The Young Girls in My Class

Afro shillouetteI have the insane and unashamed pleasure to teach a class full of young girls with black and brown skin who are first-year college students. In my 15 years of teaching, I have not ever had more than 2 or 3 girls of color in 1 class at a time. And today I almost cried in class at the sight of them with all their color and beauty and focus. They inspired this little ditty (it needs a beat behind it):

The young girls in my class make my heart sing, my face smile, my toes tap, my belly tickle, my fingers snap, and my head…click to the side in joy & pride

The young girls in my class got sass, beauty, brains, intent, power, glitter, focus, confidence, steadiness, and all that is #blackgirlmagic

I could not have been the young girls in my class. I was shier, quieter, homlier, maybe I was as smart, but couldn’t do my hair, I had no style or sass – not at their age, and I rarely spoke up or talked back…or at least that is my recollection when I look at the young girls in my class – they amaze me and daze me and I can’t wait to hear them speak about whatever and everything

The young girls in my class will run the world. I will learn from them as much as they will from me. They are bold, empowered, educated sisters on a mission and they make my heart sing, my face smile, my fingers snap, my belly tickle, and my head…click to the side in joy & pride.

To the bad ass young girls in my class – go ‘head and do your thang!

 

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The TRUTH was spoken about Movements

(I’m not even sure I can adequately capture what I just experienced. I am so moved. You know those moments full of food for your head and soul – full of em)

20160125_105527Today I came out of my sabbatical world and ventured onto campus. My nephew was being honored at the SSU MLK, Jr. Convocation (“A Movement, Not A Moment”).  We are all so proud of Anye, especially after the ordeal he endured at Lowell H.S. on his path to becoming student body president (you can see ongoing coverage along with my Op-Ed in the Lowell Sun about the situation). He has graciously, humbly, and proudly risen above the hatred and carried himself with dignity and intelligence.  Today he was honored for writing an outstanding essay about Martin Luther king, Jr.

Some other really amazing things occurred.  A young man (whose name escapes me) sang an amazing rendition of Marvin Gaye’s (or is it Sam Cooke’s song?) “A Change is Going to Come” and the first verse of “Life Every Voice and Sing.” His voice made the words of those two songs touch the core of my soul! Before I could gather myself, Charlene Carruthers took the stage. OMG! Do you know her? Look her up! Currently she is the National Director of the Black Youth Project 100 (BYP100).  My 5 y.o. son, who was getting restless was immediately captivated by her and insisted to video-tape her.  He wasn’t sure what she was saying, but he was captivated anyway! And he was right. She spoke TRUTH about the lack of inclusion in previous social movements, in particular the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s. She spoke passionately and eloquently about the exclusion of women, and young people, and individuals from the LGBT community. She encouraged the university to not engage in tokenism (my paraphrasing of her deeper more thoughtful speech). She encouraged us to not just add a black man and stir and say we are diverse; to not just add a queer woman stir and say we are diverse, etc. She encouraged tough conversations, real work (policy and action) and she encourage discomfort (a common occurrence in my diversity class)! She had 3 main points which I have to email her to get because I got so caught up, I didn’t take notes! Most importantly she encouraged the students to find their voice(s), be heard, be persistent, and keep pressing for change. And then…

The students took the podium and stated their demands. 20160125_124206They said “You didn’t hear us.” OMG that feeling of not being heard. OUCH. I felt it! It brought tears to my eyes – the songs, Carruthers’ speech and then the students. As a faculty member of color (1 of only a handful at a university with 300+ faculty) I heard them. As a woman of color who attended a campus where people who looked like me made up 2% of the student today, I heard the students at SSU today. I let them know I heard them.

Kudos to Rebecca Comage and the Planning Committee for choosing such a dynamic and bold speaker and for honoring the students’ voices today! I know my nephew and his parents were moved and my 5 y.o. in his own way heard some important things and experienced something powerful. I know my syllabi are about to experience some important revisions!

My sabbatical has been lots of fun. LOTS of self-care, time with family and friends;  some research and some writing. Today I got renewed! I got inspired! I got motivated to continue the work of being part of a movement, no matter who is uncomfortable and to not just participle in a moment! So much more I think I could write….

What moves or inspires you to be part of a movement?

Whimsical Wednesday: Is there a secret Code for academics that I missed?!

Preface:  I am working on becoming more intentional with my posts. Tuesdays or Thursdays I will work towards writing and sharing thoughtful ideas and reflections related to teaching, social justice, and parenting.  Wednesdays or Fridays I will work towards writing and sharing my wacky stream-of-consciousness perspective on parenting, teaching, social justice.  The intentionality I am hoping will help me get focused on a writing schedule as I move closer to some important publishing deadlines!

booksI have been on sabbatical since September. I took a year (at half pay) on purpose.  I wanted to have some time to rest, engage in self-care, spend more time with family and friends, get some research and publishing done (which for me is nearly impossible during the regular academic year), and try something new.  I have managed to do a little bit of all of these things, sometimes in unexpected ways. Throughout all of my adventures I have been observing my family, friends, acquaintances, and colleagues watching me.  Me watching them watching me could really be an interesting research project (for a Social Psychologist maybe)!

One idea that stands out from those two-way observations is that there is a (maybe more than one) unspoken or unwritten (that I know if) code of conduct for academics when not on campus teaching, researching, writing, etc. Not the type of Code of Conduct that a religious school might ask you to sign promising you will behave morally at all times and if you are caught off-campus being immoral you could lose your job. No, a more subtle Code. That Code of expectations that you will:

  1. Listen to NPR, read a variety of newspapers, don’t watch mindless t.v., or no t.v. at all, unless it is PBS.News1
    1. If you do watch mindless t.v. write extensively about how you will use the show in class and describe in detail how the show will be deconstructed and analyzed.
  2. Not talk about your personal life, especially not your spouse or children
    1. Definitely do not be absent for your sick child, spouse, in-law…
    2. AND, if you’re sick some in and teach your class anyway
  3. Reject gender stereotypes (gender-neutrality = good; 1950s gender roles = bad)
    1. SO back to #2, don’t complain that you have chosen to have a child, cook and clean, etc.
  4. Be liberal (see #1-3) AND be as post-modern and pro-feminst as possible, rejecting labels, identities, etc.
  5. Not discuss religion, especially not my religion, unless I’m bashing the oppressiveness of religious institutions and their doctrines
  6. Be frugal (and look as if you are frugal)
    1. Shopping malls are bad…
    2. Do not talk about any privilege you have
  7. Reject capitalism and consumption (see #5)
  8. Eat organic – Shop at Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods
  9. Embrace the outdoors (that way you won’t be tempted to watch t.v.)
  10. Always use the English language properly – no slang or abbreviations, or acronyms…not even on social media!
    1. I kinda agree with this one AND I violate this often and freely joke about my personal editor (who is currently on vacation)!

If you are in academia you know what I am talking about. Some of this is poking fun of the community to which I belong and some of it is awareness. Do you stigmatize or distance yourself from or roll your eyes at colleagues who in some way violate the Code of Conduct for Academics?! I became an academic as a third career. I had been a clinical social worker and was doing student affairs work in a School of Social Work. I was asked to teach a course and I was bitten by the teaching bug. I was told that in order to teach full time I needed to earn a Ph.D. So I embarked on that journey and in 2007 landed my full time tenure-track teaching job. A few years later I finished that dissertation and a few years after that received tenure.  In between all of that I lived a full life.

HairAs a woman of color (who wears make-up & heels, cooks, cleans, mothers, as high regard for her husband, and attends church…) with a family here and abroad who prioritizes that family and self-care, I am most concerned with how the unspoken code does not allow for socio-cultural nuances, autonomy, and individuality within the academy. As liberal as the academy tends to be (there are many articles stating the contrary…that’s someone else’s blog…), the supposed liberal horn-blowing/sign-carrying/feminist/post-modern academics also create a specific set of criteria for fitting in that is not inclusive.  I am old enough to not really care if colleagues think I am not a proper academic because I do not follow the Code. I know my worth and my priorities!☺😛

I am concerned for my newer and younger colleagues who feel they must be in their offices even during semester breaks.  I am concerned for my colleagues who feel they cannot seek support within their departments when their child/spouse/parent is sick. I am concerned for my colleagues who feel they cannot pursue non-academic interests without shame or fear of being stigmatized. I am concerned that the very people who criticized the old academic guard for the homogeneous environment that they had created, is creating a new type of homogeneity. Academics should be encouraged to be diverse not just in their social identities but also in their interests and ways of expression.  Our students are not homogeneous and we encourage them to get out of their comfort zones and think outside the proverbial box and so should we. #JustSayin

 

A Reflection on Teaching Religion and Diversity…online

worldI have been teaching about religion and cultural competency online since 2010.  I began doing so because (a) I had a newborn and wanted to spend less time on campus and (b) the university was asking us to create more online courses. I have tweaked the courses a lot over the years and gathered ideas from colleagues across the country.  It is a challenge and takes some fine balancing to teach such topics online. It is definitely time consuming! 😊😄Some say it is a bad idea to teach uncomfortable/controversial topics online. I think it can and should be done. I think so mainly because online offers more students opportunity to take a variety of classes that they may not otherwise be able to take because of their time and life commitments.  Secondarily, I have found that my online students are more open with their discussion than me student in my face-to-face courses (their is some literature out there about the perception of being somewhat anonymous online).

I am currently teaching an online course about religion and society. 🏯⛪🔯🔱It is a Sociology course so the readings are based on the theoretical frameworks of the traditional through post-modern Sociological theorists.  Because of where we live, I find approx 90% of the students to be former Catholics who do not currently practice a religion AND have a disdain for organized religion (LOTS of research out there on this, especially as it relates to 20 and 30 year olds). The students have been most interested in how religions address the LGBT community & people of color, and the role of women or lack thereof within some religions.

When I teach the cultural competency course (in Social Work) students are required to pick a culture that is different than their own and explore that culture’s food, socio-cultural, religious and other traditions and customs.  🎎🙇👭👬👳👲Culture is broadly defined but mostly in the course we study and discuss various social identities. In the end students tend to focus on national origin or religion, therefore most students choose either Judaism or Islam for their ongoing project/paper.  Given the state in which we live students also tend to choose Cambodian, Vietnamese, Cape Verdean, or Brazilian cultures also and thus often end up at a Catholic Church or Buddhist Temple.

This semester in the Religion and Society course, no student has chosen Islam. I asked if anyone had interest in exploring Islam for their research paper and that I had often sent students to a specific Islamic Center in our state and that the center is welcoming, etc., etc. A few brave students emailed me to say that they were interested but scared to visit a Mosque or Islamic Center.  We discussed back and forth about their fears and the pros and cons of this research topic.  In the end, no student chose Islam. I was disappointed, but each year I am learning new things about teaching topics that some students find uncomfortable, challenging, and/or are afraid of.

teacher

Facilitating Learning

  1. Even though our college and universities push us to teach online so that more students have access and can take courses, some courses really are best taught face-to-face.
  2. If I chose to teach anything related to diverse identities online then I have to require students to engage in more discussions than usual. There is typically a question/topic per week and students respond to me and to two other students. I then compose a lecture-like post based on all of their responses so and ask them to respond to that post.  So that’s at least 3-4 opportunities to discuss a topic and engage in some teaching & learning.
  3. Again, if I chose to teach anything related to diverse identities online I should think about requiring at least two (at the beginning and at the end) face-to-face meetings so that we can all see each other, have an open discussion, more forward, and end together.  This seems to defeat the purpose of teaching online, which is why hybrid is usually a good option.
  4. I like students to think about the possible wide range of topics and choose for themselves, but… it is an undergraduate course and even though it goes against my pedagogical style I could pre-select topics and say “Pick from these topics only” thus pushing students out of their comfort zone. This might be helpful to some students and patronizing to others.

If you teach about the broad topic(s) of diversity:

  1. Do you teach online, hybrid, or face-to-face?
  2. Do you allow students to select their own topics or do you have a pre-selected list?
  3. What other suggestions would you give me as I move forward in teaching this solely online?

Respectful, constructive comments and discussions are welcome, please.  Thank you.

A rambling opinion: Why Student Protest Matters

multicultural-kids-holding-blank-banner-sign-23449953The short answer to the question “Why does student protest matter?” is that because those young people are our future.  I was one of them in the 80s. Now I’m a social work educator with a platform for social justice. I blog, I write Op-Ed pieces, I teach social justice and cultural competence.  I was hunger striking and camping out on the admin lawn on campus.  I had an opportunity to voice my concerns.  I was heard and acknowledged.  That propelled me to continue to be an active, critical, concerned citizen.

We should not judge, criticize, chastise, condemn, or discourage those students.  Yes, someone (they and/or family members) are paying for them to be in class, learning, studying, doing homework, earning grades and degrees. AND A LOT of learning on college and university campuses occurs outside of the classroom.  We should value the life lessons and experiences that enhance a young person’s life.  Being aware of, concerned about, actively in changing a social ill is an important lesson.  There is a lot of learning that occurs from organizing and participating in a protest. You may end up on a bus to your state’s capital to speak before the legislature.  You may end up in a conference room with the Chancellor and Board of Trustees to state your concerns.  You’ll most definitely end up speaking to the media.  Your name and picture will end up in your college’s archives as someone who worked to make a change for the better.

Those young people at Missouri, Ithaca, Smith, Yale, and all the other campuses engaging in social protest deserve their time and space to do so.  They have legitimate concerns to which we should listen.  They will eventually go back to class and to the routine of taking notes, writing papers, etc. But for now, today they need to say their truth.  That truth is the truth of our nation.  We have a dismal record of positive race relations.  These students, like the students from the 1906s are waiting to be heard. Maybe we can learn from our students.

Whether it’s at your high school or college, the voices of students matter! Their protest matters because history repeats itself and we are slow to change.  Their protest matters because we need to wake up, listen, take positive action, and make true social change.  Their protest matters because they speak truth.  Their protest matters because they are our future. I stand, sit, lay with our students wanting to be heard!

Being True to Me: I am an ecclectic sporadic blogger with average writing skills!

ecclecticIt’s been a while since I’ve blogged. I’ve had a lot going on – finishing the semester, getting the boy ready for summer, grieving, … Lots going on that needed to be settled and cleared.  I have spent some time pondering this blog.  I read a LOT of other blogs and know that the authors of blogs which attract the most readers (and make money) have a consistent theme/topic on which they write.  I contemplated finding one or two topics on which to write in order to be consistent and have dedicated readers.

I could blog about motherhood, academia, cultural competence, Alzheimer’s, being African American, being a mother to a black boy, being married to an immigrant, being a social worker, etc., etc., etc. Not one of those topic is more important to me than the next. So I decided that my blog will be an eclectic mix of the things that interest me.  Be prepared to read about our summer jaunts, my summer readings lists, my sabbatical, my volunteerism with the Alzheimer’s Association, my attempts to explain racial relations to my 4 year old, the adventures of my niece who will soon be here from Africa, our adventures as non-Catholics in a Catholic school, soccer, futbol, food, wine, and so much more!

Stay tuned. Be patient with my writing. I hope to post interesting stories and/or tips and I hope you’ll keep reading and leaving comments!