Jeff Kosbie On Being A “Luxury Hire” In Academia

Jeff KosbieJeff Kosbie is a J.D./Ph.D. candidate in Sociology at Northwestern University (see his full biography at the end).  In this guest blog post, Jeff discusses his frustration with constantly hearing that his job prospects are slim because he studies sexuality.  While typically well-intentioned, these messages from colleagues implicitly (or even explicitly) suggest that the subfield of sexualities is not of central importance to the discipline.

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On Being A “Luxury Hire”

“Just be careful — you don’t want to seem like a ‘luxury hire.’” “Be aware that you can’t get hired just for studying sexualities.” I’ve heard variants of this since I started graduate school, but especially this year being on the market. And it all comes from well-meaning people. People who really want me to get a top job as a professor. And, yeah, I get where they’re coming from. Sexuality should be central to the curriculum in law and in sociology. But it’s not. At least not how it should be. So, I need to be aware that there might be fewer jobs for people who do sexualities than for people who study federal courts or criminology or business organizations.

Strategic advice aside for a moment, I want to address the psychological impact of these messages: they really breaks you down! The cumulative impact of this is huge. It’s essentially hearing again and again that what you do just isn’t in the mainstream of the discipline. I didn’t realize how much it was affecting me until some recent discussions about diversity and microaggressions. I shared some of my experience hearing these comments, and then it really hit me, wow that hurts.

I’m never anxious or stressed, even when I “should be.” But this year I’ve become anxious. A lot of the anxiety comes from how fundamentally the job market has changed since I started grad school. Anyone with my current research and publication record would be getting several interviews on both the law and sociology teaching markets in 2006, when I started grad school. Subject area aside, the expectations for getting a job have changed. It’s like I got to the finish line, only to find that the finish line had moved. So, the fact that I’m facing uncertain job prospects plays into the anxiety. But, some of it also comes from the cumulative impact of these comments.

The flip side of hearing that you could be a “luxury hire” is that if I get a job, the implication might be that it is because I study sexualities. The fact that I do really good work becomes secondary to the fact I add an extra “luxury” to a department. And somewhere implicit in this is some comment on my identity as a queer scholar. The people making these comments mean it as a comment on my scholarship, of course, but it’s hard not to take it as a comment on my identity. It can feel like a comment on whether queer scholars belong in the heart of the academy at all.

Now, of course, everyone who has said this to me has meant well. They have all had my best interests at heart. Maybe some of them didn’t think sexualities should be central to the discipline (law or sociology), but most of them did. Most of the people saying this to me support my work, want me to succeed with it, and think it is important. They saw themselves as giving me strategic advice.

So, part of the challenge is how to impart this strategic advice without the microaggression that devalues my work and identity. And I want to recognize that strategic advice is important! Even if the cumulative impact of hearing it is harsh, the truth is that I don’t know of any law school that is hiring just for law and sexuality. Some sociology departments hire for sexualities, but those positions are few and far between. So yes, any scholar studying sexualities should probably address other academic areas, as well. If I were mentoring a new graduate student interested in sexualities, I would be remiss not to mention that.

What Are the Real Concerns Behind This Strategic Advice?

There are ways to give this advice that reaffirm the importance and centrality of sexualities to the disciplines of law and sociology. For starters, at least reaffirm that you think that sexuality is or should be central to the discipline. That actually goes a long way. There’s also a difference between hearing “it’s okay that you research law and sexuality, but you need to do something mainstream as well” and “how can we package your work to show how you speak to more mainstream concerns with a unique and important voice because you research law and sexuality.” The latter implicitly values sexualities and asks how we can make it relevant to the mainstream in a way that the former message doesn’t.

One of the most common concerns about studying sexualities is that I might be too specialized. But this is not unique to sexualities. Every scholar faces this concern. We all have to be specialized enough to have command of some area and to add our unique insights. But, we cannot be so specialized that we are only speaking to ourselves. We certainly need to be able to teach classes that are much broader than our individual research. So like most graduate students, I can benefit from mentoring on how to talk about how specialized my work is. But the concern should not be that I’m too specialized because I study sexualities. People who study tax law might be too specialized if they can only teach a particular class on corporate tax and nothing else. The real concern is my ability to use my research on sexualities to speak to other literatures and to teach classes. So let’s talk about that, and not whether sexualities is too specialized.

What about the concern that I won’t find a job? There are just not enough (or any) jobs in law and sexuality. But this concern also isn’t unique to sexualities. People doing legal history or sociology of culture also face this concern. For almost all of us, it probably does not make strategic sense to only apply to jobs in our subfields. We need to think about how we can apply to jobs beyond our own subfields and make strategic decisions about how broadly we want to try to do that. Sometimes it means taking two runs at the market: once with a more focused, only-in-my-subfield approach, and a second time with a broader anything-I-can-conceivably-get approach.

I guess it comes back to the idea that there’s a big difference between being told: “the discipline doesn’t support sexualities as much as it should, but you bring a unique and important voice to the core of the discipline because you do sexualities, so let’s figure out how to sell that” versus “you need to recognize that sexualities isn’t valued as central to the discipline and you could be seen as a luxury hire so you need to do something to address that.” All of my core advisors fall into the former, far more supportive and helpful camp. But I’ve heard advice from the latter camp enough that it’s still a strong current.

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About Jeff

Jeff Kosbie is a J.D./Ph.D. candidate in Sociology at Northwestern University. He will defend his dissertation and receive both degrees in Spring 2015. Jeff’s research theorizes law as a field for constructing and contesting identities around gender and sexuality. He studies how law creates and perpetuates inequalities and how it is used to challenge inequalities. His dissertation uses original data to tell the history of the major LGBT legal organizations. Drawing on extensive interviews and archival research, he argues that internal organizational debates drive strategic decision making processes at these organizations. This research was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation, the Sexualities Project at Northwestern University, and The Graduate School at Northwestern University. Jeff’s website is at jkosbie.com.

25 Lessons From Grad School That Weren’t (Totally) True

Source: PhD Comics

Halfway through my second-year on the tenure-track, I see that I am faced with another important moment in shaping my career.  Though I effectively proved that I am an independent scholar through the grueling process of completing a dissertation, I still face the challenge of defining my career for myself.  The training wheels are off.  It seems, however, that the task of professional self-definition is a more salient and intense process for me because I intend to carve out my own path — one that prioritizes difference-making, health, happiness, and authenticity.

Just after one year in my job, I have stumbled across lessons I learned in graduate school that were exaggerated, completely false, or overly-simplistic.  It appears one necessary step of my journey toward a self-defined career as a teacher-scholar-advocate is to unlearn, or at least contexualize, such lessons.  Here are 25 lessons that I have identified as problematic or untrue.

  1. The only fulfilling career path in academia is a tenure-track (and eventually tenured) faculty position at a research I university.
  2. One goes where the job isPeriod.
  3. All new (qualified) PhDs get (and want) tenure-track jobs.
  4. People who do not complete graduate school are weak, stupid, or uncommitted.
  5. You must attend the big, national, and/or mainstream conference in your discipline in order to succeed.
  6. Academia and activism do not mix.
  7. Service should be avoided, and never includes community service.
  8. One only becomes relevant through publishing a lot in the top journal of one’s field.
  9. Teaching is not as important as research.  Really, we do it just to get paid.
  10. Academia is an equal opportunity institution.
  11. Higher education is filled with liberal-minded, social justice-oriented people.
  12. Objectivity exists and is the ideal approach for research and teaching.
  13. The rankings of universities are an ideal indicator for quality of training.
  14. Quantitative methods are better than qualitative methods.  Can the latter even be trusted?
  15. One should wait until they are an “expert” to blog or advance other forms of public scholarship.
  16. Homophobia no longer exists in academia.
  17. Black people are more likely than white people to get tenure-track jobs — because they’re Black.
  18. Graduate programs are concerned with the health and well-being of their students.
  19. If you do not love graduate school, you will hate being a professor.
  20. Race, gender, and sexuality are narrow areas of research.
  21. Peer-review is 100% anonymous.
  22. No one will get mad at you for blogging.
  23. Breaks during the academic year are just opportunities to get ahead on research.
  24. Grad students’ opinions matter in the major functions of the department.
  25. Sexual harassment does not occur in academia.

I Don’t Exist (Yet)

Me - Tower Dark

Some time ago, I shared a secret with two friends: I find myself frequently searching for things that move me.  A deep, insightful book.  An exciting new song.  A novel movie.  An unusually critical article.  An event that pulls on my heart strings.  Something that will feed my spirit in a way that most things do not.

One of these two friends responded, “doesn’t that seem unhealthy?”  She worried that having spiritual food located externally, and its actual whereabouts unknown and fleeting, was no way to live a self-sustaining live.  I had never thought of this kind of hunger as unhealthy.  I had actually convinced myself that this was my way of searching for meaning in the world, specifically for my own life.  Isn’t it a good thing to want more from life, to proactively look for more and better rather than simply accept what is?  And, don’t we all get excited when something “gives us life”?

My friend’s concern came to mind recently as I browsed a local bookstore.  I sat on the floor before the disappointingly small selection of books on LGBTQ issues.  I found myself looking for… well, myself.  Where is that story about people like me?  It finally clicked.  Maybe this is not exactly what concerned my friend.  But, it definitely concerned me.  I am not (only) looking for meaning; apparently, I am desperately searching for myself, something more than my own reflection in the mirror.

The media.  My workplace.  My family.  Politics.  Religion.  My own racial and sexual communities.  People like me do not exist, apparently.  I am invisible.  Or, maybe I do not even exist.

Fuck intersectionality.1  As one part of myself becomes visible, the other parts remain invisible.  Black is straight.  Gay is white and thin.  Black and white cannot coexist, so where does that leave me as a multiracial person?  Where does this leave me, Black, white, queer, fat, something other than hypermasculine yet male-bodied?  Fuck intersectionality.  Fuck being unique.

It takes energy everyday to exist — to dare to enter the world as the other other Other.  Some days, I am exhausted from it all, from forcing the universe to see me, from trying to carve out space in the world for myself.

But, that is the key to my survival.  My existence is not a given.  It is the outcome of a lifelong fight against invisibility, bias, exclusion, and even conditional acceptance.  It comes from not giving up, or settling into subordinate status.

I will exist — or die trying.

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Notes

1 To be clear, this statement reflects my frustration with existing at intersections among multiple oppressed statuses, not the theoretical framework of intersectionality.  Indeed, intersectionality and Black feminist theory in general have been instrumental in making visible such intersections and highlighting the critical importance of studying them in academia.  Intersectionality as a framework “gives me life” in so many ways.

101 Big And Small Ways To Make A Difference In Academia

make_a_difference

Let’s set aside the debate over whether one can, or even should, be an activist in academia.  If you recognize that inequality and other problems exist within academia, then I do not need to convince you that someone should be working to make change.  But, some scholars are skeptical of “rocking the boat,” either because of fear of professional harm or the assumption that one does not have the time.  Making academia a more equitable and humane place is not an easy, quick, risk-free task; if that were the case, we would probably see a lot more progress by now!  But, I believe we can all make small (and big) changes, whether an activist, advocate, or simply a concerned scholar.

Here are 101 ideas of ways to make a difference in academia that I have come up with, either from experience, observation, or wishful thinking.  Please add your own ideas in the comments section!

  1. Educate yourself about the state of higher education, particularly in terms of inequality, increasing student debt, and the growing reliance on contingent faculty.  Learn about the leaky pipelines for women, people of color, and other marginalized groups.
  2. Let go of the myth of meritocracy in academia once and for all.  Do not perpetuate the myth by claiming or assuming that things are fair and equal.  Speak openly and honestly with colleagues and students about inequality in academia.
  3. Recognize community service as a form of service for yourself and others.
  4. Learn more about open access and other ways of making academic research and knowledge publicly accessible.
  5. Redefine “impact” to move beyond impact factors and citation rates.  Consider the impact your work has outside of the ivory tower.  Allow yourself to determine the value of your scholarship, rather than relying exclusively on what departments, universities, and disciplines value as important and meaningful.
  6. Stay true to your goals and values.  Do not let tradition limit your imagination.  Thinking outside of the box is good for science and higher education.
  7. Be brave.
  8. Speak up when you feel safe to do so.
  9. Empower your students and colleagues to speak up.
  10. Ask questions.  If a conversation or meeting raises concern, ask for further clarification.  This allows you to appear curious or possibly confused without automatically challenging someone else.
  11. Prioritize self-care.  Encourage others to do so, as well, or at least respect others’ need to make certain decisions at work based on personal and family needs.
  12. Talk to your students and junior colleagues about what academic careers entail for marginalized scholars.  Be clear that you are not attempting to scare them, rather you are preparing them for challenges that may lie ahead in their careers.
  13. Support graduate students no matter their career plans after graduation.  Begin a mentoring relationship with a conversation about their plans, and be sure to revisit this conversation every year or every other year.
  14. Educate yourself about alternative career paths for PhDs, or at least find resources to offer to students considering them.
  15. Be aware of the artificial hierarchies and rankings in academia and higher education, but do not let them influence how you interact with colleagues.
  16. Check your biases, stereotypes, and assumptions.  If you find that you hold them, find out how to eliminate them, or at least to suspend them in interacting with and evaluating others.  Ask trusted colleagues to call you out if you demonstrate bias; when they do, listen without getting defensive or feeling guilty.
  17. Check your privilege.  Avoid dismissing another person’s experiences or perspective just because it does not mirror yours.  Never tell a marginalized student or colleague about their own experience.  Figure out ways to use your privileged status to make a difference and to make space for marginalized people.
  18. Ask your students and colleagues for their preferred name and pronoun, and give your own.  Work to make these seem like a normal practice, rather than a special event when a transgender or gender non-conforming person is present.
  19. Blog and use other forms of social media.  Allow yourself to appear as an imperfect, evolving, thinking, and feeling human — not simply the static, perfectly-put together researcher reflected in articles and books.  Make yourself available outside of the ivory tower.
  20. Share your own narrative with colleagues and students, whether it is one of privilege (which you acknowledge), serendipity, or adversity.  Let’s stop pretending that there is one, clear, linear path toward becoming a professor, and that it is the only possible path after graduate school.
  21. Let go of the myth of color-blindness, gender-blindness, and other forms of “blindness” to others’ identities and experiences.  Rather, be conscious of difference and inequality, and find ways to proactively work against systemic discrimination and exclusion.
  22. Without resorting to tokenizing, be sure to include diverse voices and perspectives on conference panels, course syllabi, references, edited volumes, guest blog posts, etc.
  23. Get comfortable with self-promotion, especially if you are a member of one or more marginalized groups.  And, respect others efforts to promote their work, particularly because it is necessary to be successful in academia.
  24. Promote your colleagues’ and students’ work, particularly those from marginalized groups.
  25. Go beyond telling junior colleagues and grad students to “be careful” — and never say “shut up”/”be quiet.”  If you actually have a reason to worry about a particular individual (that is, stop automatically assuming junior scholars will be reckless anarchists), offer specific advice on navigating departmental, university, and disciplinary politics.  Explain why you are giving that advice, namely that you care about their success, well-being, and livelihood.
  26. When possible, make every effort to ensure that students or junior colleagues do not fall through the cracks or bear some burden because others could not be bothered.
  27. At least say hello to familiar faces — students, new colleagues, contingent faculty, administrative staff, etc.
  28. Avoid viewing colleagues as potential competition, even if you are applying for the same opportunity.
  29. Have lunch with students and junior colleagues, and make an effort to talk about something other than work or classes (if you/they are comfortable doing so).  It can be incredibly reassuring to see that one’s professors/senior colleagues are human, too.
  30. Don’t be an asshole.  Period.
  31. Learn how to disagree with someone without attacking them as a person.  If it is not really a right-or-wrong issue, find a way to offer a different, rather than “better,” view.
  32. Step up and step back in meetings.  Avoid dominating the conversation.  If you are chairing it, make an effort to allow everyone to speak.  Pay attention to see if junior scholars have remained silent or were silenced.  But, find a way to gently nudge if someone needs encouragement; avoid putting someone on the spot who may really not have anything to contribute.
  33. Learn about your department’s and university’s policies and practices regarding contingent faculty.  Find out whether there is anything you can do to improve the situation.
  34. Do not treat contingent faculty like servants, outsiders, or somehow inferior.  Treat them like humans first, and colleagues second.  Understand that their circumstances may be shitty, if not outright exploitative.
  35. Serve on important departmental, university, and disciplinary committees.
  36. Serve as department chair or a higher level administrator.
  37. Keep an eye on the balance of service in your department.  Definitely watch for disproportionate service falling on women faculty, either assigned or volunteered (especially as men faculty avoid it).
  38. When accounting for and advancing diversity, avoid nominal diversity — that is, simply counting “women and minorities.”  Find ways to embrace and celebrate diversity in the department/university culture.  Once marginalized students/scholars are in the door, make sure that they feel equally supported and included, and are making good progress in their work.
  39. Move beyond considering only race and gender as diversity.  Broaden race to race, ethnicity, nativity, and immigrant status.  Broaden gender to consider the inclusion of women and transgender and gender non-conforming people.  Begin to recognize and advance sexual identity, disability, social class, weight, religion, age, and family structure as other important dimensions of diversity.
  40. Move beyond a single-identity conceptualization of diversity.  Begin attending to the intersections among identities.  This will help to avoid systematically hiring the most privileged members of oppressed groups (e.g., white women, Black men).  This will also help to understand each individual’s lives holistically; for example, be careful not to view Black women simply as women or Black.
  41. Support working parents.  Educate yourself about your university’s family leave and other policies.  If possible, be willing to offer additional support using the (likely conservative) university policies as a minimum level of support.
  42. Go beyond being “not prejudiced.”  Be aware that oppressed groups, as a matter of survival, must be wary of intolerance or even violence.  Do not assume that not intentionally discriminating is enough for others to feel welcomed and included.
  43. Challenge biased comments and microaggressions in your classes.  Do not wait for students to speak up, as they may not feel comfortable doing so, or may even fail to see the problem — you are the instructor.  If you do not want to alienate the student who made the comment, foster dialogue about it rather than silencing or chastising them.
  44. Allow yourself to view your class as somewhat flexible and organic.  If something relevant or important is going on it the world or on campus, spend a few minutes at the start or end of class discussing it.  Having an honest, intelligent conversation about racism on campus, for example, may be more important in the long run than sticking rigidly to the syllabus.
  45. Let go of the myth of objectivity in research and the classroom.  Or, at least acknowledge that some cling to “objectivity” without noting that such a perspective is conflated with (or only afforded to) the view of white middle-class heterosexual cis men in the West.
  46. Where possible, include overlooked and marginalized topics in your courses.  For example, cover transgender health in a course on health/medicine to demonstrate the relevance and importance of the topic (and trans communities in general).
  47. If you (must) use a textbook that excludes or distorts the lives of oppressed communities, explicitly point this out to your students and consider adding additional readings by and/or about members of these communities.
  48. Consider countering the systemic invisibility of women, people of color, LGBTQ people, and other oppressed communities in academia with the systemic exclusion of white middle-class heterosexual cis men without disabilities.  Start with oppressed voices, and only include those of the privileged if they are a useful complement.  Unfortunately, I must also advise being ready to defend this system against charges of “reverse discrimination.”
  49. Speak truth to power.  Do research that challenges others’ exclusive, biased, or distorted research.  Embrace your unique perspective (if you are marginalized) to influence a new way of viewing the world.
  50. Let’s be honest about pervasive mental health problems in academia.  Find out what resources exist on campus, in the local community, and online.  Recognize that many campus health centers fail to effectively address the needs of graduate students.  Be careful not to fall into the trap of viewing others’ well-being as “not my problem.”
  51. If you use images in your lectures or presentations, take a little extra time to ensure that you reflect diverse people and interests.  If you lazily choose one of the first images that comes up, you may end up exclusively with pictures of white men.  (For example, do a Google image search of “professor.”)  Make an effort to counter the stereotypical images that many students will carry.
  52. Educate yourself about universal design for learning.  From the start of developing a course, make efforts to make the material and discussion accessible to all students.  Avoid the pattern of simply accommodating students with disabilities when they are in your courses.
  53. Become critical of standard measures of academic ability and achievement, including the SAT, GRE, and other tests, grade point average, etc.  Educate yourself about the bias inherent in these exams that likely contribute to inequality in admission, retention, graduation, and funding.
  54. Acknowledge the high rate of sexual violence on college campuses — targeted against students and staff and faculty.  Learn about your university’s practices for handling reports of violence, and realize that few incidents are reported, and even fewer yield justice for the victims.  Educate yourself about ways to support survivors of violence.  Consider advocating for improving how sexual violence is reported and prosecuted.
  55. Respect or even encourage your students’ and colleagues’ activist efforts.  Avoid telling them activism is akin to bias, or cannot co-exist with academia, or is a waste of time.
  56. Be authentic.  Let students and colleagues see diversity in academia.  If you are marginalized, do your best to avoid sending the message that one must sell-out in order to succeed in the academy.
  57. Investigate whether your campus offers gender-neutral bathrooms.  If it does not, pressure campus administration to create gender-neutral bathrooms that are of the same quality and are as conveniently accessed as sex-segregated bathrooms.  If it only has one or a few gender-neutral bathrooms, push for the creation of more.  Create a map of campus that pinpoints where these restrooms can be found to publicize their existence and location.
  58. Educate yourself about the conditions for staff on your campus.  Are wages fair and equitable?  Are working conditions safe?  Are staff given a voice in administrative affairs?
  59. Attend your university’s safe zone/safe space training program.  Encourage your colleagues to do so, as well.  If they reply, “but, I am already so LGBT-friendly, I don’t need extra training,” explain that taking that extra step to demonstrate friendliness is necessary because many LGBT people assume the absence of it may mean hostility.  (It is a matter of survival in a homophobic, biphobic, and transphobic world!)  If your university does not have a safe zone/space program, consider starting one.
  60. Explicitly tell your students that you want them to do well in your courses — and mean it.  (I have always done this, and was told just recently that most professors don’t and, as such, students’ don’t assume it.)
  61. Encourage your students to meet with you during office hours.  It may help to offer an incentive, but I hesitate to encourage that it be required.  Be sure you have explained the purpose of office hours when you mention them.  If there are students whose performance concerns you, do not hesitate to (privately) ask them to meet with you — but, make clear that they are not being punished.
  62. Avoid trivializing students’ health concerns, including (and maybe especially) mental health problems.  Refer them to the proper health professional if necessary.  Do not attempt to assess the problem, how severe it is, or how to “cure” it if you are not a qualified health professional.
  63. When you give advice, still respect that others may ignore it.  Allow them to make their own mistakes and learn from them.  Do not pressure a student or junior colleague to do what you think is “best,” especially if you do not know them beyond a professional relationship.
  64. Be mindful of power dynamics, particularly where you are in the higher position.  Students, junior colleagues, and others in the subordinate position may feel that your suggestions are demands.  They may hesitate to challenge you, correct your assumptions about them, and even to share certain (personal) details with you for fear of harm to their grades/job.
  65. If you are a mentor, encourage your mentees to consider having additional mentors.  Avoid presenting your perspective and advice as the only way.  If time allows and mentees are comfortable with it, consider holding joint meetings with their other mentors; this may save them the time of holding individual meetings about one issue, and then having to navigate potentially conflicting advice.
  66. Learn about contrapower sexual harassment.  If you teach about sexual violence, include this topic in your courses.
  67. Write op-eds and letters to the editor to the school’s newspaper about issues on campus or in the local community.  You may even offer a scholarly perspective to demonstrate how our everyday lives are actually connected to what we learn in the classroom.
  68. Make some concept or trend in your discipline accessible by writing op-eds and letters to the editor to local, national, or international media.  Or, write about your own research.
  69. Just as you ensure that working parents are not burdened by work, make sure that colleagues who do not have children are not asked to pick up additional work.  No matter one’s family situation, or reason for needing to leave work by 6pm, every worker’s personal life should be respected (especially if they are not officially paid for extra hours).
  70. On Twitter, participate in #SaturdaySchool, and then help build academic online communities by participating in #ScholarSunday.
  71. Work with your department and university — or demand of them — that standards for tenure and promotion be stated as explicitly as possible.  Ask that the rates of successful promotions be provided, including a comparison by race and ethnicity, gender, and other important statuses.
  72. Teach community-based learning courses.  Or, find less intensive ways to encourage working with the community.
  73. Start a scholarship.
  74. Commit to recycling and cutting waste.  Start a recycling program if your university does not already have one.  If you must print documents, use double-sided printing.  Encourage (or even require) students to email assignments.  If you scan documents that will be printed, take the time to eliminate dark areas to reduce wasted ink.
  75. Participate in your department or university’s Dr. Martin Luther King day celebrations.  If your school is closed, take a second to explain the significance of the day — don’t just call it a holiday.  If it is not closed, advocate for closing to observe MLK day or at least hold a meaningful ceremony to honor his legacy.
  76. Participate in Black History Month, Women’s History Month, Hispanic Heritage Month, Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, LGBT Pride month/week (varies by school), Disability Awareness Month, National Transgender Day of Remembrance, and other national and regional celebrations.  If these celebrations are not recognized, start a committee to plan events for them.
  77. Participate in Take Back the Night and other Sexual Assault Awareness Month events.
  78. Invite graduate students to participate on important departmental committees.  Consider encouraging the graduate students to create and elect a representative position — or even multiple positions — and give them a vote.  When they vote or otherwise participate in discussion, genuinely listen and consider their input.  (Grad students are not dumb.  They will sense that you have only included them out of obligation or to appease them, but do not seriously consider what they have to say.)
  79. Take a developmental, rather than destructive, approach to the peer-review process.  View your role as a reviewer as one to advance a paper, which will ultimately advance science, rather than one of a gate-keeper or critic.  Avoid looking for ways to advance your own research or agenda.
  80. Put extra copies of books that you assign on reserve at the library and announce that you have done so in your classes (twice).  Some students will attempt to find ways around buying expensive textbooks, including some who will never obtain a copy and thus suffer in the course.  Do your best to find cheaper or free options in the first place.
  81. Investigate whether every building on campus is accessible.  Pressure or even work with university administration to renovate buildings that are currently inaccessible to all people, regardless of ability.
  82. Check your own and others’ classist beliefs.  Assume class diversity.  Do not assume that anyone in academia, whether student or faculty, comes from a middle-class or upper-class family.  Where possible, try to minimize out-of-pocket costs for classes, extracurricular activities, conferences, and professional development.  In evaluating students or colleagues, be mindful that some simply cannot afford special, or even some basic, opportunities.  Avoid confusing lack of resources with lack of commitment, motivation, or aptitude.
  83. Advocate for needs-blind admission into your university.
  84. Refrain from criticizing the ways in which oppressed people survive in oppressive institutions and societies.  If you are unwilling to support others’ survival, at least avoid adding to their plight with your judgement, criticism, or questioning their identity and politics.
  85. Teach your marginalized students how to survive in oppressive institutions and societies.
  86. Organize a fair or event with information and resources for maintaining healthy relationships.
  87. Investigate whether racial profiling occurs on/near your campus by campus or local police.  If it does, work to raise awareness about it, and with law enforcement to eliminate unfair and discriminatory practices.
  88. If you serve as an academic advisor, be proactive in reaching out to your marginalized and first-generation students, especially during their first year.  Encourage them to get involved with at least one group on campus or in the local community, and to meet with career services as early as possible.
  89. Honor the work of administrative staff in your department and elsewhere on campus by celebrating Administrative Professionals’ Day.  But, be sure to thank them for their work throughout the year, as well.
  90. Propose a conference panel on professional development tips for marginalized academics or on public scholarship.
  91. Practice random acts of kindness.
  92. Organize a social event for your department to get your colleagues out of their offices.
  93. Propose a newspaper program that provides local and national newspapers free to all students, staff, and faculty.
  94. Serve as a faculty or staff advisor for a student organization related to social justice.
  95. Conduct a campus-wide needs assessment for all or particular communities of marginalized students.  Make recommendations for change based on their needs and the campus climate.
  96. Stage a rally or protest about an issue about which your college has remained unresponsive or ignored completely.
  97. Create a campus resource center for women, LGBTQ people, people of color, international students and scholars, people with disabilities, first-generation students, or another disadvantaged group.
  98. Advocate for the creation of accessible, clean, and private spaces for breastfeeding and other needs of parents with young children.
  99. Challenge yourself to be more educated about social justice, more empathetic, kinder, and open to difference and change.
  100. Create an academic program or department that focuses on marginalized communities (e.g., racial and ethnic studies, women’s studies).
  101. Join the fight to minimize or eliminate the growing problem of college student debt.

Please add your own big and small ideas in the comments section.

Academia: Uncharted Territory

Belle Isle

…to go where no queer has gone before…

There is no clear-cut, universal, transparent set of standards for success in academia.  Even “publish or perish” is both too fuzzy and fails to account for teaching, service, and the politics in one’s department/university/discipline to serve as a formula for achieving tenure or any other milestone in an academic career.  While some universities work to make their standards more transparent, many scholars simply admit that standards are impossible to define.  The reality is most PhDs do not land tenure-track jobs, most tenure-track professors secure tenure, and few are ever promoted full professor.  But, these aggregate patterns cannot serve as an individual scholar’s chances of success; maybe the more confident among us can “face the facts” and sleep peacefully at night, but the rest of us work even harder to beat the odds.

The aggregate patterns also mask clear disparities by race, ethnicity, and gender.  I imagine we would also find disparities by sexual identity, gender identity and expression, age, ability, weight, social class, and family structure.  Those favorable odds for tenure look a little more like the odds of a coin toss for scholars of color, for example.  Women and people of color are overrepresented among those landing contingent and adjunct positions, and underrepresented among tenure-track and tenured faculty (especially full professors).  For marginalized scholars, one thing is certain: our future in academia is uncertain.  Needless to say, many of us are well aware of the “Black tax” or “female tax” or other penalties that demand extra work (and worry) for equal outcomes.

As marginalized identities intersect, optimism about one’s career becomes a foreign feeling.  Diversity initiatives tend to focus on a single identity in isolation from others.  Progress made in recruiting people of color and women really means more men of color (especially Black men) and more white women.  Women of color know well the status of being a token.  Other identities like sexuality, ability, class, and weight barely register as dimensions of “diversity,” if ever.  While freed from accusations that we secured a job solely because of our marginalized identity, we know that we end up securing jobs or advancing in our careers despite these identities.

Uncharted Territory

To be completely honest with you, I am scared.  I was surprised (and relieved) to secure a tenure-track with one year’s job search.  Despite the shift in my research toward health — a lucrative subfield in sociology — I feared losing opportunities because of a focus in my research, teaching, and service (and advocacy) on sexuality.  There were no jobs with a specialization in sexuality; and, I have heard that has changed little since my 2012 search. Now on the job, my sense of favorable odds for tenure is trumped by the fear of unknown, unpredictable, and insurmountable politics.  The fear is strong enough that I secretly await the notification that I have been terminated immediately — not in 5 years through a tenure denial.

Strike one: I am black.  I am queer.  I am fat.  (That’s already 3 strikes, right?)  Strike two: I have pursued a non-traditional academic career, first, by taking a liberal arts job in the context of an R1-bias in academia, and second, by engaging in intellectual activism.  Strike three: I have documented my professional journey publicly (i.e., this blog).  I cannot help it really; I feel compelled to tell stories I do not see reflected elsewhere, and to offer my experiences and advice to other marginalized scholars.  But, doing so publicly has not been without criticism and concern from others.

This is uncharted territory.  That is the only way I can describe pursuing a liberal arts career with a focus on intellectual activism, as a multiracial fat queer man.  With little effort, I can find examples of liberal arts careers, successful academics of color, and even some successful LGBTQ academics.  With a little more effort, I can find examples of intellectual activists (who were not harmed or forced to compromise professionally in major ways).  But, frankly, I do not see any one who looks like me.

Maybe these potential role models exist, but their careers, journeys, and experiences are never made readily available.  On my own, I had to familiarize myself with Patricia Hill Collins’s Black Feminist Thought, and her intellectual activism.  As a distinguished full professor and former president of our discipline’s organization (American Sociological Association), Collins continues to be one of my role models.  I surmise, based on her writings, that she felt similarly to the way I feel today.  At the start of her career, she probably did not see many Black women in sociology or academia in general, especially those who advanced scholarship on Black women and Black feminism.  I hate to ask, but how many Patricia Hill Collins exist who did not reach her level of success and visibility?  If there are many who have not “made it,” is it misleading to point to Collins as proof that any of us can make it?

Paving The Way

I suppose, in some way, I have known all along that I would be embarking on uncharted territory, both professionally and in life in general.  In my office, I have a black-and-white picture of my hands “paving the way,” reenacting the motion I made in my 2007 interview for the Meyerhoff Scholars Program at UMBC.  I was finishing up my senior year of high school at the time, and hoping to be selected for the scholarship program.  After the interview, I told my mom how it went, and that one of the interviewers gave me an usual look as I made the gesture.  My mom teased me that my motion of paving the way looked more like sweeping people out of the way.  Jokes aside, even at 17, I was both aware of the challenges that lie ahead for me in pursuing an academic career, and that I would be tasked with making change along the way for others who followed me.

paving the way

paving the way

While I attempt to identify the safe bounds of my career in academia, experimenting with work-life balance (and WERRRK!-life balance), authenticity, and intellectual activism, I also feel slight pressure to figure things out and succeed for future generations of scholars and my own students.  I notice that some students pay attention to how I present myself in the classroom — do I seem guarded?  will I ever give the suits a rest?  do I mention my partner or otherwise out myself?  A few students have found this blog and expressed their appreciation of it (to my embarrassment, nonetheless).  Now having experienced a glimmer of comfort and confidence in the classroom (omg, year 2 is so much better than year 1), I feel compelled to finally rid myself of the usual nervousness because I can more genuinely connect with the students.

But, without many of my own role models, I am still trying to find my way in the dark.  I certainly do not want to send the message to students, especially my LGBTQ students, that we are all one three-piece suit away from success.  But, I am not confident enough that this is purely a myth to do away with suits all together.  I do not want to be yet another tenure-track professor who trades silence and invisibility for job security.  But, I would be a fool to ignore the horror stories of professors who refused to be silent and paid the price professionally.

How can I be a role model for students and future scholars if I am making it up as I go, treating my career as a series of trials and errors?  Why the hell, in 2014, do I feel like one of “the firsts”?  I actually do not want the honor of being “the first” nor the pressure of being a role model.  I just want to publish useful research later made accessible, help students to develop skills necessary to view the social world critically, and make space for all people in academia and society in general.  I can follow the road too often traveled, playing it “safe” all of the way to tenure.  I can totally embrace my marginal identities and interests without regard to the mainstream of academia, and surely find myself forever on the margins of academia.  But, I have decided to carve my own path, working to bring the marginal into the mainstream.  I would be more than happy to know that, along the way, I have paved the way for others so that they will not experience academia as uncharted territory.

Queering Scholarship: Creating Our Own Spaces In Academia

Cat PauséIn this guest post, Dr. Cat Pausé (@FOMNZ) encourages marginalized scholars — especially queer and fat academics — to create spaces for themselves and their communities by publishing.  She reflects on her experience co-editing her new text, Queering Fat Embodiment, and offers tips for others who may pursue such scholarly projects.  Enjoy!

See Dr. Pausé’s  full biography at the end of the post.

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Queering Scholarship: Creating Our Own Spaces

In many ways, I am living the dream. I was hired into a permanent faculty position at a university in New Zealand. There is no tenure system here, so as long as I do my job well, and the students keep enrolling, my future as an academic in this role is secure. In fact, I just got promoted to Senior Lecturer.

In my role, however, I find myself often an outsider. In some ways, being set apart is an advantage. The prestige that accompanies an American PhD pedigree cannot be overstated. In other ways, however, the outsider status disadvantages me as a scholar. Both my teaching subject and my research subject are marginal within academia. I found this to be especially challenging when looking for a faculty position. I discovered that only around 50 schools in the world have Human Development programs (and most of those reside in the United States). This often led me to apply for jobs outside of my immediate field. I foolishly spent hours preparing application materials for developmental psychology postings, and post docs in sociology. And I found, as my advisor suggested, that the boundaries between disciplines are strictly defined and difficult to transverse within academia. Even as we extoll inter- and post-disciplinary research as a way of the future, departments continue to reject scholars with the ‘wrong’ PhD. In this way, I was very lucky to find a position in a Human Development program.

My commitment to social justice also positions me as an outsider within academia. It disrupts my pedagogy, challenges my scholarship, and often results in the side eye from many whom believe that there is no room for the political within academia. Many have written on this tension, including some for Conditionally Accepted. My colleague, Sandra Grey, has recently published a piece on academic activists, and I am grateful to have her as a sounding board, sympathetic ear, and – more often than not – someone who encourages me to take risks and cause problems.

As a researcher, my focus on fat studies is dismissed by many. This isn’t real scholarship, they argue, but silliness. Fat people? Pffft! As others who choose to study marginalised populations have found, the research dollars are not accessible, and your more mainstream colleagues may humour your expertise, but it’s unlikely that they will respect it. Choosing to study a marginalised population of which you are a member is even more hazardous, as it leaves you open to criticism that you are simply engaging in vanity projects.

One way of moving forward in this, I have found, is through publishing. Colleagues can say what they like about my field of research, but they cannot ignore the growing length of my CV. Now that there is a Fat Studies journal, the likelihood of my scholarship being published in a peer reviewed arena has increased substantially (although there are feminist journals that will publish in this area as well). Edited texts are another avenue for my scholarship; within fat studies, edited texts such as The Fat Studies Reader, Fat Studies in the UK, and Bodies Out of Bounds, become the textbooks of our classrooms and the artefacts of our discipline. (I’m looking forward to the publication of two upcoming texts, The Fat Pedagogy Reader: Challenging Weight-Based Oppression in Education from Peter Lang Publishing, and Fat Sex: New Directions in Theory and Activism from Ashgate). And many scholars have taken to blogging and other forms of social media to disseminate their work and promote the knowledge production.

I recently had the chance to co-edit a fat studies text for Ashgate. Working with my co-editors, Jackie Wykes and Sam Murray, we pulled together a collection of essays that consider how fat embodiment may be/is being queered. Our text, Queering Fat Embodiment, was published earlier this year.

Queering Fat Embodiment

The challenges of editing a scholarly text are similar to editing a scholarly journal. Working within deadlines, chasing up academics for revisions, ensuring style and formatting across a range of writers – these are all common challenges of editing. Editing a text, however, is unique from a scholarly journal, in that you do not have the support of peer reviewers until the text is complete. Yourself, and co-editors if you are lucky enough to have them, are responsible for the vision, the quality control, and the end product.

The process, while challenging, is also very rewarding. Each of our contributing authors brought a unique perspective to the central theme of the book. The chapters introduce different ways of thinking of fat embodiment, and draws from different fields and disciplines. I am confident in the contribution this text makes to the field of fat studies, and I am very proud of this cool accomplishment.

I’ve given some thought to what I’ve learned in the process, and thought I would share it for others who may be interested in editing an academic text in the future:

  • Have a great publisher. Working with Ashgate was a dream. Our editor, Neil Jordan, was the perfect combination of firm and flexible. He also supported our vision for the text from the very beginning, and that made a huge difference.
  • Have co-editors. I had never edited a book before; neither had my co-editors. But we all brought different strengths to the process, and our book was stronger for this. Having co-editors also meant that we could draw support from one another, and work through tricky revision requests as a team.
  • Accept that it will take more time than expected. The process of completing Queering Fat Embodiment, from writing the proposal to having it hit the shelf, took almost four years. This is much longer than what I expected going into the project. I think this timeline can be reduced, if you have at least one editor who is working on the book as a priority across the entire project. We had three working academics that focused on the book for periods of time, but often put it back on the shelf when immediate needs arose.
  • Be willing to laugh. There are a lot of absurdities when editing an academic text. Trying to conceptualise how the contributing chapters will fit together in a larger narrative can be giggle inspiring. As is staying up an entire weekend because you decided to index yourselves. (Pro-tip: Let the professionals do this part.) I found that I had to let go of my annoyance when colleagues assumed the title of the text was Querying Fat Embodiment, instead of Queering Fat Embodiment. Reminding myself to enjoy the process, rather than just obsess and stress about the work, is something I tried to do often.
  • Embrace social media. As our contributing authors came from all other the world, we decided to launch the book using Google Hangouts on Air. This allowed many of those involved in the book to be involved; it also let anyone watch the video live and engage with us (and now we have it captured in YouTube). After the launch, we embarked on a social media book tour (which this piece is a stop on; wave!), wanting to reach as many individuals of interest as possible. We have stopped on blogs, online magazines, Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, etc.

If you find that traditional structures aren’t making space for your scholarship, create your own. Edit a collection or a special issue of a journal. Host a conference (hosting it online makes it available to even more participants around the world). Start a blog, or guest post on an established blog. Your work is important, and there are many avenues you can pursue to ensure that your voice is part of the conversation.

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Biography: Dr. Cat Pausé is a Lecturer in Human Development and a Fat Studies Researcher at Massey University, New Zealand. Her research focuses on the construction, revision, and maintenance of spoiled identities and its effects on health and well-being of marginalised populations, specifically fat individuals. She has published in top journals such as Human Development, Feminist Review, HERDSA, and Narrative Inquiries in Bioethics, and her co-edited book, Queering Fat Embodiment, has just been released by Ashgate. Dr. Pausé hosted the “Fat Studies: Reflective Intersections” conference in 2012, and guest edited an issue on intersectionality for the Fat Studies Journal. Her work has been featured on The Huffington Post, Yahoo, NPR, and 20/20.  She also writes at her own blog, Friend of Marilyn, on fat acceptance and activism.

On Dealing With Online Criticism And Trolls For Academics

Haters

If you follow me on Twitter — @grollman :-)  — you may have seen me complain about online trolls and other criticism every once in a while.  But, I usually give the caveat that what I have faced from nay-sayers online is a mild irritation compared to the hate mail and threats that other academic bloggers (especially women) have received.  Sadly, even the most seasoned among us do not know how to deal with the criticism and hostility we receive online.  How do we stop it?  Or, how do we at least ignore it?  I have zero expertise to offer on the subject, but I do offer a few tips from things that have (and have not) worked for me.

A few tips, which, in places, will seem contradictory — but, choose what works best for you!

  • Pursue legal action… but, don’t bother.  To be safe, I consulted with the legal counsel at my university.  Free speech, which seems so much freer online, eliminates any real options.  Apparently libel is almost impossible to demonstrate because the (huge) burden of proving you were harmed in some way by it falls on you.  Legal dead-ends aside, I found relief in notifying my university and being reassured that what a few cowardly anonymous colleagues say about me online has no baring on my status or job.
  • Also, notify trusted (senior) colleagues.  Initially, I let my chair and dean know just to be on the safe side.  I would rather be ahead of the criticisms to avoid surprises in formal evaluations.  One expected benefit of these conversations was their appreciation of the risks involved on the work that I do (i.e., blogging).  I suppose this links back to the “you’ve arrived” sentiment; if you are pissing off white supremacists and closed-minded colleagues, you must be pushing the right buttons as a scholar.  I do want to express some caution about letting others know because it could backfire, particularly if you must “out” yourself as an activist or blogger or whatever else you might do that is not valued in your department and institution.
  • To extend the point above — do not suffer in silence.  Talk to someone about what you are going through.  When dealing with online criticism and hostility, the anonymity and amorphousness of the internet can make you feel like you are alone in a hostile world.
  • Don’t seek it out!  Fortunately, the criticism I face is almost exclusively contained in one relatively unknown site.  When I stopped visiting that site, I generally stopped being exposed to online criticism.   I realized I was giving power to cowardly, closed-minded colleagues by welcoming the stupid things they say about me into my life.  At the moment, I feel that the opinions that are really worth my attention are those that put as much time and energy into responding to me as I put into my writing.  Negative tweets and comments on your blog/website are quick and easy, often reflecting an unfiltered, grammatically incorrect rant that one would never say to your face.  (Really, why not extend a healthy dialogue by writing a response on your OWN blog?)  Certainly on others’ blogs/sites, do not read the comments!  The downside of this tip is that it will not work for writers and bloggers who have really eager critics and trolls that take the time to email you or contact you in other ways.
  • Ask someone else to keep up with what is written about you on the internet — and only let you know about the most important things, and maybe anything positive.  Really, if someone really wants you to read what they have written, good or bad, they should be sending it directly to you.
  • Related to the previous point — if others let you know about new criticism online, probably out of concern, you do not have to look at it!  Maybe ask them to give a summary if you want to know anything about it.  Or, let them know that, for future reference, you prefer not to know.  Good friends should appreciate that this approach is best for self-care.
  • Don’t take it personally.  Yeah, even I struggle with this one.  But, once some time has passed and there is some distance between me and some bit of criticism, I begin to see that others’ criticism is often a reflection of something other than me.  When I began blogging occasionally for Inside Higher Ed, I received a few comments that essentially say “I am angry about the adjunctification/corporatization of academia,” albeit in the form of a snarky remark toward me.  You may also find that the hostility reflects implicit rules about who is allowed to speak, especially when critiquing academia, or the status quo, etc.  At this stage in my career, some believe I have no right to criticize the discipline or profession.  Besides age/seniority/experience, it seems closed-minded academics are very intolerant of marginalized scholars (and I include here contingent faculty and graduate students) daring to speak up.  These identities and statuses are personal, but criticism outside of real effort engage in dialogue really says more about your critics and their values.

Some of the above I have borrowed from friends’ advice and the following sites: