be horrified. So too would the letter writers be, given that these letters are largely the result of unconscious bias. And it’s not that the referees are reluctantly writing so-so letters for so-so applicants. These are great applicants with mostly good letters that are completely undercut by unconscious bias–by noting that X manages to be an excellent researcher despite having three kids at home; that Y is nice, polite, and compassionate; that Z is very nurturing toward her supervisees. Want to know how referees tend to talk about these qualities in a man? A is an exceptional and innovative researcher. B’s collegiality allows him to set up and effectively manage productive research collaborations. C is an exceptional mentor whose support has allowed xx students to take up graduate positions at research-intensive universities. Men get more glowing adjectives too–superb versus good, outstanding versus competent–and are less likely to have their accomplishments undercut by hedging or faint praise.

Since I mostly work with grad students and postdocs, I see how unconscious bias works early in the pipeline to keep women from securing the research funding–or admission to a top-notch graduate program–they need to get their research careers off on the right foot. But the problem if anything gets worse as women progress through their careers. We all remember what happened with the CERC program (one of the impetuses behind the start of Hook & Eye)–not a single woman was awarded one in the first round of distributing these super Canada Research Chairs, and as of right now, only two of the twenty-four chairs are held by women. The CERC equity practices are mostly a joke, but the Canada Research Chairs program is doing a little better. They’ve gone so far as to add a big section to their “Letters of Reference” instructions to address the issue of unconscious bias, and to direct letter writers on how to avoid it.

I’ve adapted their language for application instructions attached to the scholarship and fellowship competitions I run, but I know very well that doing so is not nearly enough (not the least because it is very difficult to get faculty to read more than they absolutely have to, never mind act on it). I see unconscious bias at work every day, but how do I, as a research administrator, do something about it? How do I help my students and postdocs get themselves good letters, knowing that they’ll never get to see the letters and judge for themselves? How do I teach their referees how to overcome unconscious bias when they’re writing? How do I tell senior faculty and scientists that they’re exhibiting unconscious bias without pissing them off or making them feel defensive? Figuring out how to tackle these problems–to do what little I can to challenge systemic sexism with what little power I have–is so necessary and so hard. I do what I can–I call my students and postdocs attention to it, I put directions on how to avoid explicit bias in writing for referees and ask them to read it, I advocate to the Tri-Council funding agencies that they put anti-bias practices and guidelines in place (although the ones that already exist are mostly useless), I call the attention of the adjudication committees I work with to instances of unconscious bias when they’re assessing applications. It’s something, but the problem is enormous, especially considering that the unconscious bias that shows up in reference letters is the same unconscious bias that has infected the CERC program, is the same unconscious bias that skews teaching evaluations.

But I want to, and need to, do more. Because we all know that there are exceptional women who should have gotten that scholarship, should have gotten into that graduate program, should have gotten that job, should have gotten tenure, should have gotten that chairship, but didn’t because her smarts, capability, and excellence were undercut by unconscious bias. Any thoughts, dear readers, on what else I (and we) can do in the work we do every day?

change · day in the life · September

Slow Academe

September is here. While there are many times of the year that are significant for people working in the academy–fall, winter holidays, midterms, and if you’re fully and equitably employed, summer research time–none has quite the caché of September. September is fresh. It is full of possibility. It is a time for thinking back nostalgically on past milestones, of first-day-of-school-outfits gone by, and of planning a trip or two to get every academic’s fetish: school supplies.


For me, September has also been marked with anxiety and frustration. As a member of the precariate who has been doing the work of full time faculty since 2008, but only had one year (bless you, 2012-2013) of a full twelve months of income, returning to the classroom is not as fraught as returning to the system that will never love me back. I love the teaching. I hate the system that pays me and others a pittance for the same work my colleagues do. That’s a clunky version of what the brilliant Roy Miki has said: don’t hang your heart on the university. The university will never love you back. 

Right. Hard to hear, these necessary truths, and harder to remember on a cellular level. 

September has also meant the beginning of Hook & Eye’s new season. In fact, this is our fifth September! Five years is a long time for a blog to survive, much less thrive. Much has changed in the last five years, as I’ve noted before. Namely, our weekly blogging demographic has shifted to include more precarious laborers than tenured faculty. Let that sink in. We are an archive of the changing face of this profession.

In fact, we are an affective archive. One of the refrains I hear is how reading this blog makes people feel less isolated in their gendered and labour experiences. We are a feminist blog, we write mostly about experiences as women, and yet I’ve heard over and again from all kinds of readers how important our personal narratives are for them. Its hard, this public presentation of self, this navigating of the profession from one’s own gendered body. Sometimes, I think, it has been damaging, at least for me personally. But that’s how I teach in my classroom, too. That’s how my co-bloggers teach and work: present, human, gendered, and filled with emotion. That’s a way of being that is often in direct opposition to the university despite what the branding might say.

I have spent a good number of days thinking about what to write to launch us into this, our fifth year of thinking and speaking together. I thought of the anger I feel at inequities in the academy. I thought of feminist wins I want to talk about–to close read academically. I thought of vulnerability, of sassiness, and of head-down, get-it-done advice I could give (or need to receive). And then I looked again to our name, to the words after the colon: fast feminism, slow academe.

Slow academe struck me. I’m typing this post on my phone while my three and a half month old daughter nurses. It’s 9:06am and I haven’t posted yet because I chose to spend yesterday with my partner and our girl, going to the lake, going to a toasted tomato sandwich garden party, going for a walk with the dog, and watching the baseball game. I chose to do the very things hiring committees must have seen when they interviewed me last year when I was pregnant. I chose to go slow, to put the humans in my life in front of the university and it’s systems. And you know what? Even though I know my new identity as a mother will affect how I am productive–indeed, how I understand productivity–I am going to try to take slow academe to heart. I’ll do this as an individual who is precariously employed. I’ll do it as a new mom who is taking on two classes. I’ll do it in a partnership of two new parents working to keep it all going and have intellectual fulfillment as well as a home we love coming home to. And for you I’ll try to be honest and share some of that here.

So here’s to a new year full of contradictions, both beautiful and challenging. Here’s to a new September of setting intentions and finding the slowness that builds a kind of sustainable rhythm neoliberalism detests. Here’s to the fifth year of this space. Here’s to you, dear readers, and here’s to us.
appreciation · best laid plans · change

Getting’ Out of Dodge: In Praise of Wee Adventures

Well, readers, at the risk of stating the obvious: it is May. Forget April showers; if you were anywhere near where I live this spring the snowbanks are only just starting to melt and we’ve all broken down and started talking to the crocuses. Suffice to say it has been a challenging winter.

In academic spheres May brings more than just flowers. Chances are, if you were teaching this semester you are finishing up grading or thanking the powers that be for having already finished your grading. You might be looking for work, preparing to write your MA thesis, scrambling to prepare for spring courses, or, in some cases, still finishing up semesters that were lengthened due to job action. Given that I’m based in the Maritimes and you *know* what kind of winter we’ve had, I’m willing to bet that whatever you’re doing, there’s a good chance you’re doing it with with the promise of spring outside your window.

But here’s the thing: as we have confessed time and again the end of the regular school term can bring exhaustion, apathy, disorientation, and tristesse for all sorts of good reasons. You don’t have to be a Nova Scotian survivor of the horrible weather, devastating budget, and introduction of Bill 100 to be feeling, well, done.

So let me give you a little bit of unsolicited advice: get out of dodge. Seriously, if you can manage it for a day or two (or three!) put an automatic reply on your email, leave your computer at home, and go. Where? Anywhere.

Last week, at the end of our ropes for all the reasons and more, my partner and I packed the dog into the truck and drove out to the shore. The weather was awful–rain, sleet, snow, wild winds–and our escape was perfect. We visited his mom at her home which perches by the sea. We sat by the fire and read, and the dog and I battled the elements to take walks by the ocean. Three days later we came back to Halifax refreshed. A change of scenery, a step away from social media, and some restorative and wonderful conversation with family; all of these things made the difference. And yes, it was basically a trip home. Nothing exotic or expensive, just a little adventure. The break allowed us, upon return to the everyday, to remember why so much of the quotidian is really very good.

I realize not everyone is as lucky as I am to have a partner whose family is so near, and with such a lovely place to escape to, but fear not: you too can take a wee adventure. I promise you’ll feel better for it. If you’re bound to where you are geographically, which is likely for so many reasons, why not choose a weekday as a weekend day? I mean it. What are the benefits of being in the academic sphere if not the flexibility of schedule? The very same 24/7 mentality that has us fretting about doing work all the damn time means that you’re probably able to switch Monday for Saturday. Or, if you’re daring, just take a bloody Monday off. Drink your coffee in bed with a novel. Walk the dog an hour later than usual and then take yourself out for brunch. On a budget? If it is a nice day go to the grocery, get some fruit and a baked good or whatever makes your tum excited and get thee to the park. If it is crummy out, go to your local library or botanical garden or art museum or a matinee. Do it! And then don’t go home and work. Cook dinner for yourself. Heck, invite a friend. Have a Monday-night dinner party! Or watch a movie on Netflix and eat popcorn for dinner. Whatever. Just get out of your normal routine, turn the notifications off, do NOT check your email until the next morning. There will be time enough to get into your routine, make your spring/summer research/work/teaching plans, and time will fly. For now, in this, the Friday-night-and-all-the-weekend-is-ahead-of-you-of-summer, just take a break.

Here at Hook & Eye we are going to try and take our own advice to heart. As we head into conference season (& several other things besides) we’re going to take a different approach to posting. For the month of May I will be pulling gems out of our considerable archive and offer them with a wee preface. Periodically, one of my stellar co-bloggers may be inspired to post, but we’re not going to put too much press on ourselves. There will be fresh material up each week, but not five days a week. We’re trying to take our own advice, you see.

In June I’ll post a collaboratively written year-end round-up and reflection as well as a call for guest posts and suggestions for topics for the coming year. We’re going to go on vacation for July and August, because even though we will undoubtably be working, we’re also trying to foster some of that life balance we talk so much about here.

So here’s to spring, dear readers! And here’s to wee adventures that get you out of dodge (or at least out of a rut or a routine) and ready you for the possibilities that spring and summer can bring. And, here’s a soundtrack to get you in the self-permission-granting mood.

                                         

                        Because come on, who doesn’t need Tracy Chapman on a Monday morning?

change · guest post · solidarity · women and violence

Guest Post: On Violence in the University and Still Trying to Live With a Loving Heart

Today’s guest post is by Dr. Dory Nason of UBC’s First Nations and Indigenous Studies and the Department of English. Mighty thank you to you, Dory! 
_______________________________

In thinking about what I could share in this blog post, I am aware that I hold a tremendous responsibility, as a scholar, as a teacher and as an Indigenous woman, to confront the subject of settler colonial violence, a gendered, racialized and political violence that displaces and dispossesses us all from a better set of relationships. While I struggled to think of something more uplifting to discuss, such as mentorship, my upcoming sabbatical or what it’s like to be Indigenous and a woman in the academy (the good parts!), I couldn’t turn my mind away from what I have been feeling these last few months, indeed these last few years, as a faculty member witnessing story after story of violent acts perpetrated against women on campus, often by fellow students.

For a list of examples, one need only turn to the news stories of assault that has taken place on my campus over the last two years, and its underreported statistics. Or the trouble another young Indigenous student faced in receiving aid after she was the victim of numerous domestic violence assaults while she lived in campus housing. My campus to its credit has worked to address these situations through calling attention to them in press conferences and in convening task forces such as this one: UBC’s task force on Gender-based Violence and Aboriginal Stereotypes, which released its findings in 2014. 

You might ask why the addition of Aboriginal stereotypes to this important task force? The answer is, in addition to the “rape chants” exposed in the business school’s Frosh week culture, there were also reports of a “Pocahontas” chant students joyfully sang as spirit building exercises, that when exposed caused an uproar on our campus and others across the country.  The Pocahontas chant consisted mainly of the words “white man, steal our land.” While this exercise was meant to bring together incoming business students in a “fun” activity, it served to also remind Indigenous women on this campus how little has changed. It served to underscore that what still holds together settler camaraderie is a culture of gendered violence and dispossession  that still hunts us to this day.

But this is only the context of what I want to discuss. My title suggests that I do not wish to dwell on a culture of violence but that I want to live, teach and work with a loving heart that is not overtaken by this darkness. I believe this can only be accomplished by confronting the violence, naming it and setting a path out of this destruction in order to live better and more just relationships.

Not just a better set of relationships but a more loving set of relationships: to our communities, homelands, the land, human and non-human peoples, to ourselves, and, most of all, to a way of being in the world that in Anishinaabeg philosophy is referred to as Mino Bimaadiziwin, or simply the Good Life, or as my great uncle Paul Buffalo has described it, the way you live your life in the service of life. I often turn to his ethnography for inspiration and for memories of a different time and place where my ancestors flourished.

Paul grew up in a place and a time where he could attend to this philosophy in his own language, on Anishinaabe territory, and with a worldview that saw power in all things and required deep knowledge of a specific territory and its beings. He could draw on vast networks of knowledge passed down from elders, and for my Uncle, much of that knowledge came to him from his mother Margaret, my great grandmother on my father’s side.  Though I would never meet her, except in the stories my father tells, or that I read in Paul’s words, I think about her often as a woman of great resilience and skills.

Margaret was an herbalist, a mid-wife and apparently an excellent doctor of horses. She lived from sometime before 1880 and died in 1958, a period of time of great change and struggle for her community. She was a religious woman, and told Paul to remember the “Indian way of life,” and to practice it, telling him someday people would come and want to learn it from him and to write it down. This task consumed the last 13 years of his life working with a professor of anthropology to record his teachings.

I end with this story, because it situates me, and yet embedded in it, are all the forms of violence that I spoke of before. Yet at the same time, what I chose to foreground is the steadfast commitment that both Paul and Margaret had to ensure the continuance of cultural practices and a philosophy that valued life and creation over personal power and gain.  Resistance in their lifetime was to not allow powerful forces of boarding schools, allotment, or racism to remove them from a way of thinking and a set of life-affirming relationships that constituted an Anishinaabeg world.  It is a story of resistance familiar to all Indigenous peoples the world over.

I also think of my mother’s story, a joyful Mexican woman who came from a family of migrant farmworkers and who I remember as always working, laboring in restaurants, factories and retail shops in a small Nebraska town filled with anti-immigrant racism. And yet, she had so much generosity, often bringing home new immigrants who needed a place to stay or a warm meal.

These intersections of immigrant and Indigenous inform who I am. The violence of settler colonialism and anti-immigrant racism converge in ways that for me have always been experienced as gendered violence. This informs the work that I do but not in the ways that dwell at this convergence. In my research and teaching, I have tried to focus on the creative acts of resistance that Indigenous women have made in bringing back into view a better way of relating to the world and to each other. I look to stories and artistic practices that create connections and hold us up. That is not to say, these writers and artists shy away from the violence, in fact they are incredibly incisive in describing its varied forms, permutations, and hegemonic nature. 

What I am interested in however is how stories and artistic practices recall and recast Indigenous philosophies that express heart knowledge, a radical love and resistance and offer ideas about decolonization, resurgence and better ways to be in solidarity with each other.  With that brief explanation of what I do, I thought I’d close my ramblings with a few words from my Uncle Paul in a passage that comes from his discussion of power. For him real power is accessed through attentiveness to one’s well-being, the well-being of others and one’s understanding of the natural world around her. In this excerpt, he explains the importance of not dwelling in sadness in order to maintain a sense of empowerment.  I think this is an important and difficult task for a lot of us who study these important yet difficult things:

He says:

Don’t cry. If you do cry maybe it will be cloudy again, and that means trouble in your life. You’ll cry tears and then you can’t see a brightening when it’s there. When you don’t cry you show appreciation to the sun and the moon that brightens up, gives you light, makes things grow–like vegetation, and the stuff you eat. You have to appreciate what nature’s doing for you. The spirits, the Great Spirits, are doing all these things during the rest hours at night. You have to rest too, and if you do then there’s no drawback that you can cry over.

You’re given life on this earth and it’s up to you to go around and appreciate it. By appreciating that life, you have to thank for what you have got. You have to appreciate it by speaking to yourself and your heart saying that you appreciate what has been done in the past. That’s what I do. I do that. And the trees are living and birds are singing. Birds sing too, they sing, and talk amongst themselves. If we did hear them talk we couldn’t understand them anyhow, but we know they’re singing. It’s nature, of all things! Oh, this is the world to study! It is the answer to your life. When you practice this with your friends you’ll see a good life. (Roufs)

Dory Nason is Anishinaabe and Chicana and a proud member of the Leech Lake Band of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe.  She is a grateful guest on Coast Salish territory where she teaches at UBC in First Nations and Indigenous Studies and the Department of English in the fields of Indigenous methodologies, literature and feminisms. Her research focuses on Indigenous women’s creative activism and intellectual history on Turtle Island.  She is currently at work on her book, Red Feminist Criticism: Indigenous Women, Activism and Cultural Production and the co-editor of the forthcoming volume Tekahionwake: E. Pauline Johnson’s writing on Native America with Broadview Press.

Works Cited
Roufs, Timothy. “Power, Chapter 28.” When Everybody Called Me Gah-Bay-Binayss, “Forever-Flying-Bird”: An Ethnographic Biography of Paul Peter Buffalo.  Available at 
backlash · change · emotional labour

Feminism and Emotional Labour Redux

On Friday Canadian Women in the Literary Arts (CWILA) published a new project called Love, Anonymous. The project is collaborative insofar as a CWILA member approached me with the idea of crowd-sourcing anonymous narratives of gender-based discrimination and violence in the Canadian literary community. The aim of the project–of the anonymity of the narratives–was to stand alongside those people who have experienced such violences and not been able to speak up for various reasons. After all, fall 2014 was a season rife with examples of gender-based micro- and macro-aggressions, and with these aggressions came the usual questions: why didn’t you come forward? What took them so long? Indeed, so many people got so fed up with these questions around access to the agency needed to name and claim one’s own experience that #BeenRapedNeverReported went viral and captured the attention of mainstream media (remember the cover of the Huffington Post?)

I am the Chair of the Board of CWILA, and when I was approached with this project it became my responsibility to bring it to the Board for their input and, ultimately, approval. The next phase of the project involved crafting a call for submissions, which we decided to circulate only amongst CWILA members. We limited the exposure of this call because we felt that membership to CWILA entails being a stakeholder in this new organization’s projects and mandates. We wanted to gauge member interest, and to do so while avoiding as much trolling and backlash as possible. Finally, in crafting the call for submissions we decided that it was imperative to build in the possibility for trust which, let me say, I now know is really difficult to earn in an online setting. To build trust we decided there should be a privacy officer–one named person who did all the receiving, correspondence, and redaction of personal details of all submissions. That person was me. This made sense to me, and to the Board, and to the member with whom I was collaborating on the conception of the project, because in my capacity as Chair I correspond regularly with our membership. I already have a responsibility and fidelity to the well-being of the organization.

Between October and November I received submissions, fielded questions and concerns about the project, and logged about thirty hours of correspondence with participants and CWILA members about the project itself. It took me another month to manage to format the project–not because it was technically challenging, but because I hadn’t accounted for the emotional labour required. Silly, isn’t it? I was ready for the emotional labour we were asking people to volunteer–to put into text–yet I didn’t think about the challenge of reading, responding, and holding stories in trust for other people. True to my word, I didn’t speak to anyone about the details of the project beyond the technical details I am relaying now. I never will. I expected that my training as a textual scholar of narrative, of intersectional feminist theory, would translated here. In some ways I expect that it did, but I realize now that I went into my role in the project with a decidedly academic mindset and forgot to leave room for one of the things we talk about most here on the blog: emotional labour.

On Hook & Eye you’ll find posts about the emotional labour involved in teaching, navigating the job market, applying for grants, and dealing with workplace fuckery challenges. Heck, most of my posts are about emotional labour of one kind or another. As I was working on Love, Anonymous with contributors and concerned members it occurred to me that I tend to write about emotional labour from a position of reporting: Here is how thing X has made me feel. I maintain that this kind of public truth telling is really important, especially for women and other marginalized people working in the academy. Narrative makes things meaningful for other people. (If you don’t believe me, believe Thomas King!) Stories help us navigate our own experiences and relate to, or at least encounter the experiences of others. And, if we work hard and pay close attention, stories can help us see a better way forward.

Here, then, are some observations I have returned to, learned, or been reminded of in the past few months while working on this project:

1) We have taught women not to trust their own experiences. The project has reinforced for me the extraordinary challenge of saying: this happened to me. I was there. This was real.

2) On the whole, we are missing opportunities for sustained intergenerational conversation around Big Issues. I had many people write to me with genuine concern about the project, which you can read about in a bit more detail here. Everyone who wrote to me did so in a spirit of care and generosity and genuineness. They wrote from their own vulnerability and I tried my best to meet them with mine. And almost everyone who took the time to write with concerns identified themselves as being in a generation (or two or three) above mine. Their concerns, generally speaking, had to do with anonymity reifying silence. As I wrote with people of many, many different generations I was struck once again with how generational differences can experience the same public event so dissimilarly. We–and I am speaking very generally about the Hook & Eye readership of people working in the academy when I say “we” here–need to find a way to speak with each other across generations more regularly.

3) The backchannel is alive and well, and until we manage to genuinely address and eradicate inequity it is the most trustworthy way to convey information about safety. This last one gives me such pause for so many reasons. I don’t want to need the backchannel. Talking about it in a public forum makes me worry that I’ll be misunderstood to mean ‘vicious gossip’ rather than ‘careful information sharing.’ And I might be misunderstood, but it needs to be said again: until we deal with systemic inequity the backchannel is a feminist tool.

I’ll leave you with the opening questions of the Love, Anonymous project:

How does a community—one that is dispersed across a country, one that comprises diverse people and experiences—come together to express solidarity? What do solidarity and support look like when the galvanizing issues are so deeply rooted in personal experience as well as systemic injustice? And what can words do to support those people who need it, even or especially when they haven’t been able to ask for support?

Any thoughts, readers? 

#alt-ac · #post-ac · academy · change · community

Feeling More Welcome on the Fringe

I just got back from the 2015 Modern Language Association conference in Vancouver, one that was held in the beautiful conference centre in this photo, a space that was almost as gorgeous inside as it was outside (ocean! mountains! I grew up in Ontario!).  This was my fourth MLA, and definitely one of my favourites. It was wonderful to get to spend some serious time with one of my co-authors (shoutout to Erin Wunker) and a treat to be at a conference somewhere that I could still use data on my phone (it’s the little things). But for reasons that I didn’t anticipate, that this MLA was great had just as much to do with changes to my profession, and changes to THE profession, as it did with geography or excellent choice of roommate.

I want to go back in time for a minute to think through why this is, at least a little. A Hook & Eye reader got in touch with me a couple of months ago, and we met for lunch at a favourite local restaurant to talk about our experiences of being academic staff, and about the work I’m doing on Hook & Eye to advocate for, and demystify, non-professorial careers for humanists. She, like me, is a humanities PhD who now has a job in an academic staff role, although in her case she left a tenure-track job to take it. She, unlike me, hasn’t been to an academic conference since she made the switch from professor to administrator, and her experience of leaving the tenure-track has been, from what I gathered, far more isolating than mine has.

I’d never consciously thought about it before that lunch, but my transition plan was very effectively, although mostly accidentally, designed. I started writing and publishing about higher ed reform and graduate career development about the time that I made the decision not to go on the academic job market, and when I moved into my staff role, I gradually started pitching conference presentations on those topics. My first year as Research Officer, I gave a paper at the MLA on alternative dissertations, a panel which inspired the first cluster of Graduate Training in the 21st Century, and another at ACCUTE on my usual work on Canadian modernist poetry. This year, now that paying work has required that I scale back on my CanLit work, I was an invited speaker on an MLA panel about careers for humanists, I’m giving a talk about skill development and graduate reform at NeMLA, and I’m co-organizing a panel on related topics as part of ACCUTE’s Committee for Professional Concerns. I’m not giving any papers on CanLit at all, and yet it hasn’t been necessary for me to stop attending the conferences I’ve always attended, because I made a space for myself at them that reflects the changing nature of my academic and career goals (and that let me expense my attendance to the occasional one as a work gig). I’ve never had to stand on the sidelines and watch my academic friends gallivant around exciting new cities, and drink bad free wine at the book exhibit, without me. I’d be terribly sad if I did. And that’s in large part also because of the fact that alongside my work to make room for myself at these conferences, they’ve made room for me. When I started attending the MLA, any panels on career development and professionalization were almost exclusively geared to the academic job market, and it was never certain that the paper or panel I was pitching would be accepted. This year, there were three panels and a half-day workshop devoted to careers for humanists in the broadest sense, in all job markets. They had the institutional authority of being organized by the MLA and co-sponsored by the American Historical Association, and instead of worrying if my paper on mid-century modernist Canadian poetry would be too out in left-field for the American-centric MLA, I was invited to speak. I’m not attending DHSI any more, but I still get to go–just as an instructor. Quelle différence! 

Even just a few years ago, I bet that this smooth transition from PhD to staff while maintaining a close relationship with my academic community would have been much harder than it is now. PhDs who moved into non-professorial careers were largely invisible to North America’s largest scholarly associations, and those careers were still considered the booby prize, the Plan B. People I know who made the transition much earlier, and have maintained their research profiles since, largely did so because they took staff jobs that provided them with an ongoing institutional affiliation. But as those same scholarly associations begin to recognize that only 18.6% of PhDs (in Canada, at least) become professors, the more they realize that they need to serve those people who make up the majority of their constituents–people like me who will not become academics–if they hope to stay relevant and to meet the needs of their membership. Moreover, the more they realize that people like me, who can talk about the realities of life in a non-professorial careeer, are necessary to this project. In fact, I can say that I’ve had precisely the opposite experience of that reader I had lunch with. In moving off of the professorial track and into a position that once would have been considered on the fringe (and is still considered such by many, I’ll admit), I feel far more connected and central to my scholarly communities that I ever have before. I’ll admit that I’m in an oddly privileged position, working in an #altac position that is in many ways concerned with graduate careers and training while also researching those subjects. But many of the non-professors at the MLA were doing vastly different things than what I do, and they were sitting on the panel right beside me.

It’s strange to me that I had to get myself to the outside–into a position that I thought would guarantee that the powerful and traditional in academia would see me as a second-class citizen, or not see me at all because I’d become invisible–in order to really be invited in. It’s an odd place to be, and yet I’m not complaining. Mostly I’m just revelling in the fact that life is good on the other side, and that more and more people–from grad student to full professor–are recognizing that my experience is not at all anomalous, that there’s plenty of fulfilling and financially rewarding work to be had beyond the professoriate. To some at the MLA, I might still be on the fringe, but the numbers don’t lie–we are, to steal the NFM’s turn of phrase, the new PhD majority. And as assumptions about the goals of those pursuing PhDs continue to change, so will the inclusivity of the scholarly associations to which we belong. The water’s warm, and I’m loving that I’m surrounded by ever more swimmers.

Image by TDLucas5000, CC