Advice For Graduate Students With Chronic Health Conditions

ZarrowSarah Zarrow is a PhD student in Hebrew & Judaic Studies and History (full biography at the end).  In this post, Sarah concludes her two-part series on barriers to health care for graduate students by offering tips for students (and their professors) who suffer from chronic health conditions.  These tips may prove useful to any graduate student who gets sick at any point during their graduate training.  If you haven’t already, check out the first part of this series.

A Tip Sheet For Helping Students With Chronic Health Conditions

My experiences detailed in the last post have led me to think about what could have been done differently in my situation. I have compiled a list of tips that I think might help everyone in the academy think through issues of graduate student health and well-being. It is by no means exhaustive, and I would appreciate feedback and/or additions in the comments section below.

A caveat—this is not a tip sheet for recognizing students’ ailments or problems. There are other resources for that, and likely campus-wide policies, as well.

For Professors

  • This should be obvious, but graduate students are adults. Beyond our health concerns, we may be raising families, caring for parents, and financially supporting others. Often these needs are in conflict with each other; be aware of this.
  • -t is very likely (though not guaranteed) that a graduate student who comes to you in distress knows about campus resources, especially health services, and may have already used them. Health services may be part of the problem (as it was in my case).
  • Asking “how are you” in academia has two expected responses: “fine,” and “busy.” If a student seems not okay, ask, “are you okay?” as long as you’re in a situation where you are willing to hear the answer, and speaking honestly won’t embarrass or further distress the student.
  • A student’s confiding in you is not an opportunity to compare that student to others. It doesn’t matter if you have had other depressed/pregnant/anxious students—listen to the student in front of you.
  • Illness makes financial woes compound, even with health insurance. This, in turn, may force the student to take on more work, either TA-ships or freelance work. In turn, this may delay the time to degree. Again, simple belief is necessary. We know our financial needs, and we may not want to share all of them with you. If you have, or come across, paid opportunities that might help a student, pass them on.
  • There is no “life getting in the way” of work. Work is a part of life. The more we recognize that no person leads (or should lead) a fully compartmentalized life, the healthier we will all be.
  • Believe your students. Not all health issues are visible, and a person who seems well may not be. Resist the urge to tell anyone that they see too many doctors, or might be hysterical. Recognize the gendered implications behind accusing someone of weakness or hysteria. Instead, try praising someone for looking after their health.
  • Dealing with chronic health issues takes an enormous amount of time—not only time spent not feeling well, but also time in the doctor’s office, on the phone with insurance companies, and making alternative arrangements. The exhaustion that results from this compounds the problems, so try to be aware and kind.

For Students Dealing With Health Difficulties

  • If you aren’t finding the resources that you need at school or at home, seek out online communities. I have been helped enormously by ChronicBabe.com (aimed at women, but I think many elements are useful to everyone).
  • It’s a pain, but you’ll have to educate your peers, professors, and often, doctors. Raise your voice when your “free” healthcare is praised. As much as you can, seek information about costs of procedures and tests in advance, and tell your doctors why you are asking. If you feel comfortable doing so, let your professors know when you’re not available due to medical reasons.
  • Remember that there is someone out there who faces similar issues to you, who may be able to offer guidance. This person is probably not your advisor, and probably does not sit on your committee. S/he might be a more advanced student, a staff member, or a faculty member. If you don’t feel comfortable filing complaints or asking for accommodations alone, enlist one of these people to help you. Solidarity is key.

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Biography

Sarah Zarrow will receive her Ph.D this spring from the joint program of the Skirball Department of Hebrew & Judaic Studies and the History Department. She concentrates on modern European Jewish history, with a particular focus on Jews in Eastern and Central Europe and on cultural and linguistic practices. She also holds an MA in education. Sarah has taught at NYU and Eugene Lang College/The New School, and is at work on many digital projects. She can be found online at sarahellenzarrow.com.

Grad Student Stereotypes And Barriers To Proper Health Care

ZarrowSarah Zarrow is a PhD student in Hebrew & Judaic Studies and History (full biography at the end).  In this two-part series, Sarah describes her six-year-long struggle to find proper health care for a mysterious, chronic condition that followed stress and tragedy in her life.  In this first post, her painful story highlights the inadequacies of university health services (at least for graduate students), and lack of concerns graduate programs hold for students’ well-being.  Also, check out Part II!

Graduate Student Stereotypes And Barriers To Proper Health Care — A 6-Year Health Mystery

Kyle

This is not a story about dating in academia, though it begins as one. I first met Kyle after he was released from police custody after being arrested for participating in a student-led action. I was immediately drawn to the way he didn’t seem to care about what anyone else thought, his anarchic style. As we got to know each other, this impression was only confirmed. He was clearly an oddball, and I loved that. But as our relationship progressed, I wondered if his “nutty professor” persona (which others named, as well) was perhaps not serving Kyle well. He could be moody and mean, and demanded that I fit myself into his life, and not ask for anything. He was difficult, but on the other hand, he was clearly brilliant. After all, who was I to know what it was like to write a dissertation, to be under that constant pressure?

Kyle eventually broke up with me, claiming that I was an impossible person to love. After months of bad treatment, the relationship was over, and the grief mixed with a sense that a burden had lifted. But our breakup occurred just days before my second-year qualifying exams, as well as a large rainstorm that sent wet chunks of ceiling raining down onto my computer. My landlady fixed my ceiling. I took my exams through tears, and passed out immediately afterwards, exhausted from the stresses piled on top of each other.

A few days later, I woke up in the middle of the night, feeling woozy and feverish. I chalked it up to some bad food, and perhaps to the combination of stress and coffee. I got up and walked across my room in the direction of the bathroom. I washed my face but didn’t feel better; as I opened the door to my room to head back to bed, I must have fainted. I came to on my floor with my roommate beside me. We figured it was some odd stomach illness, and she took care of me for the next few days. The approaching summer and my research trip abroad helped me perk up a bit, and I headed to Poland to conduct research and improve my language skills.

A String Of Doctors

When I returned in the fall, I was feeling much better. My anxiety had lifted, and I hadn’t fainted again. But my health adventures were only beginning. Still suspecting that my incident in the spring was a sign of something larger, I headed to various doctors at the Student Health Center (SHC). By my retrospective count, I saw seven different doctors. Not all specialties exist within the SHC, and some appointments and tests necessitated outside doctors. After receiving multiple large bills and arguing with my insurance, I realized that I was being referred not only out of the building, but out of network. By then, I had racked up a few hundred dollars in medical charges. I took on some extra teaching and tutoring to pay them off. No diagnosis was ever made. I was referred to a neurologist. Then to a cardiologist. Then to another neurologist. At one point, my primary care physician found an abnormally high cortisol level. But, she demurred, graduate students were all stressed out, and clinically high was “actually” normal. I was given anti-anxiety medication, which has certainly helped many people, but which I now suspect might have masked my underlying problem.

Eventually, I stopped seeing doctors, as no one seemed able to tell me if I even had a “real” problem. More than a few doctors implied that my pains and fatigue, as well as the fainting, were “all in my head.” After all—I was a stressed-out graduate student, yet living, supposedly, a life of leisure, sitting at home and thinking and writing all day. At least this is how some of my professors, without ever asking us, described the graduate student life. Doctors might as well have said “hypochondriac” or “hysterical.” I was relieved on the occasions when I had a concrete, diagnosable injury or illness. I was thrilled when an X-ray revealed that my shoulder pain wasn’t a wandering womb or a sign of inanity, but rather a fracture. I began to identify as a sick person, reliant on others for care and treatment, despite knowing that I was actually quite resilient and capable.

I focused instead on my mental health, and on small things that made me happy. I dated again, I began dancing, I began to believe that Kyle had been wrong, and that I had accepted his judgment of me because he was smarter (as he had told me), and because I had chalked up his quirks to typical oddball nutty professor behavior. After we split up, and he was subsequently kicked out of graduate school and devoted himself to working on his “manifesto” (his term, only half-joking, for his dissertation), I began to see that the problems in our relationship were perhaps not mine alone, and that he was truly suffering. But being so burned out from the experience of being together and breaking up, I chose to withdraw from most contact with him, rather than further engage and risk being hurt more.

Loss And Reactions

The year went on, and I began to prepare for my comprehensive exams. I came home from school one day, sat down at my computer, and was interrupted by a call from my roommate. Zach told me that Kyle’s house was on fire, and that it looked like Kyle had set it; he was currently in the hospital with severe burns. The next few hours and days went by in a blur of hospital waiting rooms, calls to family, and trying to remember to do things like shower and eat. As for work, I thought that I triaged well. I somehow graded exams, returned library books that were due, and let my professors and supervisors know what was going on. I kept my notes short, as I preferred correspondence from my own students—personal emergency, friend in the ICU, will be delayed with all work. In short, I think I handled the situation well from a professional standpoint. Eventually, Kyle succumbed to his injuries, and died after four days in a coma.

Colleagues’ and professors’ reactions ranged from sympathetic to cruel, and it is only in retrospect that I can see the cruel ones as part of a larger problem. My advisor, with whom I enjoy a friendly but not warm relationship, was the only faculty member I encountered whose reaction didn’t leave me reeling. I went to meet with him, and he simply told me, after a brief inquiry into my own health and a reminder to avail myself of counseling services if necessary, to take the time I needed. I told him I would reschedule my exams, and I did. We never spoke of it again, though I’m certain I could have approached him for a chat had I wanted to.

The professor for whom I was grading, when I went to talk to him, told me “Well, Kyle was a very troubled young man.” As if that was a good explanation, one that would encourage me not to dwell on the matter. A fellow Ph.D. student, when I told him what had happened, tried to console me with the thought that “at least you have a lot of work to get you through it.”

By far, the most painful response was from a professor whom I thought would be my ally, as I knew that she had faced her share of travails in the academy. I was taking a course with her at the time, and I emailed her to let her know what had happened – that I would not be in class that week, and would hopefully return the next. She emailed back to tell me that we needed to meet, specifically to discuss my course participation. I asked if we might postpone the meeting, or at least meet on a day when I would already be in the city. In no uncertain terms, she let me know that I would need to meet her near her house, over an hour commute for me. Over coffee, after hearing a brief version of what I was going through, she proceeded to tell me all about the problems her son had been facing, and how it was so difficult to deal with young men. I was floored as I realized that I had become her sounding board, and even more shocked as I realized that she considered this an act of empathy.

After that meeting, I chose not to talk about my experience with anyone in the academy. I was lucky that I had support from outside of it: my friends and family, and a great therapist. I decided not to investigate whether I was allowed to talk time off for bereavement or sickness; as I was only serving as a grader that term, I could manage my workload. The acute emotional pain dulled, and I was able to take and pass my exams, and to finish most of my incompletes by the middle of the summer, putting me “behind” (whatever that means in graduate school) by only a few months.

The Cost Of Finding Proper Care

Though I began to feel better mentally, more like myself, my physical health started to take some mysterious turns for the worse. I spent that June in Vienna for research, sharing a lovely apartment and comforting myself with small archives and a peaceful, easy city. My last night there, I woke up suddenly in the middle of the night. I was disoriented and flushed. I knew that I needed to get out of my loft bed immediately. Thinking that perhaps I had food poisoning, I climbed down the ladder and tried to make my way into the hall. All I remember next is my roommate cradling my head, as I lay on the floor, my face throbbing. I had fallen and hit my head, given myself a black eye, and put my tooth through my lip. It is only recently that I realized that I could have died, not from hitting my head, but from what caused it.

But figuring out the cause would now take on the feeling of a second job. Had I stayed in Vienna, I would have seen a doctor, but my research brought me next to a city known more for bureaucracy, bribery, and spurious “cures” than for good health care. So, I figured that I would take my chances and see a doctor once I came home. When that time came, I was again feeling much better, except for my mouth, which was still throbbing. Our health insurance doesn’t cover dental care, though, so I put off seeing anyone about it. I didn’t need a root canal, luckily, which would have cost about 1,000 dollars – money that I didn’t have. But, that money nevertheless ended up going to cover my hospital expenses when another doctor was concerned that I had epilepsy. During my four days of constant monitoring, I graded exams, and didn’t tell my professors where I was. I wasn’t sick, I felt fine, and I was starting to feel as though I might have exhausted the goodwill that had been extended to me. We all know a person with so many problems that we wonder whether they bring it on themselves. I didn’t want to be that person.

In the end, it took three more years to find a doctor who listened, and a diagnoses (and treatment) that made sense. My health’s ups and downs, and the care they sometimes required, strained many relationships, and broke one. Luckily, at an unexpected moment, a new doctor thought to repeat some tests that I had years ago, including the one that prompted my PCP to say that “all graduate students are stressed.” My levels were so far off that it was now almost obvious what had been happening to me.

I had planned to graduate in December of this year, but my extensions and emergencies made that impossible. May graduation deadlines loom, and I’m determined to walk this spring. But graduating will also mean losing my healthcare, and purchasing a cheaper plan for myself, so I have been trying to find as many answers as possible in the time that remains.

When I went back to the SHC to try to transfer my care there, and my files from my out-of-network doctor, I was met with condescension and suspicion. I had been fainting? Perhaps I was stressed out and should take Xanax. I had been dizzy? Had I spoken to a therapist? Perhaps I was experiencing symptoms of psychosis. Was I stressed? I confirmed that I felt some stress, trying to finish my dissertation, and that the past few years had been stressful for me. “Right,” the doctor said, “but, basically, grad student stuff, right?” She continued typing, not meeting my eye. Knowing that I would likely not see her again, I decided to say what was on my mind. “I’m stressed,” I said, “because I am 33 years old, with 33,000 dollars in debt, and am facing not having a job next year. My former boyfriend killed himself, my roommate died, and I have been falling down and getting concussions. I don’t know if that’s ‘normal’ for a graduate student, and I don’t care. I came here to try to take care of my health, not to get a lecture in the wonders of Xanax.” She met my eye for the first time in our appointment. “Oh,” she said softly, and I had some hope that she might stop typing. “Oh, that must be hard. Have you seen counseling services?”

Lessons Learned

For many people with some mysterious or chronic condition, going to doctor after doctor in order to find the culprit for their health problems is just part of the process of getting proper treatment. It’s not news that our healthcare system is set up to discourage good primary care and treating the patient, and her body, as a whole system, rather than as a series of parts—a heart, a brain, a nervous system. Getting proper care becomes a job in itself, and “overuse” of the system draws suspicion. Student medical services designed for 18-22 year olds do not serve many graduate students well (they probably don’t serve undergrads well, either), as I also know from my fellow students’ stories.

But beyond the issues common within our American system, and beyond bad and overworked doctors, who exist everywhere, are a set of assumptions about graduate students that seem to do us more harm than good. And there are associated stigmas: not working enough (sometimes known as taking care of your health) means you’re lazy, and not serious enough of a scholar. Going to “a lot” of doctors (especially if you’re a woman, it seems), carries another stigma—that of hysteria and hypochondria. Of course, most people told me to take care of my health first. But there often seemed to be a footnote to that, which read “only if it doesn’t interfere with your timeline, your due dates, and only if it doesn’t inconvenience me.”

It is these stigmas, which go far beyond the academy, combined with stereotypes about graduate students, which together serve as barriers to proper care. When health professionals do not see graduate students as individuals, and as people in distress, but rather as collections of oddball tendencies and stress, proper diagnosis and treatment are impossible.

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Biography

Sarah Zarrow will receive her Ph.D this spring from the joint program of the Skirball Department of Hebrew & Judaic Studies and the History Department. She concentrates on modern European Jewish history, with a particular focus on Jews in Eastern and Central Europe and on cultural and linguistic practices. She also holds an MA in education. Sarah has taught at NYU and Eugene Lang College/The New School, and is at work on many digital projects. She can be found online at sarahellenzarrow.com.

Jackson Wright Shultz Reflects On Having A Lavender Vita

shultzJackson Wright Shultz (@WriteRadically) is an adjunct professor of writing at New England College (see his full biography at the end).  In this guest blog post, Jackson reflects on the advice he received to de-queer his CV, presumably to avoid the penalties of having a “lavender vita.”  But, Jackson notes: “If I remove all of the queer references from my CV, there will be nothing left.”

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Vitae Transsexualis

When I was an undergraduate, a well-meaning professor told me that I should remove all references to LGBTQ activities, awards, and publications from my CV. She told me that including these references could potentially bar me from fair consideration for scholarships, graduate school admissions, and employment opportunities. I wasn’t shocked by the suggestion–I had heard it many times before–I was, however, surprised to hear this recommendation from a professor of women’s studies. I contemplated her advice for a moment, then told her, “If I remove all of the queer references from my CV, there will be nothing left.”

Her suggestion highlighted the precariousness of being a transgender scholar: my career would only be safe if I refocused my research on topics more palatable to perspective employers. Yet, my leadership positions had primarily been in LGBTQ organizations, most of the grants and scholarships that I had received were contingent upon my involvement in LGBTQ communities, and the vast majority of my publications were related to trans studies. A microcosm of gender studies, trans studies is a field that cisgender scholars largely avoid. By publishing within the field of trans studies, I automatically risk raising potential employers’ suspicions about my own gender identity, meaning that I could easily join the 47% of trans folks who report adverse hiring outcomes on the basis of their gender identity/expression.

For the next several months, I contemplated my professor’s suggestion. If I abandon my position with the Gay-Straight Alliance, it would free up enough time for me to join clubs that look better on my CV, I thought. I perused a campus directory of student organizations, but somehow putting “President of the Satanic Alliance” or “Treasurer of the Feminist Emancipation of The Uterus Society” (FETUS for short) on my CV didn’t seem any more agreeable. I briefly considered joining the College Republicans, but the effort involved in scraping the Obama bumper stickers off my car dissuaded me. When final exams arrived, my preoccupation with my CV was replaced by studying, and in the chaos of graduating and beginning a master’s program, I tucked my CV troubles away in a far corner of my mind where they resided untouched for several years.

Recently, I began applying to doctoral programs. As I updated my CV, I was reminded of my former professor’s suggestion. My CV had grown by several pages, but like that mysterious, fuzzy, once-vegetable growing in the back of the fridge, it only seemed to get queerer with age. Deciding I should at least attempt to follow my professor’s advice, I deleted all LGBTQ references from the document. I played with the font and margins for a while, but finally concluded that while admissions committees might not be impressed by my papers on the dialogical possibilities of sadomasochism, they would likewise not appreciate a tamer CV in size 56 font. I compromised by deleting several entries referring to conference presentations I gave on transmasculine sexual pleasure, but found there was little more I could sacrifice in my attempt to appeal to the sensibilities of graduate admissions committees. I am currently in the liminal space of awaiting admissions responses, and it remains to be seen how this decision will impact my applications.

As I approach my terminal degree, I have contemplated refocusing my research away from trans studies in order to make my CV more appealing to future hiring committees. The prospects of obtaining a tenure-track position are slim for anyone, and my controversial CV is not likely to aid me in this pursuit. Alas, even if I were to wipe all traces of LGBTQ study and involvement from my CV, like many trans folk, I still live and work in a state where I can be fired on the basis of my gender identity/expression. Since my acceptance within a given academic community could disappear upon discovery or disclosure of my transgender status, I have ultimately decided that my most viable option is to be forthcoming about my LGBTQ-related activities and publications, and hope for the best. My (perhaps naïve) hope is that any institution that hires me with the words “transgender” and “queer” plastered all over my CV will be less likely to fire me on the basis of my gender identity or expression. These may not be the words hiring committees want to see, but when all is said and done, they’re probably still less controversial than “FETUS Treasurer.”

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Biography

Jackson Wright Shultz is an adjunct professor of writing at New England College. He obtained his MALS degree from Dartmouth College (2014), and will begin his Doctorate of Education in the fall. He recently gave a TEDx Talk on transgender liberation and gender equity. His personal research interests include technology law, social media studies, women and gender studies, critical race studies, queer theory, composition pedagogy, higher education administration, and oral history. His first book, Trans/Portraits, will be released in October 2015 from the University Press of New England.

Dr. Adrienne Milner On Being Invisibly Disabled In Academia

Dr. Adrienne Milner is a teachng assistant professor in sociology at the University of Alabama Birmingham (see her full biography at the end of this post).  In her guest blog post below, Dr. Milner writes about navigating academia with an “invisible” disability, driven, in part, by her determination to “tough it out” as a former athlete.

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Transitioning from Playing through to Working through the Pain: Athletics, Positive Deviance, and Being Invisibly Disabled in Academia

milner head shotBefore winter break, we had a college-wide faculty meeting with the Dean of Arts and Sciences to discuss the events surrounding the decision to eliminate football, rifle, and bowling at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). As someone who researches race and sex disparities in sport and teaches many student-athletes, I felt the need to express my support and concerns for my students during the meeting. I felt a bit nervous speaking out as a young, non-tenured, cisgender woman, but wasn’t aware of how visibly upset I must have been until after we adjourned. The dean came up to me, gave me what has been dubbed “the Christian side hug,” and asked if I was okay.

I was emotional because I know what it feels like to have a lifelong athletic career taken away. The summer after my freshman year of college, a car accident prevented me from continuing to play college basketball. During my time teaching as a graduate student at the University of Miami (UM), I witnessed a similar sense of loss among student-athletes who were suspended by the NCAA because of the Nevin Shapiro scandal. One of my brightest and most charismatic students, DeQuan Jones, was forced to obtain counsel and sue the NCAA after his indefinite suspension. He won his case and was eventually reinstated. His and many other football and basketball players’ personal reputations were damaged, however, and they suffered extreme losses in their professional draft stock.

I admire DeQuan for standing up to the NCAA and the UAB football team for expressing raw emotion during their meeting with President Watts after he cancelled their program. I was never as brave; throughout the majority of my academic career, I was silent about my car accident and my resulting disability.

Those of us who study sport are well aware of the positive deviant messages athletes receive and internalize from an early age, such as playing through pain, not letting the team down, and winning at all costs. “Positive deviance” is behavior that departs from norms but is interpreted as appropriate, and in sport, often results in hyper-compliance to sport values such as seeking distinction, taking risks, and challenging limits (see Hughes and Coakley, 1991). For me, conforming to this dominant sport ideology began at 10 years of age when I finished a summer league basketball game after breaking my foot, and continued to manifest throughout my athletic career and beyond. No matter how much I was suffering, I put my game face on, which in my academic life consisted of maintaining a smile and performance of an energetic, friendly, and positive self. Fooling my professors, students, and colleagues into believing I was able-bodied resulted in my personal satisfaction of “winning” at my disability.

It took me a year and a half after I was hired at UAB to disclose my disability to colleagues. Interestingly, it was in the form of a party invitation which read:

Please join us for dinner and a toast as we celebrate The Settlement of Milner v. (Insurance Company)

Many of our friends and colleagues are unaware that growing up, Adrienne was a competitive three-sport athlete (she played basketball overseas, consistently contended for AAU national championships, and was recruited to play both basketball and lacrosse in college). However, when Adrienne was 18 years old, she was in a car accident that ended her collegiate athletic career and left her with permanent injuries and chronic pain, After over a decade of litigation, the parties have come to an agreement that validates Adrienne’s suffering and course of medical treatment. Let’s honour Adrienne for what she has accomplished despite these circumstances and support her as she closes this chapter of her life!

Even the last sentence of the invitation conforms to dominant sport ideology, suggesting that I have conquered my disability and moved beyond my physical limitations.

After my car accident, it took me my remaining 3 years of college and another 2 years of graduate school before I registered with disability services, which was not nearly as helpful as it could have been earlier in my education (e.g. using time and a half to complete a 72 hour comprehensive exam with dislocated shoulders and hips, herniated disks, and migraines for me would have been more detrimental than beneficial). Not only did I forego years of services that I was legally entitled to, not disclosing my disability may have resulted in a misunderstanding of my character since presentation of self is so important in academics’ teaching and professional careers. Because of my injuries, some days, I am unable to brush my hair, tie my shoes, or stand for long periods of time. When I am in pain, I generally look rough, act distant, and may vomit as a physical response to the trauma my body is experiencing. Without explanation, this behavior is at best, odd, and at worst, signifies a substance abuse problem.

I’m not sure why I waited so long to tell the people who I saw every day, and who were generally kind, thoughtful, and understanding, that I was disabled. Perhaps it was the competitor in me that never wants to ask for help, or the fear that I would be viewed as incapable of performing my job. Disclosing an invisible disability is difficult, and may not be the right decision in all situations or for all academics. However, sometimes concealing it may also have consequences. I am fortunate to have a wonderful advisor who understands the sport mentality and makes a point to ask how I am feeling, supportive colleagues who covered a week of my classes and sent flowers after I had complications from back injections, and empathetic students who don’t mind when I teach in “tree pose” or pop my shoulders and hips in place during class. I am also fortunate to have witnessed honest communication about what one is entitled to from our football team and from DeQuan, who despite what he unjustly endured, ended up playing professional basketball. That being said, the athlete in me will still enjoy a sense of victory if anyone reading is surprised that I am disabled.

References

Hughes, Robert and Coakley, Jay. 1991. “Positive Deviance Among Athletes: The Implications of Overconformity to the Sport Ethic.”  Sociology of Sport Journal 8: 307-325.

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Biography

Dr. Adrienne Milner is a teaching assistant professor of sociology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Dr. Milner’s research addresses issues of equity in terms of race and ethnicity and sex and gender in sports and political contexts. Specifically, she examines disparities in access to sport participation and analyzes the costs and benefits of participation for individuals with complex and diverse identities. Her other work focuses on racial and sexual attitudes, policy preferences, and inequality in the Obama era. She has a forthcoming book with Dr. Jomills Henry Braddock, II on segregation in sport.

When Internationalization Fails To Diversify Higher Education

In this guest post, Dr. Ali Khorsandi Taskoh (see his full biography at the end) criticizes the efforts of Canadian colleges and universities to recruit international students overwhelmingly from wealthy nations and families.  He argues that such practices do little to contribute to diversity in higher education.

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The Dirty Little Secret of Internationalization of Higher Education

Ali's PhotoInternationalization has become a significant feature of the higher educational landscape in North America. Canadian universities aim to become the 21st century leader in international education. These institutions are planning to double the population of international students in the coming five years. The government has changed immigration policies in order to attract more international students. Yet, Canadian institutions are struggling to attract top talent foreign students. Their administrators are just chasing and hunting applicants from around the world to generate more financial resources to run institutions efficiently.

“Diversity” and “inclusion” inherently are significant components of international education. The university is a place where diversity and acceptance of diversity must have a chance to flourish. Internationalization is a great way to foster and increase the diversity on campuses and the institutions. Internationalization and diversity initiatives commonly have shared aims of enhancing cultural awareness and understanding in higher education. Diversity is the central reason why universities have put a priority on internationalization and its different initiatives and strategies worldwide. The main educational undertaking of today’s universities is supposed to be to produce graduates who are sensitive to social diversity and attuned to the contemporary realities of globalization. Real diversity is supposed to make campus life rich and educational experience richer for students, faculty, and staff.

Diversity is presumed to be the major part and component of internationalization in Canadian institutions because of the multicultural environment of the country.  But the existing policies and programs, from recruiting international students to exchange programs and partnership, are more aligned with homogenization rather persuasive inclusions. The strategic plans of internationalization in Canadian universities are commonly committed to selectively target students from particular countries and areas of strategic importance to the policy makers. To me, the term “selectively” in practice implies admission of international students from a few economic-booming countries and selective wealthy families.

The Consequences Of “Selective” Internationalization

These practices are problematic in so many ways. First, selective commitment to diversity cannot properly support excellence, equal shot, equal opportunity, equal access, and quality in community and campus which I am firmly committed to. The selective commitment of the internationalization plans may lead to a homogenized culture and discourse of inclusiveness on campuses and classes. The present trend of selective admissions policies may lead internationalization initiatives to privilege certain groups of students over others.

The other effect of this selective attitude of internationalization is that post-secondary education in some parts of the world has been glorified at the expense of other parts. Those privileged areas either could be “sellers,” predominantly rich Northern countries of the West, or “buyers,” predominantly developing but rich nations commonly in East Asia. The recently emerged market of higher education in a few countries and high flow of international students from these countries has led to a homogenized diversity on the Canadian campuses, departments, and classes. Accordingly, a kind of diversity that directs departments and universities, for example, in Ontario to recruit 60% of its international students from the same country with the same culture, the same language, and the same sub-culture. This is not realistic and is wrong in many ways, and is simply not convincing to most of the academicians and faculty community.

The issue is not just focusing on a few specific nations to recruit more foreign students, but that student exchange programs are only limited to some developed and privileged countries. Among the two hundred countries of the globe, the students’ exchange programs are mostly limited and dominated to a few developed and privileged countries (e.g., USA, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, England, China, Brazil, etc.). Beside these fortunate countries, the institutions also need to target students and faculty exchange programs to institutions in developing and less developed countries.

Another example of the homogenized discourse of diversity is that, according to an official report [PDF] of Association of Universities and Canadian Colleges (AUCC) in 2014, almost every institution in Canada has many collaborations and associations with institutions in a one specific country in East Asia just because that country is doing very well economically. And the Canadian universities will keep engaging in dialogue with peers at institutions with a particular focus on some selective countries in East Asia.  Perhaps the market logic and financial pressure drive the university’s administration to focus on a few particular countries, but the argument is that it may prevent many qualified local and international students from middle- and low-income families and non-privileged countries from attending the university. The issue is, therefore, not merely the presence of many students from a certain part of the world on campuses or their dominant sub-cultures in students’ communities; the criticism is about the economic-political tendency of existing internationalization to homogenize the Canadian universities. In other words, the issue is not simply the homogenized culture of international students on campuses and classes; rather, it is also the dominant logic of homogenized discourse in off-campus internationalization activities.

Closing Thoughts

In closing, the universities’ current policies and procedures of internationalization have little to do with heterogenized diversity and persuasive inclusiveness. The hegemony and supremacy of current homogenized inclusiveness may exclude talented people from the less privileged parts of the world to get to good universities in North America. Canadian universities need to be more open to inclusion and diversity through their different initiatives of internationalization, particularly recruiting international students and exchanging faculty. It is expected that internationalization in Canadian universities, as an element of global public good, should reflect and support the diversity of greater society on campuses. Accordingly, the administrations and policy makers of Canadian universities need to go on the side of heterogeneity over homogeneity.

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Biography

Ali Khorsandi Taskoh (in Persian: علی خورسندی طاسکوه) holds a PhD in Educational Policy Studies, graduated in the spring of 2014 from The University of Western Ontario, Canada. His education, including both undergraduate and graduate, has been based on education in administration (B.A.), planning (M.A.), and policy (PhD). He has had the opportunity to be an educational researcher and department chair at the Institute for Social and Cultural Studies, based in Tehran, from 2003 to 2009. Dr. Khorsandi has conducted five research projects (with grant funds), published five books and several papers and book chapters. He has been the founder of an academic journal entitled, Interdisciplinary Studies in The Humanities (based in Tehran), and was the first deputy in chief and editor of this now top-tier national journal. He has also been a teaching assistant in the areas of policy and leadership, international education, professional education, and international mathematics at Western University from 2009 to 2014.

“Lighten Up!” Why Andrew Joseph Pegoda Is So Critical Of The World

AndrewAndrew Joseph Pegoda (@pegodaaj) is a PhD student in history at the University of Houston (full biography at the end).  He maintains a blog where he writes about history, racism, slavery, culture, the media, education, pedagogy, and writing.  Andrew has kindly shared his reflections on being critical of the world, which stems from his high expectations; but, he remains capable of appreciate beauty in the world.

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“Recognizing Beauty: Why I Am Critical and Have High Expectations,” by Andrew Joseph Pegoda

For an hour yesterday I was laying on my stomach with my arms stretched out and holding perfectly still inside a 3 million dollar MRI machine at M.D. Anderson located in a multi-billion (trillion?) dollar complex in the Medical Center located in Houston, Texas, in the United States, on this pale blue dot. I’ll be in this same machine next Friday, too.

While I was inside this machine, I was thinking about how absolutely incredible it is that we have such technology, made possible by science and research. That I’m inside a machine that can–to an almost perfect degree–measure and map everything in the area being scanned, my left hand in this case. That I have insurance that will cover this can and insurance to cover whatever needs to be done. And that the science exists to easily cure all kinds of things. And this made me think about the dozens of MRIs I have had the past several years, and the brain surgery, the heart/lung/chest surgery, the pelvis surgery, the growth hormone shots I took for a decade, and so much more. Science and doctors perform miracles all the time, and this is beautiful.

And this got me to thinking about how I am occasionally criticized for being too critical of the United States and focusing too much on the racism, sexism, heterosexism, cisgenderism, ablebodiedism, and anti-intellectualism, for example, that bother me so much and personally affect everyone. All of this is true and needs attention, much attention. I focus on the “bad things” in part because too few do. As long as I am pointedly asked: why do you focus on “so and so,” such a focus in necessary; however, this is not to say, I do not recognize the beauty that is in the world.

The fact that humans have mastered and understand, use, and reproduce complex systems of signs, symbols, and sounds to produce what we call language and meaning is beautiful and fascinating. That we can study the ambiguities of all of this through semiotics is a high point of human civilization.

And that I (and many others) can use this language on computers to write to world-wide audiences is a beautiful and unthinkable act looking at the scope of history.

And then I think about all of the wonderful music that is available and all of the associated special effects. This beautiful performance (also embedded directly below this paragraph) has particularly captured my interest. The choreography, lighting, camera angles, lyrics, and energy and that all of this was live:

And I think about all of the other authors and texts with which this performance and ones like it that are in dialogue with each other. (For example, See Transformative Authors and Texts – One Scholar’s List.)

And we mustn’t forget to mention the phenomenal Meryl Streep. The accomplishments of Oprah Winfrey (the only Black billionaire in the United States and one of nine in the World!). Or this family and their grassroots videos and YouTube channel.

And so much more. Just by being alive and being able to read this article, which requires electricity and a computer and all kinds of specialized memorization, makes you among the wealthiest, richest, luckiest, most talented/accomplished individuals who has ever taken a breath.

I also think about how incredibly lucky I am to have such a sweet, loving, incredibly smart and beautiful “partner in crime,” the one and only Dr. Trevor Lovejoy Pegoda:

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So I hope that people can see that I am professionally critical of our society’s and world’s problems because I have high expectations and so much hope. We have so much potential for beauty. We need to use it for good, to help others. Helping and loving others, celebrating achievements, and always demanding the best and sharing everything, that’s what life is about.

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Biography

Andrew Joseph Pegoda is a Ph.D. candidate (ABD) and Lecturer at the University of Houston in the Department of History. He is also a part-time instructor of History at Alvin Community College, where he teaches Texas History, United States History, and African American History. He is specializing in U.S. History using a Cultural Studies methodology with a focus on social and political minorities (namely those racialized as African American or gendered as female), cultural representations, and on the paradoxes between the proclaimed equality for all and actual inequality for many. He is also interested in digital history and digital humanities.

Dr. Mieke Beth Thomeer Reflects On Pregnancy On The Job Market

Mieke HeadshotDr. Mieke Beth Thomeer (@MiekeBeth) is in her first year as an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (see full biography at the end). In this guest post, Dr. Thomeer reflects on the challenges she faced while pregnant during her academic job search.  In finding little advice while she was on the job market, she offers her experience and tips to help others who are or will be pregnant on the academic job market.

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Pregnant on the Academic Job Market

Three hours after I found out I was pregnant in the fall of 2013, I received a phone call inviting me to give my first job talk. I rushed to my adviser’s office to get her advice on navigating the job market, although I chose not to tell her about my pregnancy yet because of how early the pregnancy was. My adviser gave me wonderful advice on how to navigate the campus visit. As one piece of advice, she told me to feel free to have a glass of wine with dinner during the interview if everyone else was, as it was a social thing to do. I nodded, but internally started worrying about what the job market would be like when pregnant.

When I got back to my office, I immediately turned to the internet, finding several blog posts about pregnancy and motherhood on the job market: being on the academic job market in your second trimester and trying to hide your bump with business clothes; being on the academic job market in your third trimester and not being able to hide being pregnant at all; finding out that you’re pregnant after accepting the job and needing to take the first semester off; and being on the academic job market while breastfeeding and needing accommodations for pumping. I had heard stories from an academic mentor about successfully interviewing in her eighth month. But I couldn’t find anything about interviewing in your first trimester. As this was my first pregnancy and I really didn’t know what to expect, I hoped that the lack of information just meant that there wasn’t anything I needed to know and that pregnancy wouldn’t make any difference in the interviewing process for me.

A few weeks later I found myself at dinner at my first campus interview. Until that point, my pregnancy had been easy. I wasn’t showing and had experienced very few symptoms. Based on my personal decision to only tell family about my pregnancy during my first trimester, as well as general advice I’d received about not divulging too much of my personal life in interviews (e.g., marital status, parental status), I chose not to tell the department about my pregnancy. As an aside, there’s evidence that women with children are discriminated against in hiring, and based on this, I chose to not share about my family status. This discrimination against mothers may be lessening, and it certainly varies from department to department. Consequently, advice seems to be shifting regarding how much to divulge about your personal life during an academic interview. But I didn’t feel the need to risk it; I decided to stick to talking about research, the department, and Game of Thrones at dinner.

As timing would have it, two bites into that first dinner I was hit by a strong wave of nausea and found I couldn’t eat anything else. I sat through the many courses which characterize interview dinners, unable to eat anything on my plate, working hard to contribute to the conversation and hide how I was feeling. I ended up having a lot of nausea throughout the fall semester, and as I traveled for job interviews, this scene played out again and again at breakfast, lunch, and dinner at different job interviews. After my first visit, my doctor prescribed anti-nausea medicines, which I began to take regularly and made my other interviews so much easier than my first.

I was due in June, so I wasn’t overly concerned with parental leave policies; my child would be two months old when I started a new position. But I appreciated the departments that were very forthcoming with their parental leave policies and told me directly what children do to the tenure clock and teaching schedule. The departments that openly discussed these things would preface this discussion by telling me that they told everyone these policies, that way candidates who were planning to have children soon would not feel pressured to disclose this. This information tended to come up in my one-on-one meetings with women faculty who had recently had children themselves.  I am very grateful to the professors who shared their experiences with me.

Mieke

Graduation day!

Motivated by my own frustration with not finding resources on the internet to prepare me for my interviews, I have come up with some things I wish I had known or done during my job market experience during my first trimester:

  1. Talk to your doctor before you travel to job interviews. Even if you don’t have any “morning” sickness yet, it still may make sense to get and fill a prescription to minimize it, just in case it strikes.
  2. Ask for your campus interview schedule as early as possible, and if you find that there aren’t many breaks scheduled, ask whether one or more are possible. Even if you don’t think you’ll need them, it is better to be safe. You likely do not need to give a reason, but if you do, you may just be able to say that there are medical reasons.
  3. If you do struggle with morning sickness, ask for longer layovers for flights. I had one incredibly awful trip in which I was stuck on an airplane in the middle seat between two businessmen feeling absolutely miserable. That experience would’ve been avoided with a longer layover. Relatedly, if you struggle with morning sickness, don’t assume the plane will have barf bags—pack your own in a carry-on bag.
  4. Pack snacks and a water bottle, as well as ginger chews, hard candies, or peppermints. These are good on the plane, in between the never-ending meetings with faculty, and even after a long job talk.
  5. Don’t plan to work on your job talk in the hotel room. Interviews and pregnancy are both exhausting, and you need to give your body and mind a break.
  6. Be prepared with a response for when someone asks why you aren’t drinking or eating much (or eating a lot if that’s how it goes for you). It is likely that no one will, but it is still wise to be prepared. I found it easy just to say that I preferred not to drink on interviews and everyone was fine with that.
  7. Go to the bathroom as often as you need. It’s okay to be a little late to your next appointment or to leave a little early; professors don’t compare how often you peed. (“Mieke went to the bathroom right after her interview with me.” “Me too! How weird?” is likely an exchange that never happened at any of my interviews.)
  8. Do your research on parental leave policies. You may find this is easy to discuss discreetly with faculty, or you may find it makes more sense to call Human Resources. But it is better to find out now than when you show up at the job.
  9. Even if you’re not telling many people about your pregnancy during your first trimester, have someone close to you with whom you can talk about the stress of juggling pregnancy and job interviews. This is probably especially important if you find pregnancy brings a lot of mood swings for you—better to talk it out than internalize it and let it stress you out.

I realize everyone’s experiences will vary wildly, depending on the timing of your pregnancy and what your symptoms are like, with some people having a much easier and others having a much more difficult experience than me. It can be tricky to navigate the worries and excitements of the first trimester and the job market at the same time, but I was fortunate to survive both. After the whirlwind of the job market, I accepted a job at a very supportive university and department and let them know about my pregnancy when I showed up eight months pregnant for a housing search in the spring.

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Biography

Mieke Beth Thomeer, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Dr. Thomeer’s research and teaching interests include aging, family, health, gender, and sexuality. In her research, she addresses questions about how relationships influence and are influenced by physical and mental health, with particular attention to gender. Because the lived experiences of relationships are complex, she utilizes both qualitative and quantitative methodologies, with special emphasis on dyadic methods. Her research has been published in the American Journal of Public Health, Journal of Marriage and Family, Journal of Aging Studies, Journal of Gerontology, and Journal of Health and Social Behavior.