academic work · canada · empowerment · faster feminism · women

3 Reasons 2 Opportunities to Speak Up About Women

November is a few days away, and with it comes two deadlines you should be aware of:

1) CWILA‘s Critic in Residence competition closes on November 1.

The Residency
CWILA supports a female Canadian writer (poet, novelist, storyteller, scholar) as its resident critic for a calendar year. The aim of the residency is to foster criticism that promotes public awareness of women’s literary and critical presence in Canadian letters. Specifically, the critic-in-residence works on critical essays and/or book reviews and submits them to one or more Canadian review venues (print and web). This work is also archived by CWILA and becomes available through its website following publication elsewhere, copyright permitting. The critic-in-residence is encouraged to support a climate of critical responsiveness in Canadian letters through a collaborative or community-based project of her choice. In addition, the Critic in Residence will comment on the results of the annual Count in a public forum. The residency is virtual, so the writer is free to work from home. The Critic in Residence will finish the term by submitting a dossier summarizing the work done while in residence. The deadline for submission of the essay or reviews to CWILA is December 31st of the year of the residency. At this time, the writer also provides documentation that the pieces have been submitted to other publications.
Application Criteria:
Applications should include a letter of intent describing the project or projects the applicant wishes to undertake, the venue or venues to which they plan to submit, a one-page CV, and one short sample of critical work.
We particularly encourage applications from writers with disabilities, genderqueer writers, Indigenous writers, as well as other women and/or genderqueer writers of colour.
Stipend:  $3,000
Applications: The deadline for applications is November 1, 2013
Please send applications to

2) Abstracts for Discourse & Dynamics: Canadian Women as Public Intellectuals are due October 31. 

This national conference proposes to appraise women’s contributions to dynamic discourse in Canada and Quebec. Scheduled in conjunction with Persons Day, 18 October 2014, the conference will feature among other notable participants Margaret Atwood, Nicole Brossard, Siila Watt-Cloutier, Jessica Danforth, Charlotte Gray, Smaro Kamboureli, Antonia Maioni, Pam Palmater, Judy Rebick, Janice Stein, and Lori Turnbull.
Canadian women have contributed enormously to public discourse, in important but often under-valued ways.  Across different generations and cultural communities, women in English Canada and Quebec address key questions that animate intellectual discussion, from concerns about the environment and the economy to issues of social justice, racism, poverty, health and violence.  But are their voices valued and heard, or are they subsumed in the general noise of public debate?  Why are they not accorded the attention and approbation they merit?

Both the Critic in Residence position and the Discourse & Dynamics conference hinge on the fundamental belief that women have a crucial role to play in working towards a more egalitarian future for people living in Canada. If you’re reading this blog then I suspect that point isn’t one you need to be convinced of; however, it is also almost November. If you’re reading this then chances are you have some affiliation with the Academy as well. Whether you’re a graduate student, sessional, adjunct, precariously or under employed, tenure track, or tenured faculty member we know that this time of year is busy. It is easy to let deadlines slip by. Here are three reasons to consider speaking in public, whether in an application to CWILA’s CIR, or in a proposal for a presentation to Discourse & Dynamics, or simply to circulate these and other opportunities to speak up and speak out. 

1) Indigenous women are leading the fight for land rights and environmental protection against a government that does not respect Indigenous peoples and their rights. 

2) We live in a country saturated with rape culture: from the chants on university campuses, to the ongoing systematic violence against women, to violently engendered language. For example, I just learned about #rapeface this morning, but apparently it has been in circulation for a few years. Speaking out against violence is one step, speaking with people — especially young people — about it is another crucial step towards eradicating rape culture.

3) We need more images like this one of women celebrating the recognition of their lifetime achievements.

bad academics · empowerment

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

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

(And, Toronto friends, if you can, please attend this event!)
academic reorganization · emotional labour · empowerment · stockpiling letterhead

Dreaming Communities of Care in the Academy

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

What does this have to do with academia?

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

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

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

collaboration · community · empowerment · reform

Imagining structural solutions

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

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

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

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

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

Notes from the conference circuit

‘Tis the season…for conferences. This week it’s the 2013 John Douglas Taylor Conference at McMaster University – “You Can’t be Serious.”

This afternoon, I attended a Round Table Discussion on “The Engaged University” where the panelists considered the “possibilities for ethical encounters through university practices of community engagement.” Edward Bartlett and Katia Hildebrandt, both of University of Regina offered an intriguing discussion of our serious and silly sides in the academy. Drawing upon Erving Goffman, they argue that, as participants in the university, we all select masks related to our serious and silly selves. Whether or not we select a serious mask depends upon the situation and our role within it. They note that professors are accorded serious masks in their roles as respected authorities, but may of course also choose a silly mask when appropriate. In contrast, undergraduate students have more freedom to wear their silly masks. Ever sit at the back of a lecture hall? See all of those laptops open to facebook – that’s the silly mask.

The crucial point that Bartlett and Hildebrant make is that graduate students experience a more challenging hybrid identity. A graduate student might where their “silly” student mask in the classroom in the morning, and then re-enter that space in the afternoon wearing their “serious” mask as a university instructor.

When I think about many of the professional development challenges that I experienced throughout my PhD, I think this articulation of the dual-identity really captures well the confusions, frustrations, and marginalities of the graduate student position. Being at times a student and at others a member of staff renders interactions with other students and staff complicated.

My personal inclination is that, as apprenticing academics, graduate students should be accorded more seriousness. If graduate students are expected to mentor undergraduates through running tutorials and working as sessional instructors, then they should be treated as serious contributors to the education process.

When I look back on my experiences as a teaching assistant and sessional instructor, the negative moments that stand out for me are all of the instances where I felt vulnerable or marginalized in relation to my undergraduate students and the department, and consequently over-reacted (defensively) in order to reinforce my serious mask. I was seeking power, not because I derived pleasure from power, but because I felt utterly powerless in my role as an instructor.

How do you balance your serious and silly identities in the classroom?

community · empowerment · learning · mental health · teaching

A Community of Care

The end of term brings about inevitable musings on the cyclical nature of the academic life. What else is procrastination from marking good for? I would like to think more about what the end of term brings as a way of understanding why everyone I talk to–myself included (why, yes, I do talk to myself, don’t you?)–seems to be exhausted. Things clicked last night when I was talking to students, and the answer comes back, once again, to emotional labour, and the duty we have to care for one another in order to have a community. The reverse is also true: we cannot have a community without care. At the end of the fall term, I contextualized that care as the need to pay attention to students’ mental health. Today, I’m looking at care in the context of post-secondary education in Alberta. If you’re tired of hearing about the budget cuts higher education in Alberta is facing, you might as well click away right not, but you’ll also miss an example of community care that creative people have organized in response.

Katherine Binhammer and Diane Chisholm, professors in the Department of English and Film Studies at the University of Alberta, organized a teach-in in response to the Alberta Government’s Draft Letter of Expectation for UAlberta. More specifically, they have rounded up a panel of faculty from the department to showcase why humanities research, critical thinking, and creativity are not only relevant, but indeed crucial to our life (and I’m not shy of universalizing this point). Alongside Katherine and Diane, Julie Rak, Michael O’Driscoll, Mark Simpson, Cecily Devereux, Eddy Kent, Jaimie Baron, and Nat Hurley took turns using different literary studies methodologies to pinpoint the problems with the language, the rhetoric, and the very real implications of this draft letter. And they did in front of a full HC L-1, which is the largest lecture hall in the Humanities Centre.

It was a moment of pride, of solidarity, of empowerment. Most of all, it was a moment of building a community of care; a moment of jolting us out of our neoliberal-enforced solitary labour, especially at this busy point in the term; a moment of doing our jobs. It was also a brilliant demystification of the “ivory tower” argument that props up so much political rhetoric about the irrelevance of the humanities.  To use the poshest of buzz-words, it was knowledge mobilization at its best.

Why do I link it to care? Because, the most frequent argument used to belittle humanities research–and, it has to be said, which we use ourselves–is that “it’s not going to cure cancer.” No, humanities research is not visibly health care. But it is care! And it even is *health* care. It’s the best form of health care because it’s the preventive kind. This teach-in says we know what ails us as a community, and here is the answer: more human care, more mental health care through solidarity, more coming together. So, join us as we take care of our community!*

Watch the CBC Edmonton coverage of the Teach-In, but whatever you do, don’t read the comments.

*Come march with us from the UAlberta quad to the Alberta Legislature on Wednesday, 10 April, at 4 pm.