Monthly Archives: April 2013

All That We Are

So I realize I’ve been discussing a lot of what is wrong or what can be better about my profession or myself or my school and not as much about what is good and right. This post is about what is good and right.

On Sunday, I took the members of Sigma Tau Delta, the English honor society, to Asheville for new member induction.  We usually have a more formal induction on campus with members of the faculty present, but at a recent Coffee and Conversation (biweekly informal chit chat time between English profs and students), we hatched the idea of taking induction on the road to the coolest town in the South. Seven students, Wheeler, and I drove the 90 minutes to Asheville (yes, we are really lucky to live that close) in the pouring rain (our plan to wear cute spring things abandoned) on Sunday and we had a wonderful time.

Lunch at Doc Chey’s, a fabulous Thai place, where we had giant bowls of noodles and real, house-made ginger ale. Induction at Malaprop’s, a wonderful independent bookstore — we recited our vow/pledge in front of a shelf of travel books. Smelling and buying at Asheville Tea and Spice Exchange — we reveled in the smells of tea and salt and sugar and spices. Chocolate and conversation at French Broad Chocolate Lounge — we drank liquid truffles and ate creme brulee and talked and talked.

The whole time these juniors and seniors, the beloved birds of the English department nest, demonstrated, naturally and effortlessly, all the things that we list as objectives and goals for our students. They discussed the Boston Bombings and how terrorism is defined, taking into account race, ethnicity, and religion. They were so happy to be in a town where everything they ate/bought was local, fair trade, and/or organic and they could articulate why fair trade is important to them. They made jokes and told funny stories and talked about wanting wombats and sloths for pets. They are interesting, quirky, thoughtful, knowledgeable critical thinkers.  They are funny and charming and curious about the world. They are, to paraphrase William Joyce, all that we have, all that we are, and all that we will ever be.  And in a week, we will tell some of them goodbye. We’ll watch them leave our nest, and we’ll cry and we’ll miss them.

But we’ll also know they can fly.

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Posted by on April 30, 2013 in Uncategorized


Be The Change You Want to See In Your University?

I turn in my tenure portfolio this summer, and my decision is set for February. I really want to get tenure. I want to be tenured so I can be more radical.

I’m a bit worried about radicalism until I have that security of tenure. I’m a bit worried about publishing this blog post. I want to do my part to “be the change,” but I’m afraid, too. (See this recent post on bravery in higher education.)

My radicalism is rather relative, I imagine. I teach at a small, private, Christian university in the South. My radical desires are things taken for granted at a lot of other schools. I want a campus policy against bullying that includes bullying based on sexual orientation, and I want campus-wide Safe Zone training. I want a more comprehensive sexual assault policy that includes an explanation of consent and stickers with numbers and resources in all the bathrooms. And I want mandatory professional development for all professors, tenured and otherwise, through our on-campus Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning.  (I’ll work on open access issues later.)

Radical Desire #1 — I’ve discussed the origin of Neighbors for Equality in a previous post. Collyn Warner and Tyler McCall taught me the value of activism, the change each of us can make in our communities and in our own lives. After Amendment One passed, Neighbors for Equality switched focus to classrooms — how to address bullying in schools and to get sexual orientation added to non-harassment policies. Additionally, a group of faculty, staff, and a couple of students have founded a group we’re calling the Justice League (a joke that stuck) to tackle issues on campus. We’re working on Safe Zone training, on campus-wide sensitivity training, and on making sure students know about our non-harrassment policy. So far we are underground, but we’re meeting with a program director next week and we hope that leads to some visibility and action.  For now, we made our own Safe Zone signs to put on our office doors and students are responding and talking to us. (One sign made its way to a local coffee shop!)  And we are inviting an alum who is a member of both the religious and LGBT communities to speak in a forum next year.

Radical Desire #2 — People are nice on this campus. We like each other, we’re friendly, we get to know each other. And I think that is a major reason that no one wants to admit that sexual assault happens on our campus. It’s a Christian school — kids don’t get drunk and get assaulted here! But they do. We hear it too often. And victims are afraid to report sexual assault because it often happens at parties. If they admit they were drinking, they will be fined $200 and get a strike on their record. So they don’t report. Our student handbook has tips on avoiding rape, but they are tips that assume that rapes only happen in dark, isolated areas by complete strangers.  The handbook does not outline what constitutes sexual consent. We don’t have those stickers on bathroom mirrors with numbers and resources that other universities have. I know that people care and want to help and want to prevent rape or help those who have been raped. But it’s such a hush-hush culture and rapes are vastly underreported.

Radical Desire #3 — I have been helped so much in my teaching by colleagues, by CETL, by the members of #FYCChat on Twitter. In the past couple of years, I have completely changed the way I teach (see previous post). I couldn’t have done it without great mentors like Gayle Price, Janet Land, Jennifer Buckner, Shana Hartman, and Abby Nance. I couldn’t have done it without resource help from Emily Robertson in CETL. And it’s not done by any means, of course. I plan to meet with Emily several times this summer to change my project-based classes to problem-based classes. I get great ideas every week from #FYCChat led by Lee Skallerup (@readywriting). And I want this to be the norm. I want everyone to want to learn cool and wonderful things, but not everyone wants to do that. I understand that people are stretched thin. We all teach at least a 4/4, many are program directors, most are sponsors of an honor or social organization, all do committee and shared governance work. But universities are in a transition moment, a liminal space. We have the opportunity to be innovative and to restructure ourselves for the 21st century. And that takes professional development and trying something new.

So these are my goals in addition to continuing to improve my classes and to writing a book on imagined communities within 18th century England and on Twitter and to my family responsibilities. And until I have tenure, I’ll write blog posts and work with people underground and surround myself with Justice League and my mentors and colleagues and friends and family. Because when you stand your ground, you don’t always stand alone.

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Posted by on April 25, 2013 in Uncategorized