Tag Archives: feminism

Written/Unwritten is out!

It’s been a busy first month for Written/Unwritten and for me. The official release date was the day before the apocalypse, but even before the publication date response to the anthology have been overwhelmingly positive.

At one point in the process of getting the book together I sighed to a friend that it was taking so long that by the time it came out no one would even care about tenure anymore. But when I hear about a watchlist of faculty members deemed radical and dangerous, and listen to faculty of color who feel more taxed as students turn to them for help processing the election results (or are more aggressive than usual feeling embolden by the election of a president who is bringing racists into the White House), it’s clear that this book is more necessary than ever and that the narratives here can help individuals and institutions rethink how they support and maintain meaningful faculty diversity.

I was interviewed in The Chronicle of Higher Education (Tenure Denials Set Off Alarm Bells, and a Book, About Obstacles for Minority Faculty” paywalled) about the anthology:fullsizerender-24

The Chronicle also interviewed me about a reader I compiled with two of my colleagues earlier this year (“A Professor Created a Guide to Police Shootings for Worried Students. Now Her Colleagues Want It” paywalled)fullsizerender-25

In a major victory for all of us, I got “woke AF” published in a piece I wrote for The Atlantic (”What Is Faculty Diversity Worth to a University?”):

The stakes are even higher now. They are higher because service that might have been seen as extra can now feel essential. Black faculty report feeling more vulnerable, and the invisible labor is hyper visible in this post-Ferguson, post-Obama moment. All too often, when deans, provosts, and presidents call for panels, workshops, and university discussions, there’s a faculty member of color who has to wrestle with how to contribute (or with whether or not they want to) while still doing the work their colleagues get to do without the same burden. The stakes are higher because ethnic-studies and women’s-studies departments are being effectively dismantled. Their faculty must take time away from their own research and teaching to fight as legislatures target them and administrators try to cut their budgets or fire the tenure-line faculty in their departments.

Inside Higher Ed published a nuanced, beautifully reported consideration of the anthology (Separate and Not Equal):

Recent anecdotes put a face to the problem. Aimee Bahng, a popular assistant professor of English at Dartmouth College was denied tenure last year, despite strong backing from faculty colleagues, for example, and her supporters said another professor of color was denied tenure the year before under similar circumstances. Other faculty members of color have left Dartmouth of their own accord, leaving one instructor there to declare that “temporary, precarious and disavowed labor of people of color at Dartmouth is their purposeful and intentional diversity solution.” Dartmouth has acknowledged that it has trouble retaining minority professors but denies claims of racism in personnel decisions.

This review in the New York Journal of Books makes clear about the necessity of these narratives in this particular moment.

In today’s corrosive and divisive public-political discourse, the experiences, interpretations, and emotions expressed by the contributors to this volume might be variably termed as overly sensitive, politically correct, or—more crassly—whining. Spun somewhat differently, dissent, critique, questioning, and protest are taken as an outright attack in a crudely polarized political landscape where you are either “making America great again,” or its opposite. These essays are now, more than ever, a timely and courageous contribution to the exploration and critique of the operation of power as it refracts against diverse, non-dominant identities in American higher education.

To top it all off, I visited Barnard and talked about the anthology, specifically its contributors, with faculty of color, faculty diversity committee members, friends, my Montclair colleagues, and my Aunt Carmen, who was very happy that I spoke more slowly this time than I did when she came to hear me give a lecture last year (and was impressed that instead of the four or five people who attended that lecture the room at Barnard was full…sitting on the floor room only).  Jennifer Williams, who I talked to for the chapter “’Cast your net wide’: Reflections on Activism and Community Engagement When Black Lives Matter,” was there too.

Some of my favorite friends showed up: Manu Chandler, Jennifer Clark, Eve Dunbar, Kim Hall, Stephanie Hershinow, David Hershinow, Alison Kinney, Karl Steel, and Joan T. Walrond, who holds the record for buying the most copies of the anthology thus far.

Kevin Browne and Carla Shedd, two of the people I follow on Twitter for wisdom, moral clarity, and inspiration, were there too.

Kim, Stephanie, and Kevin tweeted my talk, and it’s been interesting to see how my comments on the anthology are interpreted in real time. Some of what they tweeted were direct quotes from my talk, but I was most interested in how they extended my ideas, in powerful ways. I’ve gathered those tweets via storify.

There’s been a lot to process with all of this. This is my first book, and I’ve been excited, terrified, hopeful, and relieved that it’s out. The night before the Barnard talk I panicked that I hadn’t gotten one part of the introduction right and that people might think less of me because of it. Then I realized that, to a large extent, the anthology isn’t fully about me, and, by extension, the talk was not actually about me either.  Don’t get me wrong, the day was definitely about me. I know this because my Aunt Carmen, my godfather George Bailey, and my cousin Neil were there. And there were cupcakes and an open bar afterwards. But the talk was really about the rather remarkable people who trusted me with their stories. This was my chance to introduce them.  It felt wonderful to have the opportunity to talk about their work and what they offer the academy. So I actually had quite a bit of fun.

I’m curious to know what’s next—where the anthology will take me and how others will engage with it into the holidays and the new year. To those of you who have bought the book already, thank you so much. If you haven’t bought it yet, UNC press has 40% off all of its books and shipping for orders of $75 or more are free.   Buy a copy for yourself, your dean, your provost, your favorite graduate students…you get the idea.

The book is dedicated to my parents. That’s my mother’s wedding ring and chain I’m wearing in the storify pic.

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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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Clicks and Cliques Part IV: The College Language Association Panel

“It is the nature of privilege to find ever deeper places to hide.”
Elizabeth Spelman

I was in New Orleans last weekend to participate on a panel at the College Language Association’s annual conference. It was magnificent in so many ways. I heard great papers and talks, met academic pioneers, sighed during Edwidge Danticat’s keynote, and ate my weight in fried shrimp.  I danced to someone named Trombone Black at a juke joint in the 7th Ward and wandered around the French Quarter in the rain.  There were beignets.

CLA is not a conference I normally attend.  You’re more likely to find me at the British Women Writers Conference, the annual Narrative conference or, from time to time, NASSR.  But when Janeen Price and Jenice Hudson, two doctoral candidates at Florida State University, asked me to participate on a panel about how women of color navigate the academy (Creolizing the Academic Space: A Roundtable), I said yes.  I wanted the opportunity to put my posts and conversations about what I’ve come to think of as “Women’s Studies Culture” into a more useful context and I wanted to talk about my ideas with a diverse group of women of color from different corners of the academy.  We were charged with sharing our experiences as a way to offer perspectives and strategies for other women of color.  I chose to focus on gender and diversity.

In my thinking about the challenges women of color face when working with white women in the academy, I’ve shifted away from talking about “white women” as a monolithic group and towards discussing Women’s Studies Culture. Not only is this phrase a more precise description of the struggle, it points to a larger systemic problem—one that Jane Chin Davidson and Deepa S. Reddy discuss in their essay “Performative Testimony and the Practice of Dismissal” in Written/Unwritten. It allows for the fact that this struggle goes at least as far back as the eighteenth century when white women like Mary Wollstonecraft appropriated the abolitionist movement to forward their own causes.  My brief comments focused on the larger cultural shifts outside the academy that trouble the waters within it. I titled my contribution to the panel “The Minefield(s) of Sisterhood: Women’s Studies Culture and Diversity in the Academy” and framed my thoughts with a question from Audre Lorde and an exhortation from bell hooks.

Lorde’s question is one I’ve been carrying around with me for the last year or so. She posed it to the attendees of the 1981 National Women’s Association Conference in a talk titled “On the Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism.”   After recounting the various ways that white women place themselves and their feelings at the center of conversations about racism, she asks her sisters at the NWSA:

What woman here is so enamoured of her own oppression that she cannot see her heelprint upon another woman’s face?  What woman’s terms of oppression have become precious and necessary to her as a ticket into the fold of the righteous, away from the cold winds of self-scrutiny?

I offered my advice, my exhortation from bell hooks in her essay, “Choosing the Margins as a Space of Radical Openness”–an idea I’ve written about here and am exploring more fully in an essay for PMLA:

Marginality [is] much more than a site of deprivation; in fact…it is also the site of radical possibility, a space of resistance. It was this marginality that I was naming as a central location for the production of counter-hegemonic discourse that is not just found in words but in habits of being and the way one lives. As such, I was not speaking of marginality one wishes to lose—to give up or surrender as part of moving into the center—but rather of a site one stays in, clings to even, because it nourishes one’s capacity to resist. It offers to one the possibility of radical perspective from which to see and create, to imagine alternatives, new worlds.

Between Lorde and hooks, I laid out four shifts we need to think about in order to understand what is happening at what feels like a a particularly tense time for women of color and Women’s Studies Culture in the academy:

  1. Cultural: We have moved away from the Age of Oprah when the most popular black woman in America built an empire around telling middle-class and upper middle-class white women how to “live their best lives” (without really challenging them to question at whose expense those lives are lived) to a time when the most visible black woman in America challenges racial stereotypes every time she walks in a room. Whereas Oprah—attached to a man but not married and with no children of her own, with her history of sexual assault, and her public weight battle—could inspire white women without challenging their notions of white femininity, Michelle Obama has made the kinds of decisions, primarily to put her family before what many see as a traditional professional career, that make white feminists nervous or angry.
  1. Economic:   The fact that white women have benefited more from Affirmative Action than any other group means that despite broader social inequities, they have more power, particularly in the academy, than they have ever had before and the Anne-Marie Slaughter model of trickle-down feminism (what is good for those at the top will eventually be good for those at the bottom) can make it difficult for many to understand their own privilege.
  2. Institutional: Women’s Studies, or Gender and Women’s Studies, is closer to the center of the academy than it has ever been before, and the closer it gets to the center the more aggressively it subscribes to the same hierarchies that it once challenged, and it does so under the veil of social justice. On this point, I was (and remain) curious to know if the increase of Ethnic Studies departments has meant more and more women of color opting out of Women’s Studies Culture and building their own academic profiles, careers, and, most importantly, agency, largely without white women.
  3. Social—Women of color have more outlets and opportunities than they have ever had before both to express their frustrations and their anger AND, most importantly, to build solidarity. I think that what was once seen as peer-to-peer dynamics has now been revealed to be part of a larger pattern and the narrative of the “angry black woman” who bullies white woman with her aggressive tone is being regularly challenged and the challenge is happening in public spaces.

If you haven’t attended CLA, you might not know that it was founded 77 years ago when the MLA excluded black faculty (in practice if not in policy) from its membership.  This is one of the reasons why it’s a conference that matches the kind of papers, talks, and discussions we seek at these kinds of gatherings with an air of celebration. It is a conference that turned marginalization into a radical and creative act.  Our panel include: Karla Holloway (Duke University), Judy Jackson (University of Kentucky), Theri A. Pickens (Bates College), Rhea Lathan (Florida State University).  The room was pretty full.   Every speaker, from the untenured assistant professors to the mid-career faculty to senior colleagues, shared experiences that resonated with others on the panel and those who spoke during the Q&A.  Well, it wasn’t actually a Q&A session.  It was something else entirely.  As the panel participants shared their thoughts, people moved beyond the academic knowing nod (you know what I’m talking) to actual exclamations and sighs. This spilled over into the Q&A in ways that surprised me and gave me concrete reminders about how important it is to articulate these challenges within institutionalized academic spaces.

I think that if you were to walk up to anyone in that room and asked them if racism and sexism was shaping how they moved through the academy, they would say yes and then inform you that water is still wet.  But it’s one thing to know a truth, to know that microaggression and systemic discrimination are real, and it’s another thing to have your individual experience affirmed. I think it was that specific kind of affirmation that made this more than an academic, theoretical discussion.  After the panel ended, some people came up to ask the panelists for advice. Most just wanted to hug us and tell us their stories.  There are so many, too many.

I wanted to give folks a bibliography they could take back to their home institutions, either to read on their own or to read with whatever trusted colleagues they can find.  Here it is:

Gender, Race, and Feminism
A Short Bibliography

 

Accapadi, Motwani Mamta. “When White Women Cry: How White Women’s Tears Oppress Women of Color.” The College Student Affairs Journal. 2007 (26:2): 208-215.

Daniels, Jessie.“The Trouble with White Women.”

hooks, bell. “Choosing the Margins as a Space of Radical Openness” in Yearning: Race, Gender, and Cultural Politics. South End Press (1990).

Lorde, Audre. “The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism” Keynote: National Women’s Studies Association (1981).

Mohanty, Chandra Talpade. Feminism without Borders: Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity. Duke University Press (2003).

Ortega, Marina. “Being Lovingly, Knowingly Ignorant: White Feminism and Women of Color.” Hypatia 21:3 (Summer 2006): 56-74.

Palmer, Phyllis. Marynick. “White Women/Black Women: The Dualism of Female Identity and Experience in the United States.” Feminist Studies 9:1(Spring, 1983): 151-170.

Sandoval, Chela. “U.S. Third World Feminism: The Theory and Method of Oppositional Consciousness in the Postmodern World.” Genders: Journal of Social Theory, Representation, Race, Gender, Sex (1991): 1-24.*

Spelman, Elizabeth. Inessential Woman: Problems of Exclusion in Feminist Thought. Beacon Press (1988).

Williams, Patricia. The Alchemy of Race and Rights: Diary of a Mad Law Professor. Harvard University Press (1991).

*I’m grateful to Annick T.R Wibben for pointing me to this essay.

 

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Lessons from the Collection; or, My 2014 Diversity To Do List

If you want a laugh or a giggle, check out my 2013 Diversity To Do List. I did exactly ONE thing from that list. Just the one thing. And it took me forever.

Of course, I did a lot of other stuff too and am beyond excited that I was invited to review Presumed Incompetent for Signs, but I didn’t do much on the actual list.

I’m not letting that stop me from making another one. Because, apparently, my super power is that I am disgustingly resilient.
(NB:This facts means that at any given time at least one person in my circle of friends loves me deeply and would fight to the death for me but also wants to stab me in the neck and/or push me down the stairs because who the hell can be so perky so damn much of the time!)

So even though I did very little that I planned to do last year, I’m going to make another list for 2014:

I’ll be reading Mentoring Faculty of Color.

I’m also participating on a panel at the College Language Association’s Annual Conference about how women of color can successfully navigate the minefield that is the academy.

An essay about Mary Wollstonecraft, feminist movements, and complicated abolitionist politics is in the works—a project I’ve been mulling over ever since I wrote about the tensions between white feminists and women of color.

Based on this from bell hooks, I’ll be writing an essay tentatively titled “Diversity from the Margins” for a fancy-pants brick and mortar publication. It will be a reflection on my shifting subject positions in higher education and the different—productive and unproductive—ways I’ve been angry over the years.

I can’t wait to respond to this blost post about what Dionne Bensonsmith calls soft service. I had such a visceral response to it that I ranted on twitter for a little while. But it’s an issue that I should pay more attention to, and I need to say something more productive than “THIS! THIS! THIS” and “boo white academics!”

For all that I didn’t do this year, I am glad about the work I managed to get through because it meant I got to finally meet Kim Hall and Brittney Cooper and work with Michelle Moravec (and have a THATCamp pajama party with her!)

It brought smart new readers and writers to my twitter community and to the blog.  According to WordPress, folks from 74 countries visited this blog, including at least one person who is in Russia (Snowden, you sly dog you*).

And it meant that I got to sit down with Tressie McMillan Cottom in the middle of Manhattan to talk with her about diversity and social media and everything else under the sun.

I’m enormously grateful to everyone who reads the blog, tweets about it, and shares the posts via Facebook.

My promise to myself when I finished my PhD and started on the tenure track was to make sure that I didn’t let my quest for tenure keep me from doing what was right and ethical, even if it was inconvenient or professionally unwise. And when I got tenure I wanted to make sure that I put the privileges that come with it to good practical use, to use whatever institutional power I had to hold the academy to account for how it fails those who exist on its margins while also offering ideas about how it might improve. I’m looking forward to continuing that work in 2014.

*just kidding NSA! I love America. Pinky swear!

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Clicks and Cliques: Part II

As I read Michelle Moravec’s response to my “Clicks and Cliques post,” I felt something—not a thrill up my leg since she’s not Obama and I’m not Chris Matthews—but something. Dare I call it a click?

It’s different than the click that Sansell refers to. Our eyes did not meet across a faculty meeting or at a conference. In fact, we’ve never met at all. An African-American academic I follow on twitter follows her, and since Moravec describes herself as a “lover of feminism” I thought she might read my blog entry. I didn’t know if she (or anyone) would even read it, but she did, and told other people to read it too.

The “click” I felt is different, but it seems different in exactly the right way.

•  She is, to borrow her phrase, “blogging her book” and so am I. Click.

•  Her post begins by describing a particularly successful day in the archives. I know that (in)tense pleasure oh so well. Click.

•  Excellent use of metaphor. Click.

•  She appreciates and acknowledges that my thoughts about feminism and diversity in the academy lead to tough questions and she’s ready to engage. Click.

• The answer she offers to my final question has prompted me to refine my questions. Click.

To put it another way, I didn’t feel a connection because we have a shared sense of oppression; in fact, it’s entirely possible that if we continue the conversation we’ll have sharp disagreements. I am interested, feel a click because the research she describes is intriguing and she expresses a clarity about her own subject position. Most importantly, her answer to my questions reminds me that many academic feminists don’t work in academic institutions with official programs and departments.

She answers:

I know my response offers nothing by way of what to do institutionally, and I suppose that it is one of the reasons I’m attracted to my extraordinarily small college (400 students, less than 40 faculty). I really do deal with things on a case by case basis and by continuing to ask the hard questions, which for me, emerge more around interactions with students than with colleagues because I have so very few colleagues.

She also agrees with me (and, yes, that’s one reason why I felt a click) that there is a dominant power structure in the feminist academy: “I do think the ‘old girls’ club is real and that it is largely white, and that creates a climate in which homogenous expectations are established (4: This footnote links to Notes From an “Angry Woman of Color”: Academic Policing and Disciplining Women of Color in a Post (Fill in the blank) Era).”

And so I would like to expand the question by making clear that while the thoughts and questions in the original post imagined larger institutions with Women and Gender Studies programs and departments, I think the different dynamic at smaller colleges needs to be considered as well. The collection as a whole has essays by scholars of color from different kinds of institutions, and I’d like this essay to reflect a similar diversity. The stakes are different at smaller schools (higher or lower, I honestly don’t know or if that measurement even works). I’m also wondering about the generational shift Moravec’s own research reflects and what it suggests about how feminist scholars interact with one another more broadly. Years ago, when I was a very new assistant professor, my colleague, the film critic and scholar Paul Arthur, introduced me to feminist film critic Amy Taubin. The three of us had dinner, and the conversation turned to the different instances of tensions (of all kinds) among academic feminists that I’d seen, heard, and been a part of since graduate school. She summed it all up rather neatly in a way I’ve never forgotten. She proposed that it’s sometimes easier to talk to your grandmother than it is to talk to your mother. It seems an apt metaphor and a useful way to think in a more nuanced way about the state of the academic feminist union in this current moment, when we have multiple generations of feminist scholars at different levels of success in academe.

Finally, while I am happy to have Moravec’s response, I am happy to hear about bits and pieces of people’s experiences, thoughts, and ideas.

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