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

Ghost children: Carly Fiorina’s invocation of fetal and maternal suffering

One of these things is not like the others.

One of these things is not like the others.

Miss me, friends? I’m having a great time in the classroom again with my students, but clearly I need to figure out how it was that I was once able to manage my day job and to blog daily.  Maybe I was younger?  Maybe I felt like I had fresh ideas once upon a time?

Although I didn’t liveblog or Tweet about it, I watched the Republican debate Wednesday night from start to finish.  I thought it was both highly entertaining and permitted the candidates to stake out and articulate their positions.  There were some very important differences among the Republicans on the main stage–on federalism (good according to Mike “Two Buck” Huckabee when it permits a state to resist marriage equality, and bad according to Chris Christie when it permits Coloradoans to spark up without fear of Johnny Law), on U.S. borders and whether it’s good or bad to speak Spanish, on the previous decade-plus of warfare and other intervention in the Middle East, and on the most important question of the night:  whether to honor your wife or your mother by putting her face on a sawbuck.  (Srsly?)

I miss Rick Perry, but only because he was the closest thing to a handsome man anywhere near that stage.  I’ve also decided that Rand Paul looks like just about every boy I had a crush on in high school in the 1980s, with pretty much the same haircut too.  (Don’t judge.)

But this is a blog written by a women’s historian, and there is a woman running for President again on the Republican side, so let’s talk about Carly Fiorina and her interesting offensive on motherhood last night.  Amanda Marcotte wonders “What Was Up with Carly Fiorina’s Grisly Abortion Rant?” in the debate last night.  I don’t think it’s so difficult to guess–Fiorina is the only person on the stage who didn’t have children of her own.  While the male Republican candidates eruped in a patronizing ooze about their wives and families when given the opportunity to introduce themselves to the general public, each of them name-checking their wives and most listing their children by name, Fiorina was at a disadvantage in the DNA-bestowing contest. Continue reading

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.

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Stop complaining about “p.c. culture” and engage

annetaintorwarninglabelAt Salon, Swarthmore College alum Arthur Chu writes a brilliantly funny and angry screed about those silly “p.c. culture” articles published as clickbait by The Atlantic last week, and says exactly what I’ve been thinking and meaning to write all week long–just go read and think about it. His thesis is pretty clearly announced in the headline “So college ‘p.c. culture’ stifles comedy? Ever hear a comedian sh*t on the American Dream at a Wal-Mart shareholders meeting?”  In short, Chu exposes once again that the term “politically correct” is a meaningless bludgeon only used against some forms of speech and protest, and not against others.

Chu says it all much better than I can, but I’d just like to add two things:  although I’ve been guilty of it on this blog on occasion, and only in the distant past I think, the recent jeremiads about “kids these days” published in The Atlantic just make the authors appear sclerotic and judgy, as the young people say.  Please protest if I ever write something as carelessly and thoughtlessly dismissive as those silly articles!  (Pro tip to those worried about “p.c.” today on college campuses:  the best cure for bad, silly, or uninformed speech is more speech, not a huffy demand that an entire generation of students S.T.F.U.)

Finally, I’d just like to add that although I think that I can teach college students a thing or two that might come in handy some day, I also think that older people should pay attention and see what we can learn from our students too.  They are the generation that made sodomy laws and constitutional amendments preventing same-sex marriage fall so quickly.  It wasn’t my Generation X, which has mostly been just about us instead of serving others or working towards political action.  Even on a politically complacent, historically white campus like Baa Ram U. during the 2004 election, in which gay marriage bans were on several state ballots, I had majorities of students ask me in honest disbelief why anyone would be against same-sex marriage or harbor prejudice against gay and lesbian people. 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

You #LookLikeAProfessor too!

magicmirrorThere’s a nice explanation at Inside Higher Ed today about the #ILookLikeAProfessor meme that took off last week on Twitter.  Masterminded by my Tweet peeps Sarah Pritchard, Adeline Koh, and Michelle Moravec, the movement attempts to address the age-old problem that we professors who aren’t bearded white men face at work:

Frustrated by the microaggressions we experience as “nontraditional” faculty, we started a new hashtag:#ILookLikeAProfessor. The flurry of photos, retweets and horror stories since last Thursday suggests that we are not alone in experiencing entrenched stereotypes and bias — both subtle and explicit.

  • The female professor mistaken for an undergraduate. She was grading homework, not doing it.
  • Male teaching assistants assumed to be the professor.
  • Faculty members of color assumed to be the custodian.
  • Asian professors assumed to be Chinese food delivery drivers.

We are not making this up.

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