A Sound Prevention Base For Addressing Campus Sexual Violence

Note: this blog post was originally published on our career advice column on Inside Higher Ed (here). Brian Van Brunt (@brianvb) is the executive director of the National Behavioral Intervention Team Association. He served as director of counseling at New England College and Western Kentucky University. For more information, see www.brianvanbrunt.com or contact him at brian@ncherm.org. Amy Murphy (@DrAmyLMurphy) is an assistant professor at Angelo State University, where she teaches graduate courses in the student development and leadership in higher education master’s program. She previously served as the dean of students at Texas Tech University (amy.murphy@angelo.edu).

As former university administrators, specifically a dean of students and a director of counseling, we have a distinct perspective on issues of sexual violence impacting college campuses. Speaking frankly, investment in prevention is not as exciting as investing in Title IX coordination and investigation. In our work, we have found the most effective strategy to mitigate risk is not only to fund crisis intervention and post-vention efforts such as investigations and clear due process but also to develop prevention and assessment efforts to better identify early behaviors, attitudes and beliefs that have the potential to escalate into an attack.

Frequently, however, the temptation of people in dean of students and director of counseling roles is to respond to immediate fires rather than to take the time to pull together a compressive, evidence-based approach. That is not an effective way to eliminate sexual violence on college campuses.

Think of the investment a community fire department puts into its work. While purchasing new fire trucks and having the latest in thermal imaging technology may help respond more effectively to fires, a more efficient way to deal with a fire is to prevent it by identifying risky hot spots (Christmas trees, space heaters, fireworks and so on) and educating community members how to prevent a fire before it begins. Similarly, what we need in the Title IX world is a Smokey Bear-style investment in stopping the fire before it starts.

Important Risk Factors

In our 2016 book, Uprooting Sexual Violence: A Guide for Practitioners and Faculty (Routledge), we offer such prevention strategies to reduce incidents of sexual violence and create campus environments that support healthier attitudes, behaviors and relationships. Sexual violence is not just a series of incidents perpetrated by individuals. It is also a broader societal issue that is better addressed by considering systemic attitudes and environments that support the reoccurrence of sexual assault, stalking and intimate partner violence.

We cannot make casual assumptions about where the epidemic of sexual violence might be coming from, but we can look at the roots of the problem that are buried deep within our institutions, organizations and societal values. It is by digging at these root risk factors that we can have the best chance of developing targeted and efficient educational strategies.

The first group of risk factors may be the toughest with which to wrestle, because we see examples of these underlying attitudes and beliefs in our daily lives. They include objectifying and dehumanizing other individuals, misogynistic ideology, lack of empathy, and hardened points of view. Some people see these root contributions to sexual violence as “political correctness” gone amok or even an attack on individual freedoms. But these attitudes and beliefs are regularly connected to the research on violence and tend to feed upon other similar attitudes. In fact, in group environments such as fraternities or athletic teams, these attitudes become implicit approval to think of others as less than oneself.

The second group of risk factors involves behaviors that relate to our treatment of others related to sex: using substances such as drugs or alcohol to obtain sex, behaviors that falsely lure others into feeling safe, ultimatums, and other patterns of escalating threat strategies. These factors may be used at the individual or group level to lessen supportive communication, isolate people and lower their self-esteem and ability to defend themselves.

The last group of risk factors focuses on experiences that escalate our risks related to sexual violence. How do we learn about sex? What are our past experiences with sex? Students with an obsessive or addictive focus on pornography, and who have developed no alternative narratives around how sex occurs, may be influenced negatively by exposure to pornography. Other past experiences as well as sensation-seeking and obsessive behaviors can also contribute to attitudes about sex. Unfortunately, many students have not had access to adequate sex education and are left on their own to understand consent for sexual activity and other issues of healthy sexual relationships. Colleges and universities are often left to fill this information gap for students.

Recommendations

In our favorite episode of the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “Once More, With Feeling,” the cast comes together to sing the concluding song “Where Do We Go From Here?” (See a snippet on YouTube here.) That is a fair question.

Here is what we suggest:

  • Monitor social event planning. A higher education institution should devote equal time and energy to appropriate planning and implementation processes for events that include alcohol. Administrators need to actively monitor the social environment and address the opportunities for perpetrators to take advantage of others. They should ask themselves questions like “How is the event being promoted and what messages are being sent?” “How is the safety of the attendees considered?” “What lessons have we learned from past events to ensure everyone has a safe and fun time?”
  • Teach otherness and empathy. The teaching of empathy is best tied to the overall mission of the college. For many liberal arts institutions, this mission involves teaching students to think critically and diversely about the world around them. To that end, faculty and staff members could reasonably teach basic empathy and perspective-taking skills to students in their classes, workshops and orientation events. This directly impacts the root risk factors of objectification, misogyny and hardened points of view.
  • Challenge hardened viewpoints. Critical thinking is the hallmark of liberal education. It cannot be just about content knowledge, but must also be about teaching students how to think. Following that logic, there is little room for inflexible thoughts or entrenched points of view. We need to challenge students’ thoughts that center on women being worth less than men, that other people are objects to be enjoyed regardless of their agency, or that you just have to ask more aggressively when someone says no to sexual activity.
  • Teach consent. Simply identifying the “bad” and developing programs to reduce at-risk and concerning behaviors is not sufficient to stem the tide of sexual violence on our campuses. We also must teach sexual consent and relationship health in a continuing, affirmative — and, quite frankly — engaging and entertaining format. Specifically, we recommend:
  1. creating dialogue, not monologue, when teaching students;
  2. knowing your policy and conduct code;
  3. using technology to help engage students;
  4. teaching students that good sex begins with good communication; and
  5. embracing the prevention year, not the prevention month (such as Sexual Assault Awareness Month during the month of April).
  • Teach healthy relationships. Healthy relationships, in all their wonderful diversity, are based on concepts of open communication and respect for each other’s autonomy and connectedness. In healthy relationships, people cultivate each other’s worth, as well as demonstrate willingness to reach a middle ground and to contribute to the betterment of the other. Colleges can support healthy relationships by helping students build their skills around practicing active listening, empathy and equanimity; focusing on the other’s happiness; and fostering social connection and mutual respect.

While institutions must investigate and respond to incidents in an efficient and consistent way, and often put out fires, we would do well to focus more time and energy on prevention and education. We need to find the time and resources to prevent those fires before they begin.

So what next? Again, we turn to the end of the TV series Angel, the companion series to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, to offer some guidance.

Spike: “And in terms of a plan?”
Angel: “We fight.”
Spike: “Bit more specific?”
Angel: “Well, personally, I kinda wanna slay the dragon.”

Academic Blackballing – Censoring Scholars Who Critique Inequality

Note: this blog post was originally published on our career advice column for marginalized scholars on Inside Higher Ed (here). Dr. Sandy Grande is a professor of education at Connecticut College, where she is also director of the Center for the Comparative Study of Race and Ethnicity.

Ever since National Football League quarterback Colin Kaepernick knelt during a pregame national anthem last year as a form of protest against police brutality and racial injustice, he’s been the target of boycotts, death threats and fan backlash. Consequently, despite his talent and performance, he remains conspicuously unemployed, even while less accomplished quarterbacks have been signed. The situation has led many to speculate that Kaepernick is being blackballed and possibly even colluded against by the NFL.

Kaepernick’s story resonates with faculty members, particularly faculty of color, who have also suffered backlash for speaking out against injustices within and outside the academy. Some have similarly become the subject of national media storms, death threats and intimidation and found themselves suddenly unemployed.

While such severe cases capture the spotlight of media attention, I focus here on the more quotidian forms of backlash, or what I term academic blackballing: everyday acts of silencing, gaslighting, bullying and “mansplaining” that not only serve to marginalize and exclude but also limit or outright deny opportunities for professional growth and advancement.

As a professor who has worked in higher education for more than 20 years, I have been both witness to and target of academic blackballing, the experience of which, as detailed below, shares things in common with Colin Kaepernick’s.

Tone Policing and Victim Blaming

Just as Kaepernick has endured criticisms that he brought the blackballing on himself by choosing the “wrong” form of protest, professors who speak out are also often subjected to this form of victim blaming. The justifications sound something like this: “If only you had spoken in a more reasoned tone” or understood that “there is a time and place for everything,” because in the university “we” value “civil discourse and debate” and not “emotional” diatribes.

Such tone policing functions as a means of redirecting attention away from the injustice itself to the method of protest, a form of silencing that suggests emotion or expressed anger is what is intolerable, not the inequity, prejudice or bias that is being named. But what exactly is the “right” tone for expressing frustration over the fact that, in 2017, the professoriate remains more than 75 percent white and 60 percent male? That the college graduation gap for students of color is still growing? That ethnic studies still struggles for legitimacy in the academy? That (hetero)sexism remains rampant?

Lest we forget, Kaepernick chose a silent mode of protest and, in the month immediately following, 15 more black people died in encounters with police. What kind of measured tone should we, as a society, strike to raise questions about the nearly 600 Americans killed by police in 2017, particularly when the combined total of such deaths in England and Wales across a nearly 30-year span is 67?

History bears witness to the violence that nonviolent protest has generally garnered. Similarly, within college and university settings, it does not seem to matter whether one chooses a direct form of protest or plays the role of good university citizen — you still pay a price for speaking truth to power.

The Distraction

Kaepernick has also been labeled a “distraction,” meaning his politics distract from the teams’ focus on the primary work at hand: football. Some well-meaning “supporters” have even suggested that perhaps Kaepernick prefers his activist work to his day job. Outspoken academics, often perceived as “activists,” receive similar messages from their colleagues, and grad students from their advisers; they are told either tacitly or explicitly to concentrate on their work and leave their political activities for a more appropriate space and time.

The problem with such advice is that it fails to understand that we are women, people of color and otherwise minoritized faculty all the time, not just between the hours of nine and five. And whether we speak out while on the job or not, there are still consequences for just being who we are. The struggle to be perceived as rational, reasonable, collaborative and nonthreatening in environments where even the mere utterance of the words “racism” or “sexism” is experienced as injurious is constant. And the dilatory effects of carrying the weight of this struggle are well documented.

Conditional Acceptance

At the same time Kaepernick’s blackballing carries on, so does its denial, explained away through arguments that it is his lackluster performance and not his politics that is in question — despite all evidence to the contrary. In other words, his blackballing is justified because it isn’t blackballing at all; it’s just what happens when (suddenly) your skills are found to be subpar.

Academics who speak out similarly experience the questioning of their qualifications and performance either directly through denied promotions or indirectly through the disparagement of their scholarly expertise. That is, in the court of public opinion, one is typically found guilty until proven innocent. To the extent that it does not seem to matter if words are misconstrued, taken out of context or grounded in empirical evidence and historical facts, institutions often capitulate to public outcry before they stand behind their faculty. The outcome is the same: if you find yourself the subject of academic blackballing, your skills — the ability to teach and conduct research in a manner suitable to your profession and field — will be called into question.

Paying the Price of Admission

Insofar as the default setting for American society is defined by hierarchies of race, class and gender, then the work of social justice, by definition, requires disruption. Yet disruptive actions, whether in the form of public protest or speech acts, are rarely experienced as necessary or productive interventions — as moving us toward more just and equitable outcomes. On the contrary, they are viewed as un-American, disloyal and uncollegial.

To be sure, under such precarious work conditions, staying silent and keeping one’s eyes focused on the “prize” of tenure, promotion or other forms of academic recognition makes sense. But for as long as racism, sexism and other forms of oppression continue to negatively shape the work-life conditions of both American colleges and society, there is a stronger case to be made for staging protests of multiple kinds. We need to keep speaking up and out because the alternative — the ascendance of the authoritarian state and the neoliberal university — is unacceptable.

That said, it is also incumbent upon people in positions of power to reject the narrative of “disruptive” acts or speech as categorically negative and unproductive and, instead, embrace it as an important and necessary strategy for positive change. They need to support faculty and staff who come under attack, because once threats of lynching, bombing, death and rape become the regular consequence for the expression of ideas, we will have solidified our decline into pure despotism.

Acts of disruption and pedagogies of dissent are vital to the health of a democracy. Thus, as faculty, we owe it to our students and society to insist on “thinking dangerously” and to engage critique as an essential mode of inquiry. We need to ensure that campus leadership understands that education has never been a neutral enterprise, diversity and inclusion are only starting points, and that study by definition requires struggle.

We need to recognize that the story of Colin Kaepernick is our story and work ever more assiduously to connect across various justice projects. The future of democracy and higher education depends on it.

Understanding The Recent Slew Of Attacks On Public Scholars

Note: this blog post originally appeared on our career advice column on Inside Higher Ed (here). Dr. Victor Ray is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. His research examines race and gender discrimination in organizations. His commentary has appeared at Newsweek, Boston Review and Gawker. He is a regular contributor to Conditionally Accepted.

Weaponizing Free Speech

The political right has developed a coordinated network to systematically target the free speech of presumably left-wing professors. Over the course of the last few weeks, this network of activists has launched a vicious series of attacks, leading to intimidation, calls for firing and even death threats. Colleges and universities have shut down operations, while scholars have canceled speaking engagements and even gone into hiding with their families.

Keeanga Yamahtta-Taylor, Johnny Eric Williams, Sarah Bond, Tommy Curry and George Ciccariello-Maher are the most recent targets of the right’s campaign against higher education. As the attacks have spread and intensified, the American Sociological Association joined the American Association of University Professors in condemning the targeting of individual professors and calling on universities to protect those whose speech is targeted. Jessie Daniels and Arlene Stein have written an excellent overview of why and how universities should support these scholars, and Eric Anthony Grollman offered a model for scholars to protect their colleagues from public attacks.

The specifics of these professors’ statements have been covered and analyzed elsewhere. My concern here is twofold. First, it appears that free speech is policed differentially based upon the identity of the speaker and whether they are supporting or challenging power. Second, the right is exploiting these manufactured outrages, using free speech as a wedge issue as part of their years-long strategy of delegitimizing higher education itself.

There is little doubt that some on the right disdain the institution of higher education. We, as faculty members, are regularly caricatured as effete, out-of-touch liberals with an overabundance of leisure and job security. By attacking faculty of color in particular, these organizations have brought a Southern strategy to higher education. Research shows that allegedly principled free speech arguments are often thinly veiled defenses of racist attitudes.

As Steven W. Thrasher argued in The Guardian, free speech is often a disingenuous framing device, with racial and ethnic minorities’ speech less likely to be protected. Wendy Moore and Joyce Bell document this selective application of free speech, showing that protected racist speech promotes a hostile racial climate. Campus Reform, the National Review and Fox News gamble, correctly, that the magic of racial alchemy will silence so-called principled free speech activists.

The disingenuousness of this strategy is apparent in the worry about hypothetical bias against white students, while ignoring the well-documented, ingrained, pervasive and routine bias against people of color on and off campus. The fake news outlets promoting these attacks outsource violence to maintain a veneer of plausible deniability. They hope to silence critics and make an example of those who stand up. White supremacy becomes frictionless.

This basic pattern has been playing out across colleges and universities recently, as a cottage industry of white liberal columnists regularly castigate undergraduates for interrupting conservative speakers like Charles Murray or Ann Coulter, casting students as unruly, childish and nearly incapable of reason. Thus, the right ends up enlisting liberal commentators to advance their illiberal agenda.

Yet those free speech warriors are nowhere to be found when faculty of color, or those speaking out against racism, are the targets. Typically, here, critics of my position will resort to a “both sides” argument, saying that the left also stifles free speech. At times, this is true. But, to my knowledge, the left has no coordinated national apparatus that specifically and systematically targets individual professors

The broader political climate has emboldened white supremacists. And their fellow travelers’ violent attacks from the right are supporting and driving official policies. The full impact on academe writ large is of course unknowable, but I fear their use in undermining tenure, diversity and the very notion of empirically verifiable knowledge. The well-publicized sabotaging of faculty governance and proposed cuts to funding are furthered by the selective policing of free speech. These manufactured outrages are quickly leveraged into attacks on higher education. Legislators have already seized upon them to call for the firing of tenured professors, and Trinity College has placed Johnny Eric Williams on leave. Those academics without the protection of tenure face greater speech restrictions, as they often lack even basic employment protections.

It is time to stop assuming good faith in the free speech debate. The right has weaponized free speech, framing campus debates in a way that resonates with liberals to destroy the very things liberals purport to care about. By capitulating to the demands of those who threaten violence against professors, colleges and universities undermine one of their central functions as refuges for debating controversial ideas.

When Your Work Becomes A Facebook Fight

nicole-bederaNote: this blog post was originally published on our career advice column on Inside Higher Ed. Nicole Bedera is a graduate student in the sociology department at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. Her research focuses on gender and sexuality with an emphasis on sexual violence and masculinity.

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When I realized that I wanted to be a rape researcher, I thought about deactivating my Facebook account — or at least unfriending many of my Facebook friends. It felt as though every time that I posted anything relating to my work on sexual violence, someone appeared to fight with me about it.

There was the guy I went to high school with who wanted to debate the accuracy of statistics on campus sexual assault. And there was the former teacher who left comments on my wall that blamed victims for drinking too much or dressing provocatively. Even my mom chimed in, wondering whether my new interest in sexual assault was an overreaction, reflective of an emerging hatred toward men. I frequently received unsolicited messages from friends who wanted to debate me on all of these issues privately in the name of keeping me from becoming an extremist or in the spirit of an intellectual debate where they could “play devil’s advocate.”

I am far from alone. For scholars whose academic work touches on contentious issues in the public eye, the internet can become a battleground where our contributions, and those of our respected colleagues, come under fire. In those moments, our aggressors do not treat us like experts in our field, but instead like the old friend, grandchild or relative stranger they know us to be. That is especially true for women and people of color, and especially true when our work has some relationship to the marginalized identities that we hold.

In the online world, people presume that all opinions are equal, regardless of how much thought someone has or hasn’t put into forming them. There is also little recognition that an issue one person views as an interesting story that just popped up on the nightly news is another person’s life’s work.

For those reasons, Facebook debates can be hurtful and exhausting, but there is reason to believe they are worth the time and effort. For every critic we face, there are plenty of people who appreciate the articles we post and who learn from the disagreements that unfold — and sometimes the critics are among their numbers.

Facebook can be an effective medium to introduce our friends and families to our academic work and to make social change more generally. But for these interactions to be successful, especially in the face of disagreement, we must break away from the common approaches employed in hostile online arguments. Below, I share nine tactics that I’ve developed to ensure that my online engagement with friends and family remains civil and meaningful.

1. Be kind — even in the face of hateful comments. It is easy to get sucked into the vitriol of internet trolls, but never forget that they get just as put off by your insults as you are by theirs. Obviously, some comments, such as violent threats, do not deserve a response at all, but if you are going to respond, make sure that you focus on setting a polite and educational tone. Plus, a little respect for someone with whom you disagree goes a long way toward opening them up to your ideas.

2. Empathize. We have all made ignorant comments, but academics have had the privilege of formal education to redirect us to more scientifically defensible or inclusive beliefs. Remember how you developed the ideologies that you have, and use your own learning experiences to bring someone along a similar path. The things that changed your mind-set might open someone else’s eyes.

3. Validate. When whoever you are engaging with hits on something you agree with, point it out. You can use those moments as a jumping-off point for the stuff on which you disagree. This is especially effective when you both feel aggrieved by something but disagree on the cause of the harm. For example, I share the belief held by most men’s rights activists that it’s terrible to punish someone falsely accused of rape. But instead of immediately arguing about the prevalence of false accusations, that shared belief can be a jumping-off point for how important it is to make victims feel comfortable during sexual assault investigations to make it easier for investigators to get the story straight. (And then we can have a whole conversation about victim blaming that will still tackle factually inaccurate beliefs about false accusation rates!)

4. Respect the other side’s intelligence. A Ph.D. alone is not enough to demonstrate that you are always right and that everyone else who disagrees with you is stupid. If you treat others that way, they may dig their heels in. Instead, treat the discussion like a topic you are learning together. It should be a shared intellectual challenge rather than an intellectual showdown.

5. Embrace subjectivity. As academics, it is tempting to stick to the facts, but in the era of partisan think tanks and Google, a back-and-forth battle of statistics misses the point. You have a distinct perspective — as do your “opponents” — and using it just makes sense. Combine that personal perspective with all those facts and data you learned in your graduate program.

6. Embrace vulnerability. If someone says something that hurts you, calmly explain why. People are generally empathetic folk who do not want to hurt others. Explaining how someone (probably unintentionally) caused you harm can be a powerful teaching moment and does wonders to save a friendship or ease tensions on the next family holiday.

7. Play the long game. You do not need to change someone’s mind immediately and probably can’t, even if you try. When dealing with friends in particular, you can post an article on the same issue you debated a week ago and they will likely read it, especially if you were kind and give them a nudge like, “After our conversation last week, I thought this might interest you.”

8. Pick your battles. Since you are playing a long game, do not feel pressured to respond to everything that riles you up. Sometimes it feels too personal and sometimes you are too tired, and that is OK. I have been known to respond to requests for my professional opinion on contentious issues with, “You know, this line of work is hard, and I’m just too tired today.” I also have more general rules, like, “I don’t argue about false reporting rates. I’ll tell you which study I recommend and why, but I’m stopping there.” Your mental well-being matters more than any single Facebook argument, and you should get to choose when you engage.

9. Lean on your allies. Not all Facebook altercations will lead to a rewarding resolution. Identify friends with whom you can talk about especially tough conversations, or ask them to chime in when you need backup. Your allies will help you heal from any harsh words that are exchanged and remind you that you have a strong support system that values your work.

Our online interactions have the potential to strengthen our support networks for our work — and change some minds along the way — but only if we are thoughtful about how we treat disagreement.

You Don’t Have To Let Students Into Your Online World

crowderNote: this blog post was originally published on our career advice column on Inside Higher Ed. Stephanie Buckhanon Crowder (@stepbcrowder) is an author, minister, and Bible and pop culture educator. She serves as assistant professor of theological field education and New Testament and as director of the ACTS doctor of ministry in preaching program at Chicago Theological Seminary.

“The ‘Sacredness’ of Social Media”

#boundaries #academy #balance #socialmedia #nope #sacredspace #theology

No, this is not another article on why you should or should not engage with social media. I will not waste cyberink on how much time you should allot to Twitter. The degree of frittering on Facebook is up to you. That is not my purpose here — not today. I am a proponent for exploring the vast tools of technology.

Interactions on the Internet are crucial in academe whether one studies history, sociology, geometry or, yes, even theology. From professors posting podcasts to the live-streaming and Periscope activities of pastors and church leaders, the use of the web is ubiquitous to say the least. It is worth emphasizing that access to the world online is beyond a luxury. It is a social, professional, political and theological necessity.

However, we must have boundaries. Too much of a good thing is abusive and irresponsible. I am especially concerned that, in the academy, professors allow themselves to say yes to students who want to invade their social media environment. It is OK to say no!

Within the hallowed halls of academe, we spend many days and some nights responding to student emails, answering the same questions, reviewing paper outlines, drafts and final papers, and serving as disciplinarian and counselor — ad nauseam. Thus, we must establish a perimeter somewhere. Well, it stops here. Know that your social media space is off-limits; students cannot cross this line.

We should not feel obligated to reply to class-related work on Facebook. No, it is not a pedagogical sin to ignore a “Can you explain the directions again?” request on Twitter. A student’s direct messaging is not a substitute for direct use of institutional email. A class-related shout-out on Instagram does not give students instant access to you or me. Our social media presence is precious, priceless and off-limits. It is sacred — holy social ground.

My posting and trolling on social media — well, it’s for me. As a professional, I want to be in conversation with others in the guild with whom distance, time and just plain inconvenience preclude our dialogue. A retweet here, a like there, and a message or two allows me to be in touch with colleagues and potential collaborators. This is the space where I can expand my academic, social and cultural horizons. I discover the latest article, the newest book or most recent political movement. This is not where I want to expend more energy fielding student inquiries about the syllabus or an assignment.

Establishing such lines of professor-student demarcation is not about weariness from responding to student queries. This is par for the course. Pedagogy is an exercise of questions and answers, thinking and responding. But it must also be a discourse of silence, reflection and meditation. Vocation calls for places of professional growth and development. The idea is for professors to have an arena just to be. The busyness of social media can perchance serve in this vein. There is much to be gleaned from the constant, ready access to information, ideas and movements. Everything, however, must be done in moderation. This, too, calls for academic balance and scholarly equilibrium.

The “me” on social media is professional, yes, but is not solely that of professor. There are many facets to my social location and identity. Because who we are “out there” can be personal, it is OK if students are not Facebook friends — although some would tend to disagree. I have colleagues who gladly converse with current students in cyberspace, while others prefer not to have such connections until after students have graduated.

If a request to befriend or an automatic follow comes from someone in a present class, it is professionally and personally within your right to ignore or block such requested connections. If asked in person about the decline, I gently let students know the rationale: social media space is all about me. There, I said it again. Our work requires the time for self-conscious advocacy, adventures and professional advancement proffered through the Internet maze. This is just another teachable moment.

Truth is, students could post items that I really should not see. I choose not to be put in such a precarious position. Let them have their Internet freedom. Note, we all need to proceed with caution. One never knows who is lurking or trolling. The Internet is always watching. Yes, we must be careful, but we do not have to be cowardly.

When it comes to alumni, former students, staff members or other people connected to an institution, there are perhaps a different set of criteria. Relationships change as people matriculate through shared organizations. In this light, some professionals establish various Internet accounts to reflect their respective social, political and career loci.

I think it is relative. You know you. You know what degree of any type of engagement inside and outside of the academy is personally apropos. No, I am not trying to hide anything. Probity says I am who I am in the classroom and in my dining room. This is comparable to not answering work-related emails on the weekend — same, same. A healthy dose of work-family, professor-student balance is beneficial for everyone.

It is just a matter of boundaries for me. I hear the stentorian retort: What parameters could there possibly be when Googling reveals information about ourselves even we had forgotten? The Internet is unforgiving. The World Wide Web has a long memory. It never forgets. Once it’s out there, it’s out there. Anyone, anywhere, at any time can find our pictures, posts and papers without our consent or knowledge. Nonetheless, I would like to believe in a modicum of control over who or what enters and feeds on my cyberself. I study theology. Belief is important to me.

So go ahead. Draw a line in the social media sand. Stand up for your cyber yes. Stand in your Internet no. Erect that “No Students Allowed” fence. Save your social media persona for the work your soul requires. This is holy ground. For the sake of self and society — this is sacred.

On Being “Conditionally Accepted” in Academia

Note: This essay was originally published as the inaugural blog post for our Inside Higher Ed career advice column for marginalized scholars

Photo adapted from Gustav Aagesen (http://bit.ly/1er9wGk)

Photo adapted from Gustav Aagesen (http://bit.ly/1er9wGk)

In July 2013, I launched a blog called Conditionally Accepted — an online space for scholars on the margins of academe. At the time, I was beginning my new position as an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Richmond and had just finished the six-year chapter of graduate school at Indiana University. The blog reflected the growing rage I felt about the reality of injustice and inhumanity in the academy. After six years of microaggressions, undermining my career choices and activism, and the resultant mental health problems of these experiences, I decided to break my silence. I wanted to begin writing the stories and advice that were not available to me as I struggled to navigate graduate school and the academic job market.

When I first created Conditionally Accepted, I defined its scope as a space for marginalized scholars in academe, including women scholars, scholars of color, immigrant scholars, LGBTQ scholars, working-class scholars, first-gen scholars, fat scholars, scholars with disabilities, and scholars who are religious and nonreligious minorities. Today, members of these groups are subject to regular bias, discrimination, harassment, violence, isolation and exclusion — regardless of their discipline or career stage. Some experience an additional kind of devaluation and exclusion: intellectual oppression. That is, scholarship on these communities is devalued, either treated as inferior to “mainstream” research or even seen as suspect (biased or “activist” research). This is particularly strong in fields (like my own, sociology) in which it seems that the majority of scholars buy into the myth of objectivity or “value-free” science.

The phrase “Conditionally Accepted” is more than play on words familiar to academics who publish in peer-reviewed academic journals. It reflects the feeling of being accepted in the academy on the condition that one does little to challenge the academic status quo. One might just barely get ahead with few challenges as a black scholar on the condition that one avoids research on black people or other people of color — especially any work using a critical race framework — not to mention any sort of service or advocacy that threatens the racist status quo in higher education.

In my graduate training, I learned that being queer was a supposedly a nonissue in sociology — and I should keep it that way when deciding which kinds of topics to pursue in my research. White, middle-class, heterosexual, “normal weight,” cis men without disabilities who do research on people who look just like themselves (but, of course, under the guise of “mainstream” research) are not accused of doing “me-search” or being biased. Nor do they struggle to the extent that marginalized scholars do to get published in their discipline’s top journals or to secure grant dollars or obtain tenure-track jobs. These are privileges not readily afforded to marginalized scholars, especially those who conduct marginalized research, and especially if it appears to threaten the status quo in academe.

In the two years since its creation, Conditionally Accepted has grown in scope, readership and visibility. The original concerns of discrimination, harassment, violence, bias, and limited and exclusive professional standards continue to regularly appear in blog posts. New topics have emerged: service, particularly serving one’s own and local communities; alternative and devalued career paths (e.g., liberal arts, #altac); pressing labor issues in the academe, including the overreliance on poorly paid and exploited adjunct faculty; self-care, health and work-life balance; professional development and career advice; growing threats to academic freedom; and, making academe accessible (e.g., open access, blogging, intellectual activism).

Some of these issues disproportionately affect marginalized scholars. For example, recent challenges to academic freedom have mostly targeted women scholars of color who write publicly about racism, sexism and classism. Other issues are pertinent to all academics but reflect disenchantment with academic standards and traditions that no longer reflect their needs, experiences, values and opportunities. Some of Conditionally Accepted‘s growth reflects the reality that most academics are not actually “inside higher ed” in the traditional sense — that is, on the tenure track or tenured.

One of the best things to happen for Conditionally Accepted is its move to Inside Higher Ed. This change affords the blog a much wider readership, among other opportunities (like the ability to compensate guest bloggers). However, I must acknowledge that moving an unapologetically radical blog to a mainstream website is also scary. I’ve been assured that Inside Higher Ed does not expect a change in the content or tone of Conditionally Accepted and, more important, that Inside Higher Ed will not censor its bloggers. (I would have immediately declined the offer if strings were attached.) But I’d be lying if I said the change in my imagined audience won’t at least indirectly influence a change in the blog’s content. The very academics whom the blog regularly criticizes and implicates in injustice may now begin reading. I can already envision the kinds of comments we’ll probably be receiving from now on!

Mainstream home or not, Conditionally Accepted remains radical, even by its very existence. It continues to serve as a reminder that meritocracy and objectivity are, for the most part, myths in the academy. The column will regularly offer personal narratives of experiences of injustice and inhumanity in academe, letting other marginalized scholars know that they aren’t alone and providing tips on how to survive and thrive. It lets grad students and junior scholars know that there is more than one way to be a successful academic and that fulfilling and flourishing careers exist outside of academe, too. It challenges unhealthy, exclusive and oppressive traditions and norms in higher ed.

Most radical of all, Conditionally Accepted affirms that being accepted by mainstream academe as a marginalized scholar is overrated. Like embracing black feminist sociologist Patricia Hill Collins’s “outsider-within” status, the only effective path to liberation isn’t to be accepted by privileged academics, appeasing their conditions. It is to define one’s academic career on one’s own terms and envision a new way to be an academic in the 21st century.

We’re movin’ on up. Conditionally Accepted is now officially a biweekly career advice column on Inside Higher Ed. We hope our loyal readers will continue to read, comment on and share our blog posts and that we will gain more readers through the transition. Many (hopefully most) of our guest bloggers will continue to contribute.

We are also pleased to welcome new bloggers. If you have an idea for a post that fits within our vision and mission — in particular, advancing the careers and well-being of marginalized scholars and, in so doing, elevating oppressed communities inside and outside the ivory tower — please email us at conditionally.accepted@insidehighered.com. We look forward to hearing and sharing the narratives of the “conditionally accepted” inside (and outside) of academe.

 

We’ve Moved!

Big News!

Dear readers,

Conditionally Accepted is now a biweekly career advice column on Inside Higher Ed.  Our new blog posts will appear on our IHE column, located here: http://www.insidehighered.com/users/conditionally-accepted.  In our first blog post, I remind readers what it means to be “conditionally accepted” in academia — the marginalization, bias, discrimination, and accusations of conducting “me-search” that oppressed scholars face regularly in the academia.

Be sure to tune in to our IHE column every other Friday for new posts from me (@grollman), and regular contributors Dr. Jeana Jorgensen (@foxyfolklorist), Dr. J. Sumerau (@jsumerau), and — introducing — Dr. Manya Whitaker (@ivyleaguelady).  We continue to accept guest blog posts, which can be pitched or emailed to us at conditionally.accepted@insidehighered.com.  (See our suggested guidelines for guest blog posts here.)

Also, you can continue to keep up with us on Facebook and Twitter (@conditionaccept), as well.

Finally, a note of thanks.  Thank you to our thousands (tens of thousands?) of readers for your time and interest, for sharing our blog posts with your friends and colleagues, for returning multiple times to see our latest content.  Thank you to the few dozen guest bloggers who have given away a piece of themselves on this blog.  Thank you to my department and university colleagues who repeatedly reminded me that it was silly to fear that my secret-public blog would cost me my job and, instead, that this work is important and actually valued.  Thank you to friends and family who have encouraged me to fight with my passion, not against it.  And, special thanks to my partner Eric (yes, with the same first name), who has never grown tired of hearing about blog posts, intellectual activism, trolls, the traumatizing experience of grad school, R&Rs, IHE, and everything else related to being “conditionally accepted.”  And, now thanks to Inside Higher Ed for taking a chance on us, taking this little project prime time.

In Solidarity,
Eric Anthony Grollman