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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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 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!

YAY for Malala: Honoring My Mom Day 13 (or there abouts)

teacherAs a woman of color living in American I never take my education for granted. The two oldest siblings in my grandmother’s family were the only two who were allowed to & able to go to college. They are proud Tuskegee and Fort Valley State graduates. My mom, who did not grow up in the south but still faced obstacles as her New York guidance counselor told her she should go to trade school. She ended up earning a Master in Social Work degree from Atlanta University (now Clark Atlanta University). My path was made easier through the scarifies and struggles of my grandparents and parents, although not without challenges. Like many 1st year students I goofed off a lot and skipped some classes and that first report card shocked me back into shape!

Each academic year in one of my books I put a picture of Charlayne Hunter-Gault;  in another book I put a picture of the Little Rock Nine; and in another book a picture of James Meredith.  The pictures are my inspirational reminders.  I think I am going to add a picture of Malala Yousafzai.

Today I sent all my students an email and challenged them to:

  1. appreciate fully the privilege of an education,
  2. come to class prepared,
  3. not procrastinate,
  4. be engaged and proactive learners,
  5. think critically,
  6. inspire someone else to pursue a higher education or complete high school,
  7. pledge to tear down any obstacle they see for others in receiving an education, and to
  8. hold me accountable for facilitating discussion and learning.

I, in return challenged myself to give them 100%+ each day I meet them and to hold them accountable for being responsible for their own learning.

We should ask ourselves “What would Malala do?” http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2014/10/10/355054344/pakistani-teen-malala-yousafzai-shares-nobel-peace-prize?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=npr&utm_term=nprnews&utm_content=2034

Day 1 of 75 to honor my mom

Today was convocation. The official beginning of the academic year. It’s full of activity, a little fan fare,  some crazed last minute prep. It’s also the first day I’ve seen most of my colleagues since my mom passed away earlier this summer. I started the morning meditating and praying and asking for God to give me a few ounces of my mom’s calm demeanor, political savvyness, and great teaching skills. She never seemed nervous in front of her class, despite the fact that she was essentially an introvert. I also never saw her use any notes, and she taught before the invention of the Internet and power point. She spoke with ease and authority. Her students hung on her every word. She was always well prepared. She returned papers on time with lots of constructive feedback. She was a master teacher. She rarely if ever worked at home, she wisely used her time and did almost all her prep, grading, etc at her on-campus office. She also didn’t have convocation or tons of meetings.  She taught at a community college and spent the majority of her time focused on students and their learning. She was student centered before it was a cliché term. She had fun teaching and spoke of her job with joy and pride.

I usually make resolutions at the beginning of each acaddmic yeaf becausd it’s always a new beginning for me. I’m pledging to:
1. Be proud of what I do.
2. Enjoy what I do.
3. Be prepared so I can be calm.
4. Focus on my students and their learning.
5. Not procrastinate, use time wisely and bring as little work home as possible.
6. Rely on my notes less.
7. No promises about a clean desk…apologies to my office mate!

I hope she’s looking down and feeling proud as I begin my 10th year of full time teaching.

A Vent: Those CJ Majors in My SWK Courses

teacher(Based on anecdotal course observations over the course of 7 years and not based on any actual rigorous data collection or analysis…which gives me an idea…):

One of the beautiful aspects of being in higher education is that each academic discipline really does attract a specific type of student.  In our undergraduate Social Work courses we tend to get a significant number of students who vote with the Democratic Party (or are not registered); are not particularly religious, are female, young, and Caucasian.  Social Work majors also tend to have had some personal interaction with or connection to the greater social service/welfare system.  As opposed to the stereotypical Criminal Justice major who is either Independent or Republican, maybe not religious but with a penchant for following rules, male, youngish, and Caucasian.  And contrary to my SWK students the CJ students I have encountered, have had some negative personal interaction or connection with the CJ system (victim of a crime) that leads them to their professional choice.  There are also some suspected personality traits that typically go with each major, but that I will not even touch (but you can use your imagination).

I teach a course on “diversity” and “cultural competence” in the human services. The course is required of SWK majors and also meets the University’s graduation requirement for diversity.  Thus, I tend to have 85-90% SWK majors; 5-10% CJ majors;  and 2-3% “other majors” (Business, Education, Sociology).  Did that add up to 100%??? The course is taught from the ethical & value-laden perspective of the SWK profession with my own twist (middle-aged female of color with a variety of life experiences and lots of opinions).

And here is what I’ve noticed and how my patience and acceptance has been tested:justice scale

  1. CJ majors sit in the back or on the far sides; never in the front or the middle
  2. CJ majors have no problem challenging the information presented and often do so from the perspective of personal experience as opposed to presenting factual data
  3. SWK majors tend to agree with everything I say (equally as annoying as challenging everything I say)
  4. SWK majors tend to roll their eyes at the CJ majors and vice versa
  5. CJ majors deny that there is any injustice based on a specific social identity (race, ethnicity, gender in particular).
  6. SWK majors think everyone has been wronged or oppressed (in fact when I give an exam I am the oppressor)
  7. CJ majors claim that our country and it’s social institutions are based on and operate under the premise of justice.
  8. SWK majors say justice is not SOCIAL JUSTICE
  9. When discussing a specific type of oppression that a specific group has experienced (i.e. Antisemitism or Homophboia) the CJ majors say “Well, that’s like the time I…”
  10. SWK majors say “NO. It is NOT like the time you…” and then they over empathize.

I am challenged to really TEACH as oppose to PREACH to the converted SWK choir. It is a challenge. I am embracing it.

  1. I am breathing deeply
  2. I am counting to 5 (sometimes 10) before I respond
  3. I am looking up tons of CJ facts to bring to class for rebuttal purposes.
  4. I am consulting with my CJ colleagues (thanks, you know who you are!)
  5. I am welcoming the CJ majors who keep me on my toes AND making sure they get a good does of social work values & ethical principles

I want everyone who wants and can access an education to receive an education (I really want higher education to be more accessible, but that’s another blog). And I want to encourage students to explore courses outside of their major (that’s what liberal arts is all about right?).

helpingAND I really want to convert all those CJ majors in my SWK course to become SOCIAL JUSTICE ADVOCATES as opposed to the deliverers of justice.