Thursday, March 16, 2017

Part 10 of 10

How to Teach in Trump’s America [Bringing up Race, Immigration, Sexuality and everything else in Higher Ed]

10 Make Room for HOPE

You’re doing incredible work but it is exhausting and sometimes unrewarding and often times negated however you need to understand that you are doing good work.  Reward yourself with someone that reiterates that.  Imagine how bogged down you feel at the end of your teaching days but remember you know that facts, you have the knowledge, you’ve done the research you have a better grasp than those that are not surrounded by a learning institution all day, who are not encouraged to educate themselves.  Imagine how much comfort we take in our education, our knowledge and now imagine you don’t have that to fall back on?  How much more chaotic everything seems.  That is why we cannot only recharge ourselves but our students also.  Don’t just hit them with the truth of the patriarchy also give them the good news, the proof of change, of progress, give them hope. 

When I discuss racism I always quote Rich Benjamin, “Interpersonal race relations — how we treat each other as human beings — are vastly better than in my parents' generation…”but I still finish the quote, “And yet, some things haven't changed. America is as residentially and educationally segregated today as it was in 1970.”  We discuss how much more needs to be done. 

We are all on a journey to learn, everyone is at a different point but we are all doing our best.  Remind our students that we live in an amazing country and that no matter the leader, the people within it are incredible.  We are allowed to criticize, we are allowed to hold our leaders accountable but now more than ever we must make sure that what we are doing in our classroom is teaching our students their rights.  Teaching them how to succeed and giving them the tools to do that.  We aren’t tasked with forcing them into a new identity.  Our goal shouldn’t be to make them all fit into one size or image.  We are to embrace them as they are.  We need to move past labels, break from stereotypes and push past our limitations.  We have the power to make our classrooms safe and interesting and challenging. Why shy away from that?

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Part 9 of 10

How to Teach in Trump’s America [Bringing up Race, Immigration, Sexuality and everything else in Higher Ed]

9 Walk Your students through the steps of Accepting their Identity

Classroom lectures and activities that get students to hold a mirror up to themselves are always helpful.  It allows students to embrace who they are but it also enables them to begin to think about how their journey is different from those around them.  I have a colleague who shared this incredible activity with me, you may have heard variations of it.  Students are placed into groups and from there they are given supplies and asked to draw a picture.  One group has all the supplies needed to complete this task. They have markers of every imaginable color, they have paper, stickers, etc.  The other group has a couple markers and a smaller sheet of paper.  The last group has a single crayon and two sheets of paper that they will somehow have to conjoin for it to be large enough, as per the assignment guidelines.  As they work, you the educator work as a confederate, giving the highest praise to the first group.  The second group receives minimal praise while the last group gets constructive criticism that is negligent to accept their disadvantage.  After the drawings are presented ask the students how they felt working on this assignment.  Usually the students in the last group are fairly upset they weren’t able to showcase their best work, in some instances they won’t even finish the drawing because they feel hopeless that they will be able to succeed. Interestingly, the first group that had the most materials fails to notice that the other groups were given different supplies.  It’s a great way to introduce privilege and help students understand how blinding it can be. 

I always say that this is the first step because as we know when it comes to identity whether we are in the  nondominant or the dominant group we were not always self-aware.  There was a moment or series of interactions that exposed this to us.  What we do after this is pivotal.
The following are the steps that occur when we are developing our identities.  I have complied it in a chart but the content comes from, Communication in the Real World: An Introduction to Communication Studies an open source textbook that you can access in full from the following site,  

Nondominant Identity Development
4 stages of nondominant identity  N. Martin and Thomas K. Nakayama, Intercultural Communication in Contexts, 5th ed. (Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill, 2010), 173–76.
Stage 1
Unexamined Identity
Marked both by a lack of awareness of or lack of interest in one’s identity.  This stage ends as a person’s lack of interest in their own identity is replaced by an investment in a dominant group’s identity.
Stage 2
When an individual internalizes the values and norms of the dominant group.  This is done in an effort to avoid being perceived as different. Individuals may attempt to assimilate into the dominant culture by changing their appearance, nonverbal behaviors, their verbal and vocal practices, their language, or even their name.
Stage 3
Resistance & Separation
An individual with a nondominant identity may shift away from the conformity of the previous stage to engage in actions that challenge the dominant identity group. Individuals in this stage may also actively try to separate themselves from the dominant group, choosing instead to limit their interaction with those who share their nondominant identity.
Stage 4
This marks a period where individuals are able to reach a balance between their nondominant identities but also appreciating the other identities as well.  While anger in regards to their mistreatment from the dominant identity members may persist this frustration towards prejudice and discrimination is refocused.  For instance to work towards social justice.

Dominant Identity Development

Dominant identity development consists of five stages. Judith N. Martin and Thomas K. Nakayama,Intercultural Communication in Contexts, 5th ed. (Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill, 2010), 177–80.

Stage 1
Groups may be aware of the  differences between themselves and marganizlezed gorup members but they may not understand that there is a hierarchy  or they don’t believe  the role they play in it.While nondominant  group members must understand their identity Due to Prejudice or discrimination, They experience, dominant Group members can remain in the unexamined stage for a long time.
Stage 2
The dominant Group Member will passively or actively accept people are treated differently than others but doesn’t do  anything either internally or externally to address it. It simply seems like the norm. Things like, “I know that racism exists, but my parents taught me to be a good person and see everyone as equal.” While This is a nice sentiment, it takes more than viewing everyone as equal to change anything.People in this stage May also insist that minorities are exaggerating their circumstances or whining and just need to work harder” or “get over it.” People will remain in this stage until they are repeatedly presented with information that challenges their beliefs.
Stage 2
Resistance Stage
acknowledges the advantages they are given and feels shameful and guilty about it. In order to move on from this stage one must do more than wallow or try to reach out to nondominant group members to apologize instead, sharing what they’ve learned with others who share their dominant identity allows them to progress to the next stage.

Stage 3

revise negative views of their identity held in the previous stage and begin to acknowledge their privilege and try to use the power they are granted to work for They realize that they can claim their dominant identity as heterosexual, able-bodied, male, white, and so on, and perform their identity in ways that counter norms.

Stage 5
people can integrate their dominant identity into all aspects of their life, finding opportunity to educate others about privilege while also being a responsive ally to people in nondominant identities.  (becoming a true ally)

Monday, March 13, 2017

Part 8 of 10

How to Teach in Trump’s America [Bringing up Race, Immigration, Sexuality and everything else in Higher Ed]

8 Your Classroom Should Be a Safe Space

Have you ever been the only person in the room that looks like you?  Maybe you were the only brown person in a sea of white?  Or maybe you were the only woman surrounded by men?  Do you remember the way it felt to be ogled,  like an animal at the zoo?  It’s not a good feeling and yet we do this to our students. 

I was sitting in a faculty meeting when one of my colleagues was so happy with how they had handled their first ever trans student.  The professor explained, “I got one, they’re trans!”  I was immediately reminded of Donald Trump’s exclamation, “Look at my African American…” at a campaign rally in Redding, California.

During my own education the one day that race would be introduced in lecture all the students and the professor would turn to me for my opinion, as if I had been elected by the black community to represent us in the New Mexico Higher Ed Chapter.
Don’t fall into this trap, if you want to teach about such issues do your own research.  Students regardless of their ethnicity, race, sexual orientation or gender should be treated as all other students, not guest lecturers.  They should be able to sit in your class without being labeled, called out or seen as  token.  They are coming to school for a variety of reasons but none of those include talking about their personal experience. 

I am woman, a mom, a wife, a professor, black, and pan-sexual, I am not an expert on any of those things.  The color of my skin did not give me the knowledge of the Civil Rights Movement or the black experience.  My genitalia did not school me on the gender wage gap or glass ceilings, my experiences or lack thereof did.
Your classroom should be safe, not a place where students go to be labeled and poked and prodded.  They are not on display, your teaching is.  When you, as an instructor, begin to otherize your students, the rest of the class follows suit.  You set the tone for your classroom. 

In each of my classes race, gender, class, sexuality, ableism get discussed as part of our course material.  Because I write my syllabus I know what is coming.  On the second day of class we were discussing emotions towards the end of lecture I saw one of my students whisper to another student and then promptly get up and leave.  The following class I approached the student that had left.  They were defensive at first but when I explained that I was concerned they explained that the lecture had been triggering for them and that when they explained this to the student sitting next to them they had been dismissed with an all too common, “you’ll be alright.” The student explained how they left because they had wanted to punch the other student in the face.  

I’ve never had a fight break out in my classroom however it’s because I stop it before it starts.  When I see agitated students I halt the discussion.  As an instructor you can pull the student out in the hall and speak with them.  Explain that you understand these topics can bring up a lot of feelings, especially since this could be the first time they’ve ever been presented with such concepts.  This can be less traumatic if you make the first in-class discussion a written one, where they can list what they’re feeling.  It doesn’t need to make sense it’s just getting some of this angst on the page rather than in a shouting match in the classroom.  It all goes back to creating a safe place. 

Also never engage an argumentative student with anything other than facts.  I had a student state in class how women are better parents because they are natural nurturers.  My response was, that is a stereotype, and I cited, Daphan Joel a behavioral neuroscientist at Tel Aviv University, who explains there are no differences between brains based solely on gender but societal pressures that force individuals into very exclusive gender roles.  I am happy to say that same student is now understanding how there are different types of women, that we are not simply cut from a stencil and mass distributed ready to receive our orders from a man. 

Be prepared to separate ignorance from hate.  I have very bright students who have just never been asked to challenge themselves.  They have been raised to believe that stereotypes are true and that the world is a great place where everyone is equal and if they struggle it’s because they are lazy.  The first half of the semester is about challenging those assumptions with research and facts, anecdotal evidence and narratives.  There are also the students who are highly educated in prejudice.  They will hear the research but admonish it in order to spread their own intolerant agenda.  The latter need to be addressed with facts immediately, never let your students fall into the trap of listening to refutable falsehoods and adopt it as truth.  Do not let your classroom turn into a platform for hate or a three ringed circus. 

You are in charge of facilitating discussions.  If your group is not ready for class discussions then make the assignment a written one or a info-graphic, protect them from themselves.  If you’re unsure ask yourself; by allowing this student to speak in class, is it admonishing the safe environment that I promised I would provide for students?  

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Part 7 of 10

How to Teach in Trump’s America [Bringing up Race, Immigration, Sexuality and everything else in Higher Ed]

7 Cognitive dissonance leads to learning

Cognitive dissonance and push back from students means they are listening, so keep going.  The looks on students faces that say, “this doesn’t apply to me,” the eye rolls, the exasperated sighs, the whispered comments of “can you believe this?” to other students - it’s enough to make you either want to sink into the floor or keep going.  I tell you, do the latter.  Do not allow ignorance to arouse your fight or flight response, do not let it oppress you.  In my experience, these are the same students who will surprise you with a moving final presentation advocating for the rights of transgender students but they have to start somewhere. 

When students take issue with what you’re saying be excited they are listening.  When they are annoyed with your stance, be excited that they are in class.  When they fill their papers with stereotypes and negative perceptions of those different from them, say; at least they are self-evaluating.  All of this is necessary.  If we stop having these types of conversations we let the ignorance remain unchallenged, we are allowing a system of hate to continue.  Instead we get them to see it and then walk them through what effect that worldview has on, not only themselves but others. 

When I introduce race I explain how it is not rooted in science there is no evidence that diseases are inherently tied to race, there is no support that shows that these phenotypic differences are linked to our intelligence. In fact I share this with them. I give them the reason why we have been told these untruths about race for our entire lives, it was to preserve a hierarchy.  When I state that race is a social construct I then ask them this simple question, “can people of color be racist?” 

The answers are vary, I’ve been in classrooms where there were high-pitched and adamant yes’s, I’ve also been in rooms where the responses are mixed.  There have also been the classrooms where there was a resounding no. 

The correct answer is no.  People of color cannot be racist.  We can be prejudice, we can discriminate but we do not have the position in society to be racist.  Racism is often confused with prejudice and discrimination but racism is much more calculating than someone hurling a racial slur at their neighbor.  Racism is the system that paved the way for redlining, that kept blacks from voting by developing questions like, “how many bubbles in a bar of soap” before they could register to vote.  Racism is what kept schools separate but equal, when we all know how unequal those schools ultimately were.  Racism is a system, an institution that is held up by the dominant group.  In order for racism to work it needs to be rooted within our society; in our politics and in every other aspect.  Racism is not individual it is institutionalized.  People of color are not allowed in those institutions we do not have the power to keep an entire group of people out of organizations. 

Of course this lecture creates looks of shock and a lot of discomfort because we have never had to think this way.  It is imperative however to include in my lecture about language and perception.  We have often called individuals racist.  We have discussed the US as post racial because of the color of Barack Obama’s skin but it is oh so evident when you understand the history of race and the definition of terms like racism, prejudice and discrimination, how untrue that ideal is. 

Remember this is a process.  This is journey.  This is a challenge but it is necessary.  Cognitive dissonance is the theory that when one of our core beliefs is challenged we are faced with two choices.  One is to either change all of our other points of view to align with this new information or to reject the new information to avoid the discomfort of dissonance that we experience.  When your students are rolling their eyes this is what they are experiencing.  Just keep coming to class, keep teaching your curriculum and know that you are not alone. 

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Part 6 of 10

How to Teach in Trump’s America [Bringing up Race, Immigration, Sexuality and everything else in Higher Ed]

6 Discussions are great but writing is all encompassing


Earlier I discussed how educators are uncomfortable, just like much of society, guess what?  Our students are part of that same society. They don’t want to talk about this stuff with us.  Sure they see what is happening, of course they are afraid, of course they have questions but they weren’t allowed to do this in public school, they can’t talk about it at home.  So the first couple of times I mention gender inequality my students look at me like, “is she sure?”  Then the next class they are like, “she is seriously going to bring this kind of stuff up every class?”  During those initial weeks, having a discussion is basically unheard of.  I have to really coax them out of their shells and then brace myself for some racist or sexist speech that they truly don’t know are prejudicial.  They think that is how you talk about such issues, that’s all they’ve ever heard.  These polarized rhetorical strategies (surrounding topics like race, gender, and politics) are all many of students have, in the way of dealing with these issues. You have to be very patient and sometimes you just have to have them write. 

Let them write it down so you don’t expose the rest of your students to their personal journey, because they are dealing with their own.  As you introduce more information and show them different ways of understanding, they will get better. 

I love the idea of having them write for multiple reasons; it allows me to subjectively assess my students and it shows me how they are relating to the class.   Writing also allows me to hear from everyone as opposed to just a few of the same brave souls that raise their hand every single time I pose a question.  You know the kind that can really dominate a class discussion but also silence the others?  Writing eliminates that. 

Writing is a great starting point and evaluative tool however one should be careful not to only subject students to this method.  When we remove discussions completely and only allow for written assessments we aren’t growing as a group.  The class remains at an individual level.  Of course there is learning from that perspective but I being in a face to face class allows for students to test out their new education one on one and in a group, why eliminate that step? 

Friday, March 10, 2017

Part 5 of 10

How to Teach in Trump’s America [Bringing up Race, Immigration, Sexuality and everything else in Higher Ed]

5 Lead Discussions About complex issues 

The first time I was teaching as a professor and not a TA I remember discussing sexism.  I was so afraid to be free to discuss whatever topic I chose that I wasn’t allowing my students to talk. I quickly ran through the subject without allowing anyone to raise their hands. I gave a thirty minute monologue and then turned on a TedTalk.  There would be no feedback, no chance for students to question me or the material.  Afterwords I remember feeling like I had failed.  I had given the information but I hadn’t allowed any real learning. I had simply exposed them to the information and then walked away.   

This may ring true for other educators a well.  We aren’t just educators we are also facilitators.  While you are doing a great job by showing them what is out there that is just the first step.  The next task is learning how to cope with it.  If you avoid step two you are creating an environment where there will be students who already experienced rape culture or sexual harassment, in some capacity, and the other students who are seeing for the first time that such issues exists - but that’s it. If you don’t discuss it then each group of students will feel the same afterwards, indifferent. 

Going back to my experience from earlier, by not allowing a time for discussing the material I had redefined by classroom policy. In fact by not letting them speak I had effectively silenced them, nonverbally expressing that this subject was "off limits."  By not encouraging their participation I had outlined that my classroom wasn't a safe place to discuss such "unacceptable" topics. This concept is twofold, first you have to discuss the issue after it is introduced but secondly you have to allow the students to unpack the idea as well. Allow them to talk to one another, if you feel that your group isn’t ready for that have them write it down.  Writing enables students to process the information and decipher their beliefs from facts.  After which you can have a discussion by beginning with reading particularly insightful and more developed concepts that they have written down and allow the class to introduce more schools of thought.  This is how we learn; we see something, we react, then we interact, before finally we begin to accept or reject it.

Every class is different, there are some where we can go straight into unled discussions about topics and bring it all back to whatever education concept we were learning that day without any hiccups or confusion.  There are other classes where it isn’t until midterms where we have a group that is trusting, and comfortable and all devoted to this idea of learning.    I said all that to simply say, Stick with it.  

No one is comfortable talking about controversial topics, even among friends.  Racial profiling, class bias, gender pay gaps, these are all things that we have been taught to ignore or sweep under the rug. Bringing them up is viewed as impolite.  It doesn't matter if you are a woman of color or a white privileged male, neither of us are any more relaxed when addressing such things with a room full of strangers.  We don't know how they will react.  We don't know if they will reject our words straight away.  We don't know what the outcome will be however something to always remember is that we are in control of the climate of our classroom.  So many times I have seen faculty rely on the women or faculty of color to relay topics that surround social justice, as if our anatomy makes us better suited to navigate discussions around difficult topics.  That is fundamentally untrue and it does not only do our students disservice but also our faculty.  When we only rely on a few to do the job of many no one benefits.  It creates contempt, ignorance and to be blunt discrimination.  It is not the job of some but of all of us in Higher Ed to educate, even when we're uncomfortable.  

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Part 4 of 10

How to Teach in Trump’s America [Bringing up Race, Immigration, Sexuality and everything else in Higher Ed]


Where do you get your news?  Do you buy a newspaper?  Do you read magazines? TV?  Are you on your iPad skimming the articles?  Facebook (be honest)? InstagramBuzzfeedTwitter?  How many of you turn to your textbooks when you want to learn about up-to-date-real-time advances in your field?  Probably none of us.  Yet we expect our students to do just that.  With life happening right outside our classroom we want students to turn all that off for the next hour and fifteen minutes and learn about something that many of us refuse to link to what is currently going on.  It sounds ridiculous when you see it explained that way, doesn’t it?
I love to update my class readings every semester because facts are stranger than fiction. Headlines rarely disappoint to increase readership so why not allow those into the classroom?  My discipline is communication so analyzing the rhetoric that was used during the presidential campaign is a natural link but isn’t that true in English as well? What about a historical speech analysis that compares and contrasts past speeches with the Oscars acceptance speeches?  That works for my communication classes but history too right?  They are always ways of linking and when we are passionate about our field those things become more and more obvious.  We do it all the time, even when we’re reviewing a film after just watching it. For instance when my husband and I watched Arrival he was nerding-out in terms of linguistic anthropology while I was sure it had been written by a communication scholar. 

It’s not hard to envision how pop culture can be used in our classroom but how easy it is to have a new supplemental source that it is much more likely to enable students to see our academic concepts reflected in art and real life.
How many of us read journal articles regularly?  If we do, how many of us can refer it to a friend?  What if that friend isn’t an academic, can we expect them to read the article and afterwards have a heated discussion with us?  Then why are we teaching our students that is the only way to go about learning and understanding?  Bring in a Buzzfeed article as a supplemental reading that relates to your chapter and see how much more engaged your students are.  Watch how students that have never raised their hand before are suddenly interrupting you to add comments.

Pop culture is not the enemy, it is the social commentary.  When we separate ourselves from that, our lectures and course material become outdated and useless which makes us very dangerous to our students.  I also like pop culture because it allows for a framework.  Most of our students are immersed in what is going on via a pop culture lens so when you say, let’s talk about Katy Perry, they are immediately prepared with an opinion. You then use your course material, let’s say in psychology, and discuss how her recent comments about Britney Spears highlighted the stigmas that we place on mental health. Give them a way to understand what is happening in the world around them.  Let your students learn from a variety of resources, allow them to have a diverse educational background so that they are better at listening, better learners, and more equipped to succeed.