From Theory to Praxis: Written/Unwritten at UC-Merced

All of my chatting and workshopping and tweeting and editing came together last week when I went to the University of California-Merced to talk about the anthology. At least that was the invitation—to talk about the book, and talk about it I did. I talked about how I came to add diversity work to an already fully and satisfying research agenda, I talked about why I wanted to pay attention to narrative instead of data, and I talked about each of the 12 essays in the book and shared moments from them that reflect the experiences of  faculty of color around the country.

More than this, however, I listened and took notes…a lot of notes. There was just so much to take note of—listening to deans and faculty in dialogue with one another about the best ways to increase diversity in their candidate pools, listening to tenured faculty (most of whom were white) offer practical and applicable advice to their junior colleagues of color, listening to the way the staff, faculty, and deans work together to make the campus safe for all of their students.

As I was preparing my talk, I knew the thing I needed to make clear was that all the good thoughts and feelings about diversity are mostly useless without leadership and institutional willpower.   I also wanted to offer small things that could be done without money and without too much time. Mostly I wanted to make as clear as possible to the faculty of color in attendance that the struggles they might be facing are happening elsewhere. The preface to Written/Unwritten is titled “It’s not just us. This is happening everywhere,” and my goal was to make clear what the “this” is that so many of us face.

My host was Tanya Golash-Boza, who you probably already know because of her work on immigration, Latin America, and human rights but who you should also know because she is working out how to build diversity into the fabric of her institution instead of just including it as an afterthought. Within minutes of meeting, our conversation was about the work of diversity:

  • How I’m wrestling with thinking about the difference between service and labor
  • The unintended consequences of trying to protect faculty of color from too much service
  • The importance of moving the conversation about diversity beyond microagressions and white privilege
  • The blind spots of diversity initiatives

It was exciting (and daunting because Tanya is NO JOKE) to wrestle with ideas that came to me as I was preparing for the visit. This was not a conversation with someone who has a vague sense that diversity is important and that microaggressions make things hard; rather, it was a dialogue with a colleague who is deeply engaged in the nitty-gritty work of diversity at an institutional level. That’s a rare thing for me.

Over the course of my visit a few key things stayed with me that I’ll be mulling over as I visit more campuses:

  • The challenges of “fit” when it comes to hiring
  • The importance of post-tenure support
  • The value of white academics who are willing to engage in this work

Listening and talking nonstop about diversity (even with my host at the irresistible Bear Creek Inn, or, as I shall call it going forward, Downton Abbey West), I’m more aware of the following than I was when I started this project:

  • Sometimes the hardest thing to know is the right question to ask and to whom to direct that question
  • It’s not enough to know the problem (any problem) you have to have a plan
  • It’s so important to have relationships with senior faculty of color outside of your institution
  • Duke’s Summer Institute on Tenure and Professional Advancement should be replicated regionally

I’ve been invited to conduct workshops and give a talk or two, but I’m still relatively new to this part of being an academic. You hear horror stories of poorly planned trips and overbooked schedules, so I’m especially thankful for how easy Merced made my visit in every single way with easy travel, lovely lodging, and a schedule that was engaging but still left me time to reflect on what I was hearing.   The deans I met—deans who took time out of overbooked schedules—were both gracious and wise and the faculty and students were incredibly open. I learned a great deal, and I’ll be adding their perspective to my work going forward. If you ever get the chance to visit, do so. The energy there is great. Put more than two faculty members together in almost any setting and you’ll hear talk about department politics, but here the talk was about research projects, community engagement, and teaching. I love that most about being an academic—the work, the teaching, and the service—and it was good to see that on full display for my entire visit.

For those who pay attention to such things, my introduction to Tanya was via twitter, and Tressie McMillan Cottom recommended me. I’m quickly losing track of the number of inquiries and invites I get that begin or end with “Tressie McMillan Cottom recommended you…” When I wanted to be her friend it was because I could see were both irritated by the same things and people, and I was hoping to have a short sociologist to chat with while watching “Scandal.” We don’t watch “Scandal” together anymore (apparently Cookie Monster holds more appeal than Fitz and Olivia), but I’m thankful for her generosity.

Hit me up if you want to see the power point (patricia.matthew@montclair.edu) but please be respectful of my work and my time.

 

 

 

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1 Comment

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One response to “From Theory to Praxis: Written/Unwritten at UC-Merced

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