Junot Diaz on MFA vs. POC

Junot Diaz, an alum of the Cornell University MFA program, on MFA vs. POC:  “Lately I’ve been reading about MFA vs NYC. But for many of us it’s MFA vs POC.”  He continues,

I didn’t have a great workshop experience. Not at all. In fact by the start of my second year I was like: get me the fuck out of here.

So what was the problem?

Oh just the standard problem of MFA programs.

That shit was too white.


Some of you understand completely. And some of you ask: Too white … how?

Too white as in Cornell had almost no POC—no people of color—in it. Too white as in the MFA had no faculty of color in the fiction program—like none—and neither the faculty nor the administration saw that lack of color as a big problem. (At least the students are diverse, they told us.) Too white as in my workshop reproduced exactly the dominant culture’s blind spots and assumptions around race and racism (and sexism and heteronormativity, etc). In my workshop there was an almost lunatical belief that race was no longer a major social force (it’s class!). In my workshop we never explored our racial identities or how they impacted our writing—at all. Never got any kind of instruction in that area—at all. Shit, in my workshop we never talked about race except on the rare occasion someone wanted to argue that “race discussions” were exactly the discussion a serious writer should not be having.

.       .       .       .       .

In my workshop what was defended was not the writing of people of color but the right of the white writer to write about people of color without considering the critiques of people of color.

Oh, yes: too white indeed. I could write pages on the unbearable too-whiteness of my workshop—I could write folio, octavo and duodecimo on its terrible whiteness—but you get the idea.

Continue reading

Women’s historians told “you’re history” during Women’s History Month by the National Women’s History Museum

cowgirlcensoreddumbHow’s that for irony?  That’s what the Scholarly Advisory Council was told by the National Women’s History Museum’s President and CEO Joan Wages last month, according to former SAC member Sonya Michel.  (You can see the NMWH’s announcement of the SAC’s walking papers here.)  Michel, for those of you who don’t know her or her work, is an eminent scholar of gender, povery, and social welfare.  She writes:

Last month’s dismissal of the scholars followed yet another example of a museum offering that embarrassed those of us who were trying to ensure that the institution was adhering to the highest standards in our field. In mid-March, the museum announced that it had launched a new online exhibit, “Pathways to Equality: The U.S. Women’s Rights Movement Emerges,” in conjunction with the Google Cultural Institute. Never informed that the exhibit was in the works, much less given an opportunity to vet it, we were appalled to discover that it was riddled with historical errors and inaccuracies. To pick just one example: Harriet Beecher Stowe was described as having been “born into a family of abolitionists” when, from the time of her birth through her young adulthood in the 1830s, her family actively opposed the abolitionist movement. “Pathways to Equality,” noted Kathryn Kish Sklar, the nineteenth-century specialist who pointed out the error, “could have been written by a middle-school student.”

Actually, if I were Sklar, I would have said that “a middle-school student who had consulted my prizewinning biography of Catherine Beecher could have put together a stronger online presentation.”  Continue reading

Just wondering: is being a jerk an important part of “conservative thought and policy?”

Steven Hayward, The University of Colorado-Boulder’s first Visiting Scholar of Conservative Thought and Policy, has worked to ingratiate himself with his students and faculty colleagues.  By “ingratiate,” I mean he wrote an assy blog post for the noted conservative policy journal non peer-reviewed blog Powerline called “Off on a Gender Bender,” in which he complained about and ridiculed some diversity training in which professors were instructed to ask students which pronouns they prefer:

I’m more curious to learn whether there have been many students—or any students, ever—who have demanded to be addressed in class by a different gender pronoun, or called by a different gender name . . . , let alone turn up in class in wardrobe by Corporal Klinger.  My guess is the actual number of such students approaches zero.

So why is this gender-bending diversity mandate so prominent at universities these days?  The most likely explanation is that it (sic) is simply yielding to the demands of the folks who dislike any constraint of human nature in what goes by the LGBTQRSTUW (or whatever letters have been added lately) “community.”  I place “community” in quotation marks here because the very idea of community requires a certain commonality based ultimately in nature, while the premise behind gender-bending is resolutely to deny any such nature, including especially human nature.

Did Professor Hayward ever participate in a study abroad program, or take an anthropology class?  Has he never been introduced to the concept of observing politely the customs of the locals before insulting and belittling them? Continue reading

The author, the work, and “the objectivity question.”

Claire Potter (aka Tenured Radical) has an interesting post on her book blog about the assumptions that audiences make about the politics of historians based on their subject matter choices.  She writes:

It isn’t uncommon that, when hearing about the research I have done on the history of anti-pornography feminism, audiences assume that I must be an anti-pornography feminist too.But do you know that? Do you even have the right to ask? Should I tell you?

My hope for this book is that you will be so compelled by my scholarship that you will never know my private views on this question.

I found the assumption really interesting, in that the vast, vast, vast majority of feminist intellectuals I know and have worked with are far from anti-porn feminists.  Maybe my experiences are idiosyncratic, but in my experience academic feminists–much as most of us are disgusted by mainstream pornography–tend also to be First Amendment absolutists.

Potter continues with a meditation about identity politics and historical subject matter that is really worth the read:

Making assumptions about intellectuals based on superficial knowledge of their research interests is fairly common, but honestly? I think it happens to women, queers and people of color more often. I have a friend and colleague who is African-American, and writing a history of African-American conservative thought. That colleague is frequently assumed to be a conservative, much as I am often presumed, on the basis of nothing, to be an anti-pornography feminist. Continue reading

Shorter Margaret Wente: porn fine by me, just leave it unexamined.

craftmasterHere’s my brief summary of Margaret Wente’s predictable, by-the-numbers shot at the academic study of pornography:

Provocative lede!  Bad puns.  Academics write only jargon-filled articles that no one will ever read.  Also:  the stupid feminists used to be against porn, but now they’re pro-porn, but they’re still stupid (duh).  Irrelevant academics can’t even make porn interesting.  But you should be very alarmed by this trend!  Academic research on porn will take over our universities!  This research is trivial and therefore all higher education is unworthy of public support.  All college students should watch porn, just not for college credit.

I don’t carry any water for porn studies here, but I also don’t think it’s the most irrelevant thing ever studied in an academic setting.  (Because the internetContinue reading

What I learned from the comments thread at Tenured Radical


Why weren’t we on the cover?

Did any of you see Tenured Radical’s post yesterday about the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue 2014, “Happiness is a Cold, Plastic Doll?”  This year it features Barbie on the cover, but the same old soft-core porn inside.

The point of TR’s post was to comment on the cultural significance of SI’s annual swimsuit issue.  She noted her confusion when she first saw it in the 1970s, a decade in which porn was pushing into the mainstream, and Playboy had come to her campus to take some photos for “Girls of the Ivy League.”  (This was 1978; recall that most Ivies hadn’t admitted women until the early 1970s.  Welcome to campus, ladies!)  TR writes that the swimsuit issue wasn’t porn, but yet it “wasn’t not porn, because everything was exposed except, as Monty Python would say, the ‘naughty bits.'”  And yet–

The women were definitely chosen for their porny qualities. No model was included who didn’t have (as they used to say back in the 1970s) a “great rack,”  or was not able to spread her legs, tip her butt up alluringly for potential rear entry, or cock her head back in that time-honored fashion that says, “Come and get it, Buster Brown.”

But like those who reject changing the name of the Washington Football Team, the swimsuit issue is spoken of as a tradition. Hence it is harmless, right? Wrong. The swimsuit issue is the porn that gets circulated in public, as if it were not really porn, which to me – makes it more sexist than the tabletop magazines that just say brightly: “we’re all about porn!” It’s the porn that gets delivered at the office, and it’s the porn that people think it’s ok for little boys to have, like the Charlie’s Angels and Farrah Fawcett posters that were so popular back in the day, because it helps them not grow up to be fags.

This is not what all but four or five of us commenting on the post learned.  Instead, several porndogs wanted to turn the comments thread on this post into a strange personal porny fantasy involving fetishizing women’s bodies and insulting feminists and feminism at the same time.  This is a fair summary of their threadjack: Continue reading

Religion and Sexual Revolutions in the United States: a graduate student conference

From a correspondent:

Call for Papers: “Religion and Sexual Revolutions in the United States”

Graduate Student Conference, May 9, 2014

John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics at Washington University in St. Louis

The John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics at Washington University in St. Louis invites paper proposals for a graduate student conference on the topic of “Religion and Sexual Revolutions in the United States.” We are interested in graduate student papers that focus on any aspect of religious responses and/or contributions to changing sexual cultures in the United States, from the colonial period to the present. While we expect the conference to generate insights on the sexual revolutions that grew out of the 1960s and 1970s, we also invite submissions that interpret the idea of “sexual revolution” more broadly, to include for example: the sexual politics of new religious movements during the First or Second Great Awakening; religious responses to the “flapper” and “pansy” crazes of the 1920s; or religious voices in the feminist “sex wars” of the 1980s. We particularly welcome proposals that complicate existing narratives about religious conservatism and sexual politics, that highlight leftist and centrist religious responses to sexual revolution, or that emphasize the contributions and reactions of minority religious communities and new religious movements to shifting sexual cultures and debates. Continue reading