I have never watched a full episode of one of those reality shows featuring doomsday preppers, the over-the-top survivalists who prepare for the end of civilization, nuclear invasion, or natural catastrophe. I am however very familiar with preparing for the inevitable racial targeting that comes with being a woman of color working in educational institutions.
Many people at universities today are thinking critically about the safety of racially marginalized groups on campus and the threats to teaching politically-charged content in this post-election moment. I don’t mean to suggest here that this critical care and thought are widespread though. There are just as many places that move forward— business as usual— with their love affairs with classic Europe, administrivia, departmental parties, and neoliberalist regimes of outcomes assessment. Academics doing the work of questioning and thinking through where we are today, those who commit to pedagogy as something more rigorous than an anemic list of suggestions about teaching tolerance, are a rare gem. It seems to me though that institutional racism has long prepared us for the coming doomsdays on university campuses. The very campus protests related to #BlackLivesMatter showed us students who challenged their administrations to deal with the racism they were facing and not simply dismiss campus-wide white supremacy under the auspices of (for-whites-only) “free speech”? The very history of Black college student protest, dating back to the 1920s, connected off-campus racism with the treatment Black students face on campus. As an undergraduate in 1989, I never walked alone on campus, especially at night, not simply because I was a woman, but a Black woman. As women, we know we are always the potential victims of sexual assault, but as a Black woman, you also know that no one will care or notice when that happens. Black men on campus certainly weren’t any safer; Black masculinity does not offer that. They didn’t travel alone either for fear of the campus police who had no ability to see their bodies as part of the student population. Doomsday was always here.
I began experimenting with digital storytelling (DS) in my classrooms last spring and continued with it this spring. For my purposes in my own classrooms, DS is a short video (4-6 minutes) that showcases a powerful story in your life (I used Cynthia Davidson’s assignment as my initial model). I am not as interested in students’ final products as I am in their processes though. They upload their final videos to their ePortfolios but they have many webpages along with the video (about the music, the story, their images, their process, etc). Here are some of the questions that I also ask my students to reflect on:
- When we combine ALL of these elements— sound, images, video, and words— what does this achieve for rhetors? For digital rhetorics?
- What makes your work part of 21st century storytelling?
- Your first year of college has coincided with some of most charged political events of the 21st century (bookended by the kidnapping/murder of 43 students in Iguala, Mexico to mass uprisings in Baltimore). Local media— largely through social media/digital outlets— insist that national news coverage got it all wrong and inserted its own voice. In many ways, you have all entered that same kind of social justice advocacy with your own digital projects. Think back on this digital project. Does it too make an intervention? How and why (or why not)?
For my ¡Adelante! students (a Leadership program for Latino students who I follow for two semesters in my first year writing courses), however, I asked an additional question… a rather simple one, but one that I thought most critical:
What is ¡Adelante! Digital Storytelling (ADS)?
In my first semester at my college, before we had even reached the midterm, one student talked openly about what it meant for him to be an Asian American male in the context of Stop-and-Frisk policies in New York City. He is a HipHoppa whose friends are mostly Latino and Black. While he identifies with and as them, as a man of color, he is not targeted for Stop and Frisk. What does this mean? was the question he asked frequently. This is a rather typical exchange in my classrooms. What was not typical, however, about this particular incident was that I decided to talk to colleagues about what I was witnessing, something I rarely do. When I told my colleagues about the kind of reading/writing/thinking that was happening in this class, the only response I ever heard was: but is his prose correct? How’s his grammar? And that’s it. All of these things that students are politicizing and all these fools can talk about is grammar. Even more problematically, the Asian man is a second-generation Chinese-American, but my colleagues assumed he was FOB—fresh off the boat. Based on European/Ellis Island histories of American assimilation and upward mobility, it has not occurred to them that second-generation immigrants are not living the same high life, have a critique of race, and are highly literate in American codes.
I stopped talking to my colleagues about my students and my pedagogy on that day. When I think through what I am seeing in my classrooms, I take my thoughts, excitements, and ponderings elsewhere… and I plan to keep it that way. I have talked to my colleagues across the country about this young man and unlike my local colleagues, they have been fascinated that a first-year freshman took on the research task that he did. The student decided to do a qualitative study to better understand multiracial, New York college students’ experiences of and perspectives on police profiling. He specifically interviewed (using a semi-structured protocol) white, Asian, Latin@, and Black students, a decision motivated by his quest to see and hear what it means to be allied as an Asian man not targeted for profiling. How could he understand this and more, importantly, how might he ensure that his relative privilege not block his own criticality? Like with all qualitative studies, you just don’t know what might happen when you get out there in the down and dirty…
For Harriet released a video yesterday, “Black Women OU Students Discuss SAE, Race and the University,” interviewing three young Black women at the University of Oklahoma: Aubriana Busby (Junior), Chelsea Davis (Sophomore), and Ashley Hale (senior), all students involved with OU Unheard. I was delighted to watch and hear these interviews as well as the general footage that we have seen in the past week from Black student protesters on the campus.
When I first tried to publish “ ‘This the ConscienceRebel’: Class Solidarity, Congregational Capital, and Discourse as Activism in the Writing of Black Female College Students,” I must admit that I was taken aback by white resistance in composition studies— the field to which I am most closely aligned by nature of the work that I do but certainly not by the nature of my politics , aesthetics, or pedagogies. I was not surprised that the white editors saw the work— a text that focuses on working class Black female college students— as irrelevant to the wider field. But, I must admit: I was surprised that it was Black female scholars in the field who gave the white editors rhetorical ammunition.
It was Black female reviewers who brought up the point that most professors reading the article would be white and have mostly white students and so would not be able to relate to the content. Yes, you heard that right. It was Black female professors who made that claim. And I shouldn’t have to tell you that the white editors went to town on that right there. Besides the fact that it undermines all Black women when Black women see themselves as tangential to educational research, the idea that the majority of college writing classrooms today mostly enroll white, middle class students IS FALSE! That’s not historically accurate and it certainly does not apply to an era where higher education gets browner and browner every year. Whiteness in this field gets maintained by scholars of color as much as it gets maintained by white scholars and it’s time we start talking about it.