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.

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

I have met a lot of graduate students in the past three years: at national conferences, at talks and workshops that I have given, from personal emails/DMs, and in the classes that I teach.  I wish I could stay in touch with ALLL of them.  I have seen graduate students from seemingly every corner of the humanities and social sciences, and even some from math and science education.  There is one thing that they all have in common at this historical moment: THEY. ARE. MAD. AS. HELL.  I love it and hope with every connected fiber and tissue related to my being on this earth that they STAY MAD… MAD AF!

On day three of any given week, my Wednesdays, I teach graduate studies.  This semester I am teaching a course called “Intersectionality and Activist Research in the Movement for Black Lives.”  It’s a methodology course that tries to take seriously that a critique and refusal of neoliberal anti-blackness in higher education has to be achieved before our research can make a difference. There are 18 students in the class and at least another 10 still on the proverbial waiting list— there just weren’t enough seats in the room to let them in.  I make my whole day available to my grad students, up to and after my class.  I leave the house between 10am and noon and get back between 10pm and midnight.  I wish I could spend more time with them, but that’s as long as I can stay awake. So this day, day three in the Life of a Black Feminist Pedagogy, is all about teaching graduate students in the 21st century.

It’s only been in the past two years that I have even liked teaching graduate students.  Before now, I found them mostly whiny, nervous, and needy and I gravitated towards the undergraduate students who were just so much better at keepin it all the way real!  Graduate school infantilizes you, makes you feel like the big, bad academy and its arbitrary rules are beyond your grasp so you forget you a grownass wo/man who knows how to navigate and cut through bullshit (and you gon see a whole lot of basic bullshit in the academy; it ain’t nuthin erudite or difficult). It was exhausting being around so many graduate students who had no social awareness or critique of their environment or higher education and so just wanted you to hold their hands, give them rules/standards, and answer dumbass questions they should have been able to tackle with their own common sense. The graduate students who I meet today ain’t like that at all…. and they do solidarity like none I have EVER seen.  Like I said, their anger and disgust with the academy and the whiteness, patriarchy, and exclusion of their disciplines fuels them to act and to act up.  I love every moment of it.  They come with RECEIPTS every damn week. Yes, RECEIPTS!  Callin mofos out each week of class, naming the names and takin it to to folks’ face!  These graduate students understand the depth and possibilities of decolonial refusal.

I know this is a radically different era because it diverges so sharply from my years in a PhD program (2000-2005).  By the time I started dissertating, my advisors— Suzanne Carothers, Gordon Pradl, and John Mayher— supported and trusted whatever creative move I tried to make, regardless of whether or not it ended successfully because they valued my process.  However, getting to that point was a LONG journey.  My very first graduate seminar in my very first semester, a required doctoral course, was the worst class I have ever taken.  I remember it vividly.  I was simply cast as the antagonistic loud-mouth.  No one wanted to make waves and jeopardize their future opportunities. This meant that no one had a intelligent critique of anything. It was a curriculum theory seminar and it didn’t matter where you landed on the political spectrum, this class taught you absolutely nothing.  Because I worked part-time and did consulting as a full-time student with four classes per semester, I chose my coursework quite deliberately.  I just did not have the time to waste on useless reading and writing. This class pissed me off every week!  Many of our required readings came from the Brookings Institute. I was the only one who brought that up in class as an issue as, of course, the antagonistic one.  Most of the students in the class did not consider themselves conservative or right-wing like Brookings and yet they did not flinch or ask a single question about the relevance of this to our work.  After all, being down for the go-along eventually produces silence, complacency, and complicity.  Internet search was a REAL thing back then (though google search was still a baby) but my peers had not even bothered to do that because they were determined to obey.  If you asked most of them today, they couldn’t tell you what Brookings was/is or that Mickey D assigned so many readings from it (Mickey D is what I called that professor because he was about as real and deep as McDonald’s). There was only one required reading all semester about race (from Brookings) in a class about curriculum theory and nothing from a Black author.  No one said a word against it.  Not once. The class was so bad that even if you were a conservative, right-wing Republican, you wouldn’t have learned a thing, certainly not enough to get you taken seriously by Brookings.  Issa all-around failure.  Mickey D wrote on my final paper that he was not interested, as a white mainstream man, in my ideas regarding race, hegemony, dominance, and whiteness (his exact words) and gave me an A-.  I got an A in the course but still stomped my way to the dean’s office on his basic Mickey D butt.  My fellowship required me to present and publish annually and I so insisted that this would not be possible if I had to sit in submediocre classes that did not reflect current research trends.  From that point, I got out of every required course in the program and only took the courses I wanted to take.  It made no sense to me, as someone who studied language, to have to sit in classes taught by folk like Mickey D when someone like Ngugi was teaching across the street.  I fought for myself and won that battle… and I was the only one in my cohort and program/school who took classes with Ngugi, who taught me more about teaching just from his presence than anyone I had met.

I had no peers who battled our curriculum and program with me, but if I were a graduate student today, it would be different.  This is as much a rhetorical and linguistic shift today as it is a political/curricular one.  I see and hear this in the ways that radical scholars like Tiffany King and Eve Tuck have taught me, work that I see within the terms of what Tiffany King calls a “Native feminist politics of decolonial refusal and Black feminist abolitionist politics of skepticism”:

Native feminist politics of decolonial refusal and Black feminist abolitionist politics of skepticism … diverge from the polite, communicative acts of the public sphere…  they do not play by the rules…practices of refusal and skepticism interrupt and out codes of civil and collegial discursive protocol  …. The force, break with decorum, and style in which Black and Native feminists confront discursive violence can change the nature of future encounters…. Refusal and skepticism are modes of engagement that are uncooperative and force an impasse in a discursive exchange.

I can’t say all graduate students today are ready to burn shit down.  Many, if not most, are mediocre, careerist weasels with hopes of nothing more than selling us out so they can become the next celebrity tokens.  But there are enough dope, decolonizing, critical graduate students today to get some fires started.  There’s no way that I would go back and re-do graduate school. No one wants that but I do wish I had been in graduate school with the folk I see today. If I were a graduate student alongside the students I see today, I would be further advanced theoretically, politically, and ideologically because I wouldn’t be as suffocated by the mediocre theory and praxis that are often sold as the only viable options.  I feel sorry for all these fools with their Mickey D inclinations today.  Their days are OVUH!

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

The biggest complaint I get from my students is that I assign too much reading and writing.  I heed this complaint only to the extent that I check myself that I am not being unreasonable with students who have to work to feed and clothe themselves and am not, thereby, making a college degree outside of their reach. Other than that, GAME ON!

For each class meeting, I assign a reading, whether undergraduate or graduate, with a short writing assignment.  I do not assign that one, major final paper at the end of the term. Instead, I opt for weekly short pieces through the semester culminating in a portfolio of sorts at the end.  Each week, you need to write/design/draw your thinking alongside what we are reading. I do not expect a coherent, linear essay or even written text for that matter.  I never assign a reading and then quiz students in class.  That takes up valuable time in class when they need to be talking to one another, pulling apart ideas, and piecing them back together again with their colleagues in the room who will see or notice something different.  I never assign a reading without a written text to accompany it.  I collect and comment to all of this writing as a reader, not a grader.  You are graded for doing it, not the form, grammar, or political agreement.  I won’t back down from this pedagogy, especially if students are reading about issues related to Blackness, gender, race, sexuality, bodies, and cultures.  I believe this pedagogy forces young people of color to do something school seldom requires of them when it comes to Black and Brown Knowledge: KNOW WHAT THE HELL YOU TALKIN BOUT!

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

I have decided upon a new series (though I have not finished the previous series: Academia as a Hustle/ Everything I Know about Academia I Learned from Rick Ross). This series will only last for one week though: Monday through Saturday (Ima take Sunday off from blogging because that’s when I spend my time responding to student writing).  I have been thinking a lot lately about the inherent hypocrisy of many “critical” teachers and scholars who have apparently found the answers to challenging our disciplines and universities.  From a life committed to Black Feminist Pedagogy in a neoliberalist university, a decolonial refusal of whiteness and neoliberalism in colleges today is a relentless, exhausting endeavor that is never easy. So I’ll take this week off to keep my own self in check, call out my own mistakes and challenges, and ignore the complicity that folk wanna disguise as political intervention and reflection. If you ain’t real careful, folk out here will have you thinkin veiled misogyny, patriarchy, homophobia, transphobia, and/or anti-Blackness can represent you.

So…my trek to campus started like every Monday… at the grocery store.  I have a writing seminar this semester for seniors who are majoring in gender studies.  After I spend the morning working on our class agenda, I stop at the grocery store to pick up food.  I know that the students in my classes are hungry by the time we meet at 3:05pm (and go until 5:45pm).  Most have more classes until late evening. In fact, our wellness center posted on the Gram that 15% of students at CUNY (City University of New York) have reported going hungry sometimes or often. That percentage is higher on my campus. I know what it’s like to have to study and go to school while hungry so the least I can do is TRY to feed my students in both body and mind (when my class size is at 36, I can’t afford this so we are struggling together in those moments).

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“Don’t You Ever Not Recognize Yourself in Somebody Else”: Words of Wisdom from Marta Moreno Vega

I found myself listening to Marta Moreno Vega’s words last week.  It offered some sanity after an Atlanta-based rapper released a video on social media of 1990s sitcom actress, Maia Campbell, who was completely unraveled in a conversation with him at a local gas station.  I cannot vouch for the young man actually being a rapper; certainly, no one ever really heard of him until he used his phone to garner internet fame by exploiting a Black woman who was once a beloved child-star.  It becomes quite obvious in the video that Maia, who has battled bipolar disorder and drug addiction for many years now, is not doing well and is in complete relapse mode.

The video, which of course went viral, was meant to be “funny.”  The wanna-be rapper who filmed Maia even defended his actions, ranting about how he was not sorry for what he did (he has recently recanted, claiming that he jokes with Maia like this often).  I won’t link the videos here because they are too traumatizing, both Maia’s obvious breakdown and the young man’s willingness to dehumanize her (I won’t say the rapper’s name either since he does not deserve more air time than he has gotten). I see this as yet another example of the spectacular spectacle of Black women’s dehumanization that runs the gamut from Iyanla Vanzant’s/OWN’s pseudo-therapeutic “intervention” in Maia’s life to a young Black man’s calculated decision to humiliate and hypersexualize her.  While it may seem extreme to connect Iyanla to this wanna-be rapper, they connect quite seamlessly for me: both offer up Maia’s body solely for PUBLIC, CONSPICUOUS consumption; neither offer her substance or support in return for the otherwise unttainable attention and stardom they achieve via their chosen media outlets.

As I stated in my opening, in times like these, you need the words of your elders to show/remind you who you really are in the world.  This week, for me, that has meant the AfroLatinx activist, scholar, and teacher, Marta Moreno Vega.  Her closing story in the video below is especially relevant here where she describes her brother’s childhood friend, Jimmy, who was an addict.  One day, Jimmy spoke to her on the street and in her teenage/youth arrogance, she decided he was too dirty and embarrassing to warrant a response or acknowledgement from her.  When Jimmy told Vega’s mother about the incident, Vega was quickly punished and warned that Jimmy’s life could very well be her own, her brother’s, her sister’s, or even her own mother’s life.  Her mother warned her that she must never NOT RECOGNIZE HERSELF IN SOMEBODY ELSE.  As much as social media has offered radical opportunities for a radical Black Presence/ Black Voice/ Black Vision/ Black Humanity, it can eradicate all of that at the same time. The generational wisdom of the elders here as passed down to us from Vega seems critical… seeing ourselves in Maia rather than so easily exploiting her belongs to a legacy of Black expectation that we need to uphold now more than ever.