Auld lang syne: my friends

UPDATED with memorial service information below.

You may have been wondering where the sardonic, spicy cowgirl Historiann has been this long holiday season. For that matter, I have too. My one and only New Year’s resolution–now that my book is well and truly in production–was to get back on the horse and find my blogging voice again. But the fact of the matter is that I’m grieving two colleagues who died in close succession, so I haven’t felt like putting on Historiann’s trademark sass.  If you care to read on, I’d like to tell you a little bit about my late friends, and why their deaths have made such a big hole in my heart.

The first, Andrew Cayton, died December 17 in Columbus, Ohio.  You may have read about him over at the Junto blog, which published a moving series of testimonies to his importance as a scholar of the early American republic and mentor to junior scholars. We met at the start of my career, when I found myself living in Oxford, Ohio and commuting to the University of Dayton. Drew and his wife Mary Kupiec Cayton were tremendous friends and mentors to me at a time when I needed a reality check as well as some letters of recommendation to get the heck out of that job. A model scholar, Drew was incredibly accomplished but always happy to extend the ladder down to help others on their way, as the remembrances over at the Junto demonstrate. I’m sure his example informs a great deal of what I’ve tried to here on this blog.  So there’s a good lesson for you, friends:  generosity and compassion gets paid forward, as does hostility and competitiveness, so be kind and try to help.

The other death is even more shocking and close-at-hand.  My colleague in the History department of Colorado State University, Jennifer Fish-Kashay, died Sunday January 3 of a heart attack in Fort Collins, Colorado.  She was only 49, and leaves behind a widower and two young children.  Jennifer was a historian of late eighteenth and nineteenth century Hawaii who wrote about early contact and conflict between native Hawaiians and Anglo-American merchants and missionaries, and who taught courses in the early U.S. Republic and Jacksonian America.  Jennifer was also trained in material culture and museum studies, so in our department she was central to the training and advising of our public history graduate students. Continue reading

The Big Sleep

Cookies! Because cookies!

Cookies! Because cookies!

Hey, why the long silence on this blog?  Long story short:  I’m reviewing the copy-edits of my book manuscript, AND it’s the end of the semester, AND I’ve been so discouraged by the news of yet another mass murder in the U.S.A. on the heels of our latest in Colorado, not to mention the pure heroin-grade hate and fear that’s being mainlined into our politics these days, that I haven’t had the energy or the inspiration to write anything meaningful.

(Does anyone have a Naloxone shot for the body politic?)

I’m just busy, and sad, and so sorry.  So very sorry. Continue reading

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

Susan Amussen of UC Merced on what it’s like when it’s your campus: “Violence ripples out, affecting far more people than we expect.”

Photo of vigil at UC-Merced, November 6, 2015. Courtesy of Susan Amussen.

Photo of vigil at UC-Merced, November 6, 2015
Courtesy of Susan Amussen

Today’s guest post is from yet another friend of the blog whose campus sustained a knife attack by a student that was ended when he was shot and killed by campus police.  Fortunately and significantly, the only fatality in this incident was the perpetrator–he inflicted no fatal injuries because his weapon of choice was not a gun.  Susan Amussen, Professor of History at the University of California, Merced, sent this in on Thursday night and updated it last night after the vigil for the victims. 

By now, most of you know that on Wednesday morning, a student at UC Merced named Faisal Mohammed attacked a fellow student in a classroom with a knife.  He proceeded to stab a contract worker who had intervened when he heard the noise.   He then went outside and stabbed one of our staff advisors, and another student who tried to help that advisor.  As he ran from the campus police he was shot; he later died of his wounds.

As these stories go, it’s not as bad as it could have been.   He didn’t have a gun.  That was my first thought, and I can’t tell you how many of the messages I’ve received have commented on that.   It was early (a 7:30 AM class) so the campus was relatively empty.  All the victims are alive, and will make a full recovery.  Only the student who wielded the knife is dead.  Faisal (who I hadn’t known) was a first year student, and really, at this point that’s all we know.  While Fox News has tried to talk about jihad, as our Chancellor has said, there is no evidence that the initial attack involved anything but personal antagonism.  His roommate reports that he kept to himself, and didn’t seem to have friends.  All of us who teach know how complicated the transition to college is for many kids, and I keep thinking of him as a child.  I can’t use the words that are used so often – suspect, perpetrator, etc.  He was a kid, a student, with some kind of problem, but we don’t know what. Continue reading

Paul Harvey on the recent Colorado Springs mass-murder: “We will all have another chance to pay obeisance to the God that we are all compelled, willingly or not, to worship.”

paulharvey

Paul Harvey, Professor of History and Presidential Teaching Scholar, University of Colorado, Colorado Springs

Today’s post was written at my invitation by Paul Harvey, Professor of History and Presidential Teaching Scholar at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs.  Among many other titles in the history of evangelical Protestantism in the American South, most recently he is the author most recently of Moses, Jesus, and the Trickster in the Evangelical South and the co-author with Edward J. Blum of The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America.  Regular readers of Historiann may also recognize Paul as the creator of the blog Religion in American History.

Paul lives just about a mile from the place where yet another deranged white man murdered three strangers last Saturday morning in Colorado Springs, Colorado.  I’m so grateful to him for sharing his perspective as a neighbor and a fellow historian.

It was a beautiful Saturday morning here on October 31st. Weekends in the Old North End of Colorado Springs are full of people walking about, garage sales, scores of bicyclists and joggers, 20somethings tapping away on their smartphones in recently opened hipster coffee places, evangelicals gathering for para-church activities, and me – grading papers, writing, reading the book for next week’s class, or whatever (all three, this particular weekend). There seemed to be an inordinate number of sirens this particular morning, but I do live by a firehouse and near a hospital, and sometimes you get that. I settled back into some coursework.

But on this particular beautiful Saturday morning, yet another troubled white man – the same one we’ve seen all over the country, shooting up people in college and grade-school classrooms, malls, chain restaurants, and theaters – walked down a street about a mile and a quarter south of my home (and about three blocks from the historic downtown high school – Palmer High, named for the founder of this city, William Jackson Palmer). He previously had left a bizarre video “expressing displeasure with his father for allegedly falling under the sway of a particular preacher.” His mother had published a book that was, in part, about her son (as well as about her own struggles), entitled Sober mercies: How love caught up with a Christian Drunk.

Whatever his problems, it was still legal for him to walk around brandishing a heavy firearm. Actually, he had three – an AR-15 rifle, a 9 mm pistol and a .357 revolver. Continue reading

Another day, another white man guns down his neighbors in Colorado

UPDATED BELOW, 2:40 P.M. MST

Friends! It’s that crazybusy time of the semester, when Team Historiann is spending 8, 10, and even 12 hours a day on campus! As I keep saying to my friends and colleagues here and around the world:  I’ve forgotten how much work work is.  Ah, sabbatical. . . . in my mind, I’m still there.

Anyhoo, as the kids say–ICYMIin case you missed it, we had another senseless mass shooting of innocent strangers here in Colorado Springs on Saturday morning.  You might have missed it entirely, because it ended with “only” the deaths of three victims and the shooter himself.  White?  Check.  Male?  Check.  Probably barking mad? Check.  And yet this “Christian drunk,” as his mother called him, still had access to high-power firearms?  Checkity check check check.  Check.

Today’s update in The Denver Post, in which the murderer and victims alike were identified, included a choice detail that most of you outside Colorado might otherwise miss: Continue reading