A Week in the Life of a Black Feminist Pedagogy: Day Four

People often ask me about my experiences teaching a 3/3 and 3/4 load as a tenure-track, full-time college professor.  It should come as no surprise that teaching fewer (and smaller classes) makes it much easier to publish, the holy grail of the academy.  But the 3/3 load and large class sizes are not what dominates my time at a teaching college. I wish it was all about the classroom. It’s not.  It’s all about the service.

In the past two months, here is what my service (committees, meetings, and such) has looked liked:

  1. A graduate admissions committee where I read thousands of pages of personal statements, sample essays, transcripts, letters of recommendation, etc
  2. A classroom observation for my department
  3. Attendance and participation at five different candidate talks for a new tenure-track position (this meant hours of meetings beforehand to determine the candidates and hours of meetings afterwards to discuss/select the candidates)
  4. Participation on a departmental curriculum committee (no meetings yet but plenty of time needed to read an enrollment agreement for state accreditation issues, a new course proposal, a revision of a minor, etc)
  5. Participation on a college-wide curriculum committee (which meets 3X-4X per month with heavy reading beforehand)
  6. Participation on a committee to select undergraduate essay award winners
  7. Participation in meetings and email exchanges to discuss/assess undergraduate capstone courses
  8. Participation in meetings, email exchanges, and assessment design of my own undergraduate capstone course
  9. Attendance at multiple department/program meetings
  10. Participation in a site visit for external review of a program
  11. Participation on a committee to select undergraduate ePortfolio award winners
  12. Participation in a day-long outcomes assessment meeting as part of the writing program

I do not hold any administrative positions at my college and do not aspire to.  And yet service takes up as much of my time as when I was an actual administrator.  This list does not include service to the professional and community organizations I am part of since those are the things that I want to do.  On Thursdays, day four of a Week in the Life of a Black Feminist Pedagogy, I try to do the prep work required of my campus service obligations. I also mentally map out the next week’s meetings so I know when I will get some space and time to myself in an upcoming week. Many times, I am on campus, not teaching, but doing service.

I am sure I have forgotten some stuff from numbers 1-12 above.  The list would be even longer if I had not outright said NO to many other requests.  Every week brings me another email solicitation to perform yet another mundane task. There is no real recognition for any of this work and certainly no extra pay or course release.  This is the nature of service at a teaching college in a moment shaped by the logics of austerity and neoliberalism: adjuncts teach almost all of the classes while the main role of full-time faculty seems to be the performance of bureaucratic tasks, bottomless meetings, and infinite committee appointments.  Programs are so severely under-resourced that only a Herculean effort on the service work of faculty can keep them afloat, an exploitative cycle that admin will expect and naturalize if you let them.

To be sure, I see some of this work as necessary: the opportunity to select a faculty person of color as your new colleague; an opening to challenge the uber-traditionalist instructional model of a college; the chance to ensure that graduate students of color get a fair shake and recognition; the occasion to bear witness to the endless machinations that determine the look and color of a college curriculum, its assessments, and its awards.  The procedures to do these things are, nevertheless, utterly ridiculous.

Necessary or not, I won’t be serving on most of these committees in the future.  I can now say: yeah, been there, done that, it was a waste of time and I ain’t doin it again (I mean this very earnestly… this IS exactly what I will say).  I have more to say about service as part of my hustle in academia but I will do that later as part of my ongoing Academia as a Hustle posts.  For now, I will just say that service also has a Black Feminist ethos in my week’s pedagogy.  On some level, many of my colleagues think they are doing socially transformative work in these uber-western, bureaucratic processes and can lose sight of their political center or the very meanings of radical transformation.  Riddled with insecurities in an academy that makes you feel like you have to always prove your worth, many of my colleagues want to feel involved and important and they think this college service stuff is the way.  Some of these folks act like these committees are the equivalent of planting a tree or working with disaster victims!  Get a grip!  What Tiffany King calls “Native feminist politics of decolonial refusal and Black feminist abolitionist politics of skepticism,” what I have been referencing across this series of posts, requires you to have a much more critical lens on the ways you are challenging or co-signing service and the logics of austerity and neoliberalism in higher education. This is especially true since it is women of color who will be most expected to do all this free labor. If you let them, folk will run your body, mind, and spirit into the ground by: 1) over-tasking/over-taxing you; or 2) wasting your energy and time in meetings and committees where progress is slow, where your input is miles higher than what the structure will allow as output.  It’s always worth it to peek behind the emperor’s curtain and see how the shenanigans back there really work but you don’t need to keep visiting.  One time is all you need.  Skepticism and refusal are important services too.

Academia as a Hustle; Or, How Everything I Know about Academia, I Learned from Rick Ross (Part I)

I have never been a fan of the rapper, Rick Ross. And yet his cut, “Everyday I’m Hustlin,” is my work anthem.  Katt Williams’ skit didn’t help matters and made the opening hook go viral in my head for years.  Today, I have folders, notebooks, mugs, and all other manner of appropriated paraphernalia to remind myself that this academic game is just that: A HUSTLE.  I even have a file folder that says “#keephustlin” so I can label and be clear on the things that are the hustle. These reminders help me remember and get through the week, day, semester, and year.   Since Rick Ross’s misogynoir, misogyny, and disingenuousness match up quite nicely with life in academia, I don’t even feel bad as a feminist claiming his definition of a hustle in my work life. “Everyday I’m hustlin/Hustle, hustlin hustlin/Hustle, hustlin hustlin/Hustle, hustlin hustlin.”

I should have written this post when the song first dropped circa 2006 but I couldn’t have articulated the nature of my grind in the academy then.  And it’s only been the questions I have received about my stance on 4Cs/NCTE and the academic job market that has compelled me to sit down and write all of this now.

I have been on the market four times now, was successful in each round, and got the job that I liked best at that moment.  I have explored all kinds of institutions, never committed to any one kind, and plan to maintain my stealth, always-on-the-move style until I meet an institution that treats me fairly.  I have seen the insides of search committees, hiring committees, national award committees, and tenure committees and it ain’t never been pretty.  I have walked out of some of those meetings traumatized and exhausted for what/who I had to argue and fight for. I have learned and seen a lot, most of which I can’t even (legally) disclose.  I’ve learned the rules all on my own because no one ever told me, many don’t seem to even see what is right in front of them, and others purposely conceal the strings behind the puppetry.

I am calling this post “Part I,” because I am sure that I will remember more stuff later and will build on this.  Think of this as the raw, uncut, de-bourgeois-professionalized version of what you get on those websites about the hows and whys of the academic market.

I love the WORK that I do as a college educator teaching first-generation, racially marginalized, urban young people of color.  I enjoy fighting for my own language, narrative, geographies, epistemologies, and styles in my research and scholarship.  That’s the WORK… surviving the academy as a job is a whole other game though (see my previous post here on the difference between the work and the job). I call this job a hustle, quite deliberately pushing against the snobbery and tomfoolery that would suggest what we do and what we are about is any different from corporate America.

Let’s start this series talking about publishing: with the research and scholarship.  For the sake of clarity, I will also say that I am talking explicitly here about former or current historically white 4-year universities and colleges. At the end of the day, publishing is still what counts most.  It’s how you get tenure, promotion, or merit pay; it’s how you get the next job; it’s how people know your name and ideas.  I have worked at the first tier of research, the second tier, and now at a teaching college… with “remedial,” undergraduate, master’s degree and Ph.D. students.  The expectations for publishing have not been different for me in any single one of these spaces.  I teach a 3/4 load now with big classes and have to publish as rigorously as when I taught a 2/2 with small classes if I want to ever be full professor.  That means at least one more monograph and 6-12 articles.  All of that is on top of what I did for tenure (a monograph and 10+ articles).  Yeah, do the math.  Don’t get fooled.  If your university wants to be “prestigious,” this is what it’s gon be, regardless if the institution actually even has any prestige. I have colleagues who tell me that publishing at a community college is less “rigorous.”  I have never worked at a community college (only a comprehensive college) but I will say here that I seldom believe these kinds of flat statements since publishing looks very different today than what it did decades ago.

Here is what I have learned now from MULTIPLE PLACES:

  1. Book chapters do not count.  This is a good strategy when you are in graduate school (as well as book reviews).  What you publish in graduate school cannot be used for tenure; you are only making yourself more “marketable” with chapters in graduate school but you are not building a tenure profile. You gon need to publish to get an academic job these days so chapter it up.
  2. If you are on the tenure track and a book editor comes at you sideways with an inordinate amount of revisions, bow out. You are doing the book editor a favor, not the other way around.  Don’t get this stuff twisted. Publish the piece as a journal article elsewhere. It will count that way.  And show that uppity editor your bare behind (I truly believe this can relieve stress).
  3. Humanities folks will insist that book chapters count (and BTW: book reviews and encyclopedia entries do not count either so don’t do them after graduate school).   If the university is forced to concede, your book chapters might get counted but know that other disciplines at your college think you are a joke and say it out loud every chance they get. Wait and see how that pans out for you when the new dean/provost/president are not humanities scholars.  Good luck with that.
  4. Collaborative publishing does not count unless you have MANY, MANY of these joints and/or your name comes first.  As faculty, collaborative pubs with graduate students are always the best: you get credit for publication AS mentoring that way (many “top-tiered” PhD programs expect faculty to publish with graduate students now). You might get a concession and get through tenure with collab pubs but know that your campus colleagues think you are a joke. Good luck with that.
  5. Publishing with your Ph.D. advisor/diss committee does not count when you are on the tenure track.  You can do this in graduate school but know you are only making yourself more “marketable.”  You gon need to publish to get an academic job these days so go ‘head and roll with your advisor now cuz that’s gotta stop soon.
  6. Publishing a piece in the journal and/or book you are editing does not count.  If you publish in a special issue journal, be ready to argue in your tenure statement that you do not know the editors (make sure that is true).  Special issue journal publications are taken less seriously because it is now commonplace that your friends bypassed a real peer review process for you (even if the editors aren’t your friends, the review process is still not considered as rigorous with special issue journals today).
  7. Publishing in a journal or book series that your colleague down the hall edits does not count.  See #6 above about “commonplace.”
  8. Presentations at local and/or campus conferences do not count.  You will be laughed at if you include these in your tenure narrative unless you force the issue that these presentations were related to your research.  It still won’t count, but you won’t be laughed at.  Don’t let your tenure be Comedy Central. Let the laughs happen somewhere else.
  9. You need to attend conferences but you better be smart and choose wisely.  Time is ticking, money is scarce, and conferences cost way too much.  One or more of three things needs to happen at a conference to make it worth re-attending: a) you get REALLY good feedback that will propel publication; b) you get a REAL offer for publication from an editor of a journal or book series; c) you team with a group of colleagues and work on a new, publishable article (remember #4 above though).  If these three things ain’t happening, you wasted your money and time.  Don’t be a fool listening to folks who act like a conference is a center of gravity for tenure in academia today.
  10. Habitual conference attendance at a single venue is for those who intend to hold HIGH leadership positions at that conference.  Otherwise, if there is a conference that you must attend pre-tenure, then do what I did: swoop in, do your thing, and be out.  Put the line on the CV and be clear that’s all you got from the experience and find another space to sustain you intellectually.  The point for a tenure/promotion committee is to see that you can get regularly accepted to a peer-reviewed national and INTERNATIONAL (you must always stay connected to international scholars) conference, not stay wedded to an organization. if you can swing it, do not pay for the conference hotel— why keep a conference afloat if it is not doing much for you?  If your department chair (or wanna-be chair) demands that you attend a certain conference, make sure that he pays for it (do not use your start-up funds or travel money for their personal edicts).  This ain’t the 1990s.  No one gets tenure or promotion anymore because they have micro-celebrity status at these venues.  You can get that from Twitter, Facebook, or the Gram.  In fact, my Academia.edu account has done more work bringing real bodies to my research and scholarship than any conference I have ever attended. If you are a scholar of color, especially a woman of color, you need to know better than to rely on traditional means of knowledge dissemination in the 21st century anyway.
  11. One book is no longer enough for tenure at most places, especially if that book was your dissertation (and only university presses and Routledge count).  You will be regarded as someone who has not done any serious research and scholarship since graduate school.  You might get a concession and get through tenure with only that one dissertation-turned-book but know that your colleagues think you are a joke. Good luck with that. (Oh, and make sure you are really clear whether your particular institution will accept galleys of your book at tenure/promotion or if they only want hardcopy.)
  12. Citations, citations, citations!  This is the order of the day.  It’s not just about publishing but about who is reading you… yes, even at teaching colleges now.  Stay amongst like-minded scholars who are thinking with you.  If you are marginalized in your field, find a new home.  If folk in your field are not reading and citing you in their research, you are wasting your time with them.  Move on and drop the dead weight.  You might get a concession and get through tenure without the citations but know that your colleagues think you are irrelevant. Good luck with that.
  13. Grants count as a publication but only the big ones.  Be clear that a grant is the equivalent of running a program so it’s a lot of work… but just like a publication.  If you don’t have grants (especially since there is little money in the humanities), publish more articles.  No way around this anymore.  In the humanities, post-doc work will weigh as nicely as grants so pursue that!
  14. Internal grants do not count but you need to apply for every single one of them that comes across your desk/screen (since they usually come from deans, provosts, etc).  You need to make sure that you keep your name and the topics of your research in folks’s mouth.
  15. Accept only the speaking engagements that are meaningful. They take a lot of time away from your research, family, and sleep cycles.  If you like the people, are getting paid, can connect intellectually/professionally with like-minded folk, can introduce your work to a new audience (see #12 above), get to work directly with young folk, and/or can add a line to your CV, do it.  Otherwise, keep it movin and work on #1-14 above.

Every single item that I listed above is almost a direct quote. D.I.R.E.C.T. These are NOT my interpretations.  If anyone tells you differently,  they are lying or do not know what time it is in the academy today. These same people will turn around and smile in your face and tell you everything is okay with your tenure packet. When you do book chapters, large-scale anthologies (which are the equivalent of textbooks— which also do not count), articles in friends’ journals, and/or publications with advisors, it is for name recognition in that topic, bigger record/concert sales (oops, I mean books), solidarity with your peeples, and/or how-to statements that will make people want to pay you to come give workshops. These are their own legitimate reasons… it won’t count for your tenure/promotion or stature at the university though. KNOW THAT! These rules will likely change 5-10 years from now but I suspect stuff will escalate, not de-escalate.  I can promise you that #1-15 are how it goes down TODAY.

No one fights for or defends you or your field in these closed-door meetings; your record alone has to do all of the work so you need clarity on what has value in that record.  I have witnessed a case where the room did not think a woman deserved to even make it to her mid-tenure review because she only had two articles in print that, combined, had only been cited 5 times.  This was at a teaching college with a heavy teaching load.  Her chairperson gave her NO mentoring whatsoever (and may have even sabotaged her) and since that department still only has an interim chair today, she still has not received any sustained mentoring. Only one person (a senior male scholar of color) in that room argued on her behalf about the absurdity of dropping her.  No one else said a word in her defense. I have no idea what has happened to her.  So yeah, it gets REALLY REAL out here.

I have fought on behalf of colleagues in many of these instances. When I won those battles in those closed-door meetings, it was never a full victory.  People just conceded my point but regarded the scholar in question as a good teacher, a good administrator, or as a good person who works really hard.  These too are direct quotes and these are not compliments.

In between #1-15 above, you will have to fight to do the work that you love, the work that means something to you, the work that transforms your social circumstances.   You will notice that there is nothing INTELLECTUAL, ACTIVIST, or SOCIALLY TRANSFORMATIVE in #1-15.  It’s a pecking order and ranking system only (hence, my overuse of the word COUNT).  It’s… a… hustle… and like I said at the beginning of this post: “Everyday I’m hustlin/Hustle, hustlin hustlin/Hustle, hustlin hustlin/Hustle, hustlin hustlin.”  

I am exhausted just thinking back and chronicling all of these lessons … but I ain’t done yet.  The next posts will tackle service, teaching, and digitation.  I hope to get even blunter with it.

A Black Feminist Critique of Bourgeois Professional Organizations…. 40 Years after the Combahee River Collective

Like all academics, I regularly attend conferences that presumably catalyze my politics and research.  Though I have presented 100s of papers now at dozens of conferences, I have spent the most time and money at two in particular: NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) and CCCC/4Cs (Conference on College Composition and Communication). I won’t be attending either this year or any time soon for that matter.   I am enraged by the politically-compromised way NCTE and 4Cs have addressed the conference’s Missouri location this year where Senate Bill 43 was signed on June 20, 2017, essentially (re)legalizing discrimination.
 
I was once excited to participate in these conferences at this 40th anniversary of the Combahee River Collective’s statement alongside our current Movement for Black Lives (M4BL). But not anymore.  I have always had issues with NCTE/4Cs and the often unmitigated co-existence with the corporatization of (higher) education. Just look at the way the conference headquarters are organized: diversity consultants, NDAs, closed meetings, agenda styles, executive committees, hierarchy of roles, budget discourses, etc.  My point here is merely to state a fact: it is a corporate ethos.  That ethos goes all around so if your contribution in the field/at the conference can be displayed on a CV/career profile/tenure packet, it ain’t activism or community organizing.  It is bourgeois professionalism.  Let’s just call a thing what it is.
The Movement for Black Lives that has shaped every part of my current teaching life and every aspect of my Black and Latinx students’ current literacies is fundamentally a Black Queer Feminist framework… and there is nothing in these organizations that complements such a framework (and if that is not clear, a basic knowledge of BLM will suffice after you have divested from the misogynist, heteropatriarchal core in the field’s relationship to race and African American culture).  Yeah, I said it… cuz that’s what a Black feminist does!
 
When I think of an “activist conference” or a BLM/BlackQueerFeminist framing, I mean something entirely different from the usual paradigm of “including” a few endarkened sessions in the program and/or parading a few willingly-tokenized celebrity scholars of color who NCTE/4Cs can sponsor as supposed signs of progress. My teaching-scholarly life runs deeper than that. I am packed 36 deep in my undergraduate classrooms with students who commute to campus and work sometimes two jobs.  In the first week of classes this semester, multiple students shared coming out stories, often relaying horrific stories of their treatment as Black and Brown queer people and how they managed to survive. 10% of my students are undocumented (many of whom were not in class for the NYC protests in the second week of classes this semester). As with every semester, I am checking in regularly with at least one young mother of color, most times living in a shelter, who has recently exited and/or is in the process of exiting a relationship hinged on intimate partner violence.  And, of course, I can count on young Black, Arab, and Latinx men arriving late to class after being detained by an NYPD hell-bent on profiling them as if to deliberately remind them that every obstacle imaginable will be erected along their path to a college degree. And my graduate students ain’t playin either. They are the fiercest, queerest, most in-yo-face calling-out-neoliberalism, most activist graduate students who I have ever met.  They ain’t down for the okey-doke either. Despite all of this (or maybe because of it), these are the most gracious, energetic and intellectually alive young people who I know. There is very little at NCTE/CCCC that centers this racialized everydayness in the college literacy and creative power of racially subjugated young people. So on the bright side:  I won’t be missing much by not attending. 

Far too many of the folk of color in the organization are so wedded to their own career advancement, name recognition, bourgeois credentialing, and upward university mobilities (that often gets conflated in white liberal tropes as leadership and voice) that their critiques are, at best, muffled. Yeah, I said it and will gladly say it to folks’ face too.  White folk have never been the ONLY problem.  We write statements… but we do not seem to MAKE statements.  The ways in which these willing tokens on NCTE’s/4Cs’ celebrity red carpet have particularly marginalized and “managed” dissent about the 2017 NCTE and 2018 4Cs have been nothing short of violent: 1) accusing boycotters of representing a do-nothing activism as if the Black Radical Tradition of a Rosa Parks/Montgomery Bus Boycott was about doing “nothing”; 2) suggesting that folk who leave the organization are “merely” or “irresponsibly” running away as if maroonage, fugitivity, and Harriet Tubman legacies are not deeply-rooted radical actions; 3) asking for more clarity and detail as if I have not been consistent or shy about an INTELLECTUAL critique of a field and its practitioners that have never included me (again, I mean white folk and folk of color).  These people, especially the young wanna-be chic-radical graduate students and the newly anointed/nepotistic heirs to the KINGdom, will be out here quoting folk like Fred Moten and Robin Kelley all day long and yet enact none of their ideas (or maybe don’t have the political integrity to understand those ideas).  I could go on and on.  Like I said, I am disgusted.   

The fact of the matter is that NCTE/4Cs participation is rather expensive, especially for those of us who are not at privileged universities that allot significant professional expenditures for faculty travel (and who rarely see students of color in their classrooms since their university wealth is intimately attached to the exclusion of Brown and Black peoples, not to their education).  The other fact of the matter is that NCTE/4Cs, as an organization, financially sustains itself with its conventions.  I simply won’t pay them to keep excluding the Black Queer Feminist frameworks that are literally giving our current social movements and my classrooms life; I won’t pay them for their piss-poor silence about the violence of Missouri’s SB 43, despite the assurance that “we” will do something “local” at the convention (as if anyone should trust the activism outside the venue of a conference program that is lily white); I won’t pay for the promise of some 1990s-style “task force” as a solution for 21st century racism and racial violence;  and I won’t pay them for their pre-arranged co-signing by the small set of NAACP leaders who stopped being progressive many, many decades ago.  And I won’t use the money from my institution that services mostly Brown and Black students or from my salary based on teaching those students to attend a conference that ignores us in a state that newly violates/targets us. That means I would be allowing NCTE/4Cs and Missouri to profit off the backs of the young people of color I teach. I won’t be that kind of accomplice.  Not today. Not ever.

Trigger Warning: This Post is about Academia and Its “Professional” Conferencing

I am not a fan of the professional conference at this point in my life. Between the expensive hotels and registration fees and the mall-like spatial feel, it just ain’t for me. Ima blame this one of Robin Kelley though—- his piece about “Black Study, Black Struggle” still resonates with me, namely his poignant argument that universities are NOT engines of social transformation, never have been and never will.   If you agree with Kelley’s critiques about labor, race, and empire at the American university today, then you have no choice but agree that professional organizations— housed in neoliberalist, “non-profit” corporations that professionally organize and credential academics— are even less aligned with radical social thought and action.

ccccRegardless of whether or not you were in actual attendance, all compositonist-rhetoricians know that its major, professional organization— the Conference on College Composition and Communication, often called 4Cs (or the C’s by many black folk)— went down this past weekend. It is no secret that many folk of color feel marginalized by that space, despite decades of activism for inclusion born in 1960s and1970s Black Freedom struggles.  Quiet as it’s kept though, younger white scholars are making the same claims of marginalization everywhere that I meet them: fed up with an Old Guard who do not speak to them or to their needs, embarrassed by a new White Backlash, and unimpressed by uber-professionalized middle class comforts and happiness.  Many (not all) of the chairs who organize the yearly conferences have humanized that space in wonderful ways, but that doesn’t necessarily change the organization.  As a professor from a financially strapped city/public university with a heavy teaching load rather than an R1 with its comparatively unlimited funding and leisure time, the conference isn’t designed for me (given its gross expense and time commitment) or my students (given its white, middle class content) anyway.

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The Former High School Teacher Reflects on College Teaching & Development

When I first started teaching college writing, I did so as a former high school teacher. I was told, both explicitly and implicitly, that I should not identify myself as a secondary teacher. College teaching was more intellectual and exacting; in fact, high school teaching wasn’t even respected enough to be called teaching, especially in university English departments. It was 1998; I was 27 years old and quite perplexed. I just couldn’t get my head around what people were telling me in comparison with what I was seeing at the college: the MOST horrible teaching and curriculum design I had ever encountered.

aolAt the time, Amazon was still relatively new as well as online bookstores. We were, after all, still using dial-up internet and AOL! This means that college bookstores actually ordered all of the books for students and created what were then called “course packets”— the binder that the bookstore created with the photocopied readings that you would use in the semester. That’s probably why I knew my readings and weekly course plans before a semester started… you HAD to back then. There was no possibility of finding a photocopy machine, emailing students in advance of class (not all had email), or using smartboard/electronic lecterns to share a new departure from the syllabus. At that college where I was told to never mention the fact of my high school teaching, I did what I had done as a college student: I went into the bookstore and looked at what every professor at the college assigned for the semester. That’s how I chose my college courses as an undergraduate student— who seemed to actually offer real learning based on what we would read? I remember that day at my new college teaching post very well. There was one professor on the whole campus who assigned a Toni Morrison book. I was THAT professor, the adjunct and former high school teacher supposedly so intellectually challenged by the curricular requirements of college learning and teaching that she was the only one who included Toni Morrison. If the classroom teaching and curriculum was bad, then the “official” faculty professional development was even WORSE!

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