Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Living in a Country Where Thousands Wish I Didn't

Being black in America means you live in a country you didn't choose but after generations, here you are. I love this country even though my family didn't wind up here because they were fleeing civil unrest and saw this as the land of the free. It is a perplexity; loving a place that doesn't fully support or love you back and yet here you are. If you're like me you have learned how to assimilate, how to cause as little waves as possible because let's face it, people that look like me are targeted for crimes and killed at an alarming rate so sometimes hiding in plan site is our only option.

1. Learning that it's okay to take up space. This means not apologizing to every white woman for simply looking in their direction. For not saying sorry to the white male because we reached for the same shopping cart at Costco. It is okay for me to exist. I don't need to try and blend into white America by straitening my hair or ignoring racial slurs when the are said in a large group for fear of being labeled "the angry black woman." I'm done laughing at jokes that make me uncomfortable even if that labels me as "the angry black woman who can't take a joke." These labels which can hurt me but more importantly will fufill stereotypes that will impact how others in my racial category are treated. If I am the one black person that my friends or coworkers know then how I act will impact every other interaction they have with another black petson so I better not pop off. But I'm not carrying that with me anymore. You should have more than one black friend.

2. It's okay to be angry. As a woman, as a black woman it's okay to get mad. Like Solange said, we have a lot to be mad about but society wants women to smile and they want black women to disappear so getting angry even though it is extremely justified isn't always safe. Guess what, I'm not holding my tongue any longer. If white supremacists can march under the guise of free speech as they spew hatred and fear then I get to be screaming-yelling-cursing-piping-hot mad.

3. Your education is not my job. If you're conflicted about how you should feel about Trump's statements regarding Charlottesville then you haven't been paying attention. Quit asking your POC friends to explain it to you. We weren't born with knowledge about social justice and racial inequality. We had to educate ourselves which wasn't easy when all the history books leave out things like native genocide and how long miscigenation was illegal in the south. We have a disgusting twisted history with race in America but you wouldn't know it by reading a history textbook. You gotta want to learn the truth cuz you have to search for it. It's not my job, because of the color of my skin, to explain to you how Trump's rhetoric during the campaign predicted the rise of white power groups across the country or how his statements condemning both sides is a racist condoning racist actions. Or how all lives matter is deplorable and easily a white nationalist slogan or how Nazi Germany took notes from the US before performing mass extermination. It's 2017 use the Internet.

4. My experience isn't universal. I get mad when women aren't feminist.  I'm like how can you hate yourself? But guess what? I have a masters degree, my education level puts me into a different category and to assume that everyone else has the critical thinking skills, have read the same books I have, grew up in a household where I was taught how to interact  when I encountered police so I would have a better chance of making it home, is ignorant. Being a feminist means acceptance and equality and I remind myself of that when I scroll through Facebook but please, so people stop losing their lives, educate yourselves! Read, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. Read Little Blue and Little Yellow by Leo Lionni to your kids. Read The Autobiography of Assata Shakur. Watch movies like, Get Out and Detroit. Read about the Rodney King Riots. Ask yourself, if a person with your skin color was brutality beaten by police and it was filmed and the officers involved got off without any repurcissions, ask yourself how safe you would feel when red and blue lights flashed in your rearview mirror? Ask yourself, if you attended UVA, as the first in your family to attend college and suddenly the KKK was marching on your campus and everyone said, "it's okay it's free speech" how safe would you feel going back to class?

Empathy and compassion will save us all but if you never look outside yourself and you continue to assume that your experience is possible for everyone you will never understand why we scream black lives matter. You will never understand why the Civil Rights Movement was just the beginning. You will never understand why we cringe when you say get over it or, that's the south that's not us.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Enough is Enough

Photo Credit: Kendra Berglund
I started All This Presents: News That Should Not be Happening as a way to call awareness to racial, economic and gender inequalities in our country but I don't realize the toll it would take on me. Week after week, going through the news, reading these awful stories of police shootings, the support of rape culture within our legislation and racism in our schools - it hurt. 

During first few weeks, after I would post, I felt like I was doing good work.  I was getting the word out, the first step to change.  This past week however I couldn't bring myself to type another black boy's name who had been shot and killed by a police officer who would later be acquitted. I kept thinking that, this will be the week where there is no blood spilled because they were existing while also being black but every week there was a name. Jordan Edward's, Darius Smith, Brendan Hester, remembering Kalief Browder... 

Then there was gender.  Trans students losing their rights, women afraid they would lose their healthcare, teens not being allowed to attend school because of their ethnic hair. Of course some of these stories did eventually end happily but not enough. 

Do you want to know how long I was worked on this project before I began to feel hopeless?  3 weeks.  That's all it took for me to feel like I wasn't doing good work but shouting into an endless void of hate, ignorance, and institutionalized discrimination.  What we are up against is hundreds of years of calculated inequality that will not disappear just because we want it to or because it is the right thing to do.  

We are in a time where antiquated prejudice ideals are fighting to remain as part of our nation. Where tradition is being pushed as the norm but I have to say, just because we have done it that way before doesn't mean we need continue.  Tradition should not be synonymous with oppression. 

Enough of cops treating black people as less than. Enough treating women as unequal. Enough of the education system serving as an institution that pushes people of color into prisons. Enough blaming the color of people's skin for the contaminated water they are being forced to pay for. 

The fact that a segment entitled, News That Should Not be Happening could adopt the nomenclature of simply, "the news" is fucked up.  It's time to demand better, to live better and to treat each other better.  Enough is enough.    

Friday, May 5, 2017

I'm confident but I'll never be white girl confident.

Photo credit: Kendra Berglund
Kendra Berglund and I founded All This Publications last month in the hopes of providing diversity and inclusion in media and honestly making the world a more woke place.  This morning I designed an infographic about privilege. Something unexpected happened, I started to explore myself. I realized that I have very few if any privileges, this is always a raw moment even though I know the statistics it's hard to be reminded that no matter how hard I have worked to get where I am, there are people that arrived at the same location just because of the advantages they were afforded simply for being born. I started to think about how I act in these spaces that were designed to keep people that look like me out but have been forced to create a place for me because of legislation or changing times. How often I have felt like an outsider but more importantly how many times I have played into this.

For instance if a white lady is walking on the sidewalk towards me I will make way for her to pass. If a white lady tells me I can go ahead of her in line because I have only one item, I thank her profusely as though she has performed a miracle instead of acted like a decent human being. Am I polite to women of color in the same scenario? Of course but the fear is missing. The knot in my stomach, the immediate tightening up as I stiffen my posture as if to say, careful. When I'm polite to women of color it is out of respect, solidarity, kindness but the automatic politeness that I present to white women in particular is something different altogether. It is me worried that if I don't "act right" they will forever assume that all black women are rude/mean/unapproachable and therefore deserving of their plight in society. It will make them reassured in the racism I am assuming they possess. Because when you're the only one in the room that looks like you, you are the example, the model and the mold. If you pop off at every microaggression, every bigoted comment, every stereotypical suggestion then you are fulfilling their assumptions about everyone in your ethic group. You learn to go to school wearing a mask, you start working with the same costume and when you come home you can be who you are without fear of letting everyone down. You learn that being calm, cool and collected are what may keep you from being arrested or shot in the passenger seat of a car at 15 years old. It ain't a guarantee but it might keep you alive.

Oppression makes you poor, uneducated, and shortens your lifespan but it also makes you terrified of ever being labeled as impolite.

All together now: It is not my job or any other marginalized groups members job to make white people comfortable. If you are going to say we are all equal and that all lives matter than make sure that I can scream, yell, and roll my eyes without you thinking it's because I'm black. Make sure I can tell off a cop without being arrested, beaten or killed. Make sure I can do everything you can the same exact way  and then we can talk about all lives being created equal.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

13 Reasons Why 13 Reasons Why Missed the Mark

Val & Kendra get real about 13RW
Don’t read unless you have completed the Netflix show: 13 Reason Why.  ~Spoilers ahead~
Trigger warning: suicide, self-harm, sexual assault

1.   As a suicide survivor, 13RW was not relatable.  I understand that everyone has a different story, and mine may be unique; however I don’t feel that it captured the deep levels of loneliness and hopelessness. Additionally, by not seeing the internal struggle, we were forced to watch a horrendous series of outside forces taking Hannah down.

2.      One of the most heartbreaking fails that 13RW dishes out is the rape survivors fate.  The message here is that if you are assaulted you are given just two options: suicide or secrets. 

3.      Those struggling with mental illness: you aren’t represented within this series.  Characters are depicted as victims to their surroundings; they have a predisposed fate and lack of free will.  They are not succumbing rather they are unaware there is another way.  In reality 90 percent of suicides are linked to mental illness.

4.      Overall message: “be kind.” This is an oversimplification of what is truly at stake.  People are taking away different messages with the overarching being the most prevalent and perhaps the most useless.

5.      No protocol. For instance, Hannah’s teacher, counselor, and Zack all had very ominous interactions with Hannah and none of them notified anyone. Here’s what your school should be implementing:  
FIRST.      Parents should be notified.
SECOND.      Mental health resources should be provided (either through the family’s practitioner or a 3rd party mental health provider. Schools have MANY resources in this area.)
THRID.      Schools are NOT investigators; they are only reporters: MANDATORY REPORTERS.

6.      What the fuck, Justin?  That’s your girlfriend and not only did you allow a rape to occur you lied about it.  Justin has an awful living environment but that doesn’t outweigh the fact that he continually makes the wrong choice.  This is another area where I feel the show could have informed the audience that if they are living this I type of environment there is a way out.  Instead, in the final scene with Justin, he is walking off in the sunset with a duffel bag. Again, reinforcing the notion that there are only two options: running away or secrets.  

7.       Conversations about 13RW are being banned in schools and teacher are being told to use other resources. Our take is that as long as there is context and further information, there can be intelligent dialogues surrounding the series.  When has banning anything ever worked? Not to mention kids are going to watch this, but there definitely needs to be an adult with them; one who is willing to address all the questions that come up.

8.      Where were the parents?  Seriously, I know that in YA centric casts, parents are always the missing piece that everyone seems to conveniently forget. Parents allow for teens to dash off to Amsterdam or traipse all over the state for a school project, but in real life parents are around.  Especially in Hannah’s case. They just chose to be absent.  They were sending her out without asking where she was going or who with.  They lease her a new car for a dance but don’t bother to meet all of the friends she was going to be driving.  Clay’s parents seems more involved but they too ignore their child’s wants and do what they think is best often at odds with one another.  (I mean the police station scene, seriously?)  Zack’s mom never bothers to question why her son didn’t want to go to Clay’s house after his car was keyed.

9.  Sexual assault statistics.  Meaning the numbers speak for themselves.  We didn’t need to repeatedly need to be shown images of rape to understand that this is an issue that we have failed to eliminate in the U.S.

10.  More warnings.  13RW is a show that if filled with graphic images.  They are gratuitous, but more importantly they are dangerous.  As someone with a history of sexual violence, harassment, or self-harm, this show does little to warn you about what you are about to endure.  Be careful.

11.  More resources.  If the point of this endeavor is to reach teens who are facing these issues, why not have the contact information of organizations, designed to help, at the end of each episode?  There needs to be a level of accountability; and if you don’t feel that this is your responsibility, then make another new version of a Disney movie from my childhood and call it a day.  No one’s asking you to be a hero.
*If you or someone you know is suffering from an assault, harassment or dealing with mental illness here are some resources.

12.  When Justin’s (see what I mean now in number 6) video of Hannah began to be circulated around the school how has nothing been done by the school?  Cyberbullying/sexting is a huge issue that is completely overlooked.

13.  Friends?  Networks?  Social circles? Not only were the parents notably absent but were there weren't any real friendships in this series. From the first scene, we see quite a bit of hatred among the cast of characters.  Hannah says multiple times how she just needed a friend.  Clay, who is supposedly in love with Hannah, constantly wanes between love-struck and unforgivable.  I understand pettiness but these characters are disgusting towards one another.  This pays into 13RW for making the world this big bad terrible place where the only way to survive is to get out.  

Friday, March 31, 2017

Thanks Fam, I Cried a lot of Happy Tears

This week we launched our Go Fund Me page for our new brain baby, All This Publications. There is nothing more nerve-wrecking than asking for money, especially from so many people at once. Having something so new and fragile be exposed to the world for the first time...Ideas are scary and acting on them is enough to make my skin try and force its way off my bones. It's uncomfortable and disconcerting no matter how much you love, believe and support your idea -when it is out in the world you are so protective of it and it effects you.

For every big deal, every birth, every book releaee, each blog post, all my 'firsts' I have five friends that I text immediately. I talk with them throughout the day and they ground me. They wrap me up, each in their own way. They keep me going, they remind me that I have been here before but most of all they remind me that I can do it because they believe in me. Scattered around the world but they always have my back, no matter how much time has passed. Friends-no family, I love you and I couldn't do anything without you.

"Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much." Helen Keller ❤️💛💚💙💜

Monday, March 27, 2017

Love Yourself

Getting dressed for a mad dash to Costco this evening I realized that I love my clothes. The bright blue t-shirt I bought for an 80's party in college, the overalls I desperately searched for and finally found, the wildly patterned 7 dollar slip-ons from H&M and it was in that moment I realized that I am happy.

I looked at my closet and every garment in it is something I will wear, something that reflects my mood, appetite, state of mind.

I had a complicated childhood, a confusing adolescence and a heartbreaking early adulthood. It made me anxious and insecure. It made me live like I had something to prove. But now looking at the vibrant colors, the bold textures, the too many scarves and the loud pairs of tights - I see that I am exactly where I want to be in my life. I look at my short skirts and flowly pants and I know that I have a job where I have freedom. Freedom to teach how I want and live how I want. I see my mountains of shoes and know I'm set for four seasons, another year of life. I still have the stretched out camisoles from when I was nursing. Maternity jeans that I keep for Thanksgiving and meals at Texas Roadhouse. Hats, to hide my growing out hair.  Leg warmers for when I attend a sexy heels class or go ice-skating. Long necklaces that got booted from my everyday wear once I had babies. The stiletto heels that serve as an homage to when I was younger and believed fashion over function. Vintage Jordan's that are still stained from stepping in cow poop from when I met my husband's family.

There is no item of clothing, at this point in my life, that I need to buy. Nothing that will make me feel more like myself. Nothing that will remind me of who I was before I was comfortable in my skin. Before I loved who I was.

My closet now, at age 30, is who I am. Strong and resilient. I am fulfilled and I am content.

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.