Who’s telling who to STFU at American universities? Observations on teaching at a HWCU.

cupofSTFUAh, yes: freedom of speech. What some really mean when they evoke it is, “my right to have my say and not have you talk back,” like all of those crybabies who have cancelled their appearances at commencement ceremonies in the last few years because not every student and faculty member greeted their future appearance on campus with hugs and cocoa and slankets.

If you really believe in liberty of speech, then stop telling others to STFU.  In my view, the people who are being criticized most vigorously for speaking up lately at Yale and the University of Missouri are all too often quiet about their experiences, silent on campus, and eager not to draw attention to themselves, and it’s these students whose voices we need to listen to the most.

Too many people have zero imagination about what it is to be African American or Latin@ on a historically white college or university (HWCU) campus. But everyone who has ever attended or taught or worked at a HWCU knows that African Americans on HWCUs are viewed with suspicion just for being there, let alone when they try to unlock their own damn bikes or organize a protest about their marginalization.

I teach at a HWCU in Northern Colorado, a place that is increasingly Latin@ but has very few African American residents.  In my classes, my experience with non-white students in general, and African American students in particular, over the past fourteen years is that they go out of their way to be polite, inoffensive, unobtrusive, and try not to call attention to themselves in any way.  Their efforts to try to fly under the radar and evade notice grieve me, even as I think I understand their interest in remaining quiet and unobtrusive.  I work to offer a non-white perspective on history constantly, but I don’t know if I’m making it better or worse for my non-white students (or if they even care.) That’s the reality of attending a HWCU for the majority of black students in the United States:  working hard to get your degree, trying not be noticed, not taking up much space or speaking up in class. Continue reading

Sometimes I don’t know what to say.

In both my grad class and my undergrad class this week we’re discussing Sharon Block’s Rape and Sexual Power in Early America.  This is a book that goes over very well with college students, given their vulnerability to sexual assault as well as Block’s analysis of the racial and class dynamics of rape complaints and prosecutions.  I was pushing my students on the question of why more hasn’t changed over the past 300 years, and decided to ask them if they knew someone who had been raped.  All of us but ONE person out of 17 or 18 of us in the discussion section raised a hand. Continue reading

The author’s corner: Selbstmörder und freiheit edition


University of Chicago Press, 2015

Don’t miss John Fea’s interview of Terri L. Snyder about her brand-new bookThe Power to Die:  Slavery and Suicide in British North America (University of Chicago Press, 2015)., which I learned of via the ubiquitous and always-in-the-know Liz Covart on Twitter.

In the course of the interview, Snyder outlines how she came about her ideas for her second book in the course of researching her first book, Brabbilng Women:  Disorderly Speech and the Law in Early Virginia (Cornell University Press, 2003; Cornell Paperback, 2013): Continue reading

Historiann on Who Do You Think You Are

UPDATE, 8/31/15 11:50 a.m.  Well, that was fast.  The first video was terminated!  I’ll let you know if I find another copy somewhere, but if you go to the Who Do You Think You Are schedule, you’ll see the promo with a glimpse of me today.  In the meantime, try the link below.

French Protestants!  Religious persecution!  Siege and starvation!  Migration and the bounty of the New World!  It’s all posted on YouTube, at least for now:

Sexuality frightens, confuses school district

unfrozencavemanThis is a stupid story, but there’s an interesting nugget buried in the explanation for how and why a Young Adult author was chased off the internets for standing up for reality-based high school sex education and biology classes:

The Gilbert [Arizona] School Board—under the leadership of three Tea Partiers who consider Common Core to be a “pile of dog poo,” and with the encouragement of the Alliance Defending Freedom, the same organization that engineered the notorious anti-gay discrimination law in Indiana—had spent a great deal of time debating a section in the biology textbook that contains extremely “controversial” material about contraception preventing unwanted pregnancies. According to a local news report, some board members wanted to black out the lines that mention various birth-control methods, vasectomies, and—wait for it—drugs that can induce abortion; others wanted to rip out the whole offending page. Instead, the school board compromised on the instructive sticker.

Continue reading

Bloody, bloody Donald Trump: Sex segregation, the corrosive power of menstrual blood, and why Republicans can’t stay out of our vaginas.

Laura Bennett analyzes Donald Trump’s comments on Megyn Kelly’s questions in last week’s Republican debate in Slate today.  To review:  Trump complained about the question she asked him regarding his offensive comments about women, saying that “[s]he gets out there and she starts asking me all sorts of ridiculous questions, and you could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her … wherever.”  Bennett writes,

To be clear, Trump sounded like a Grade A bozo throughout the Kelly tirade, and his history of enthusiastic sexism made the period subtext seem like a safe assumption. If you listen to the full segment, though, it is not entirely evident where Trump was going with that “wherever.” At the end of the sentence, he did sort of peter out, distracted by the gleam of his own next thought about how well he was doing in the polls. Several minutes later, he declared that Chris Wallace seemed to have “blood pouring out of his eyes” while interrogating him, too. It is no secret that Trump is a cartoonish misogynist. But the media frenzy over bloodgate also seemed to be missing some key context.

Who knows if Trump meant specifically to reference menstruation?  It doesn’t really matter.  Anyone with half a brain–even half a lizard-brain like Trump–has to know that talking about blood and the only woman involved in the whole debate was just inviting others to make the connection he apparently pulled back from making himself.  (Listen to the recording and judge for yourself.  He’s a rude and crude dude.  As Bennett suggests, compared to calling Gail Collins a “dog,” talking about Megyn Kelly’s menstrual blood is almost, to use a Trumpism, “world class.”)  Trump evoked a taboo with ancient roots and surprising staying power, one that (not coincidentally) recalls male fears of emasculation by the power-sapping mojo of menstrual blood. Continue reading

Abortion, “privacy,” and those Planned Parenthood videos

reallyuglybabyKatha Pollitt has some ideas for reclaiming the moral high ground on abortion rights. I agree with her that abortion needs to be seen more visibly as a part of women’s health care. We all know women who have had abortions–some of us have assisted them in some way, and a third of have had abortions ourselves. I’ve helped one friend recover from an abortion. I’ve never had one myself, and count myself fortunate, not virtuous. There’s no question but that if I had become pregnant before I wanted to be that I too would have sought an abortion.

In fact, it was my planned, wanted pregnancy that made me feel even more strongly about the importance of abortion rights.  Some women begin to question the morality of abortion when they become pregnant, and I always wondered if pregnancy would change my mind.  It didn’t–in fact, it struck me as even crazier and more absurd that so-called “pro-lifers” cared more about the little jelly bean inside my uterus than the adult human woman in which it grew, a human with adult responsibilities and family and community ties.  It struck me as the most clueless and obnoxious form of misogyny–the utter erasure of living, breathing women and all of our labor, hopes, and creativity in favor of the potential human life growing in our uteri.  The notion that anyone but me would presume to make decisions about the rest of our lives enraged me. Continue reading