Please, #ThankAPublicScholar

PublicScholar

In this morning’s post on academic freedom, I discussed the real dangers inherent in being a public scholar (especially for critical scholars of marginalized backgrounds).  Let me be clear: job security in the face of external threats is not a trivial matter.  Indeed, the lifetime job security afforded by tenure, and the general academic freedom afforded to most scholars is one of the major perks of this profession over others.  But, attacks on scholars like Saida Grundy, Steven Salaita, Anthea Butler, Brittney Cooper, Tony Brown, and Sarak Kenzdoir highlight that tenure and academic freedom are not enough to protect public scholars from libel and slander, hostility, hate mail, and threats of violence.

It’s time to be real.  Being a public scholar is dangerous.  And, it’s generally a thankless job that many of us volunteer to do.  Rarely does it count toward tenure and promotion, so we truly are doing it because we believe in justice and want to make a difference in the world beyond the ivory tower.  In line with my call for the creation of supportive communities for public scholars (and in general), I propose a call to action to start supporting and thanking our colleagues who write and speak in public, who critique injustice and oppression, and those who work for and/or with community groups.

  1. Share a public scholar’s work with your networks.  Share blog posts on Facebook, Twitter, listservs.  Forward their work to those who might find it useful for their work, well-being, or understanding of the world.  Include their work in your classes, perhaps as assigned reading or for extra credit.  Help your colleagues broaden their reach.
  2. Engage a public scholar’s work.  If you like a blog post you read, comment or write a response on your own blog.  Tweet a response rather than just reteweeting.  Or, send them a email if you prefer to communicate privately.  Be careful not to convey disagreement as hostility or a character assault.
  3. Say “thank you” and “I appreciate you.”  I recommend this particularly when you see a colleague coming under fire, but this should be a regular habit, too.  Send a short email to let them know you appreciate their work and the time they put into it.  Send a tweet using the hashtag, #ThankAPublicScholar, to note why you appreciate them, and to encourage others to follow them, as well.  If you’re like me, sometimes you get starstruck when you meet very popular/visible public scholars; try to avoid this to simply engage them as a human and colleague (they’ll appreciate it).
  4. Push your department/university to recognize and value public scholarship toward tenure and promotion.  This should also entail offering greater protection to public scholars who may, at any time, become the target of hostility and threats.

I don’t say this because I want to be showered with praise and appreciation.  But, I can tell you that becoming a target with little explicit support from colleagues can feel very isolating.  I would be lying if I said I simply ignored the haters; I have, indeed, been emotionally affected, and spend a lot less time on social media than before.  I relish the ever-growing traffic that this blog sees, but the numbers pale in comparison to a simple note that says “thank you for writing this.”  We, as scholars, are inundated with critique, from peer review to student evaluations to tenure and promotion.  But, those critiques can feel like a pinprick compared to the ugly backlash some public scholars have faced.

So, will you heed my call?  Will you thank a public scholar or two for me?  Thank you.

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:

Open Scholarship As Intellectual Activism

VCU Open Access Talk

In March, I participated on a panel on open scholarship at Virginia Commonwealth University.  I was invited because of my use of blogging to make academic knowledge more accessible, and being fairly visible as a scholar on social media in general.  In my presentation, I introduced the concept of intellectual activism and spoke about the risks associated with such work, particularly for marginalized scholars.  You can see the text from my talk below.

Open Scholarship as Intellectual Activism

Progress has been made toward making academic research, knowledge, and resources accessible to the broader public.  This is a great cause. It is certainly a matter of justice and equality.  Ironically, a number of scholars – particularly those from marginalized communities themselves (women, people of color, LGBT people) – cannot or are hesitant to participate in the move toward open access.  However, many scholars, particularly marginalized scholars, participate in a different form of open scholarship: intellectual activism.  My primary aim is to introduce what intellectual activism is, what it looks like, and some of the benefits and risks of this kind of open scholarship.

“Professors, We Need You!”

I want to start by sharing an op-ed by Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times, entitled “Professors, We Need You!”   Kristof argues that scholars are irrelevant, or at least not as relevant as we should be, to important national debates, policy-making, etc.  Academic disciplines have become too specialized.  Some are too left-leaning.

A basic challenge is that Ph.D. programs have fostered a culture that glorifies arcane unintelligibility while disdaining impact and audience.  This culture of exclusivity is then transmitted to the next generation through the publish-or-perish tenure process.  Rebels are too often crushed or driven away.

I think that he raises an important concern, albeit supported by some problematic claims.  But, his characterization of scholars’ efforts to engage the broader public fails to give us enough credit.

 “Open” Research

There is evidence of open scholarship on each of the three major tasks of every academic’s career: research, teaching, service.  The primary meaning of open access is to making published articles freely accessible to the general public, most likely online.  Some progress has been made on this front.  There have recent developments in my own discipline, Sociology, including the creation of Sociological Science, an independent open-access journal, and a new open access journal that the American Sociological Association will soon launch.

One weakness of this approach is that open access does not necessarily translate into accessibility.  As Kristof pointed out, there is a great deal of academic writing that cannot be understood by most people outside of academia, possibly scholars’ own discipline, or even their subdiscipline. I share each new publication with my parents – keeping up the practice since I was finger-painting in kindergarten.  Some articles they understand, and can either comment or ask questions, and to others they just smile and say “good job.”  In the latter case, I am sure they haven’t a clue what the article is about.  My point here is that even passing out free copies of the latest issue of American Sociological Review, the top journal in my field, would do little to advance open access.

“Open” Teaching

On the teaching side of open access, there are a number of scholars who advance open scholarship as a means of educating the broader public.  This may be actually explaining one’s research in understandable language, rather than simply making one’s publications available.  Others, for example, maintain blogs through which they explain difficult academic concepts and theories in accessible terminology.

I blogged for the Kinsey Institute for five years, as a graduate student at Indiana University.  The site offers short, accessible posts on sexual health and the latest research on sex and sexuality.  There are other scholars who maintain blogs that serve almost as an introductory course, in the form of blogs.   But, often connect to current events to keep the content relevant.

In addition to blogging, a number of scholars use Twitter, sometimes using a hashtag (e.g., #SaturdaySchool) to advance accessible teaching.  Using #SaturdaySchool, several scholars will decide on a topic to discuss, and, essentially as a conversation, you have multiple perspectives on one issue.  Again, the issue remains regarding who can afford to pursue these efforts.  Many of these sites are maintained either by tenured professors, or professors at liberal arts institutions where such work may hold greater value – maybe as teaching, but most likely as a form of service.

Intellectual Activism

Finally, one can be “open” as a scholar as a component of academic service.  But, my own personal interest here is in using it for community service and advocacy.  There are debates about public scholarship within sociology that come and go.  In late 1990s, a push for public sociology was revived by Dr. Michael Buroway, which he advanced during his tenure as president of American Sociological Association.  More recently, Dr. Patricia Hill Collins, a sociology professor at University of Maryland and former president of ASA, published a book on intellectual activism.  Collins defines intellectual activism as “the myriad of ways that people place the power of their ideas in the service to social justice.”  At the heart of this is the inseparable connection between activism and scholarship.

There are two components of intellectual activism.  First, one may speak truth to power: “this form of truth telling uses the power of ideas to confront existing power relations.”  This is done by developing alternative frameworks for investigating social inequality – challenging dominant and mainstream approaches that overlook certain aspects of social inequality and certain oppressed communities.  Collins’s own scholarship has advanced a perspective to interrogate the intersections among systems of oppression like racism, sexism, classism, and heterosexism, rather than viewing each axis in isolation from the others.  And, such intellectual activism is done within academia.  The second component of intellectual activism is to speak truth to the people – speaking truth directly to the people.  Collins notes, “such truth-telling requires talking, reason, honesty, love, courage, and care.”  This is real engagement, be it virtual or face-to-face, with members of the community.

There are various ways in which scholars may engage in or pursue intellectual activism, some of which blur into a broader online presence; some blur both components of intellectual activism.  As I have already noted, some scholars work to make research findings accessible.  But, not simply to make publications available; rather, they actually make the content understandable in terms of language, and made relevant to the lives of laypeople.  Beyond one’s publications, intellectual activism can entail making academic knowledge in general accessible and understandable.  It can also serve as a vehicle for social justice advocacy, to empower disadvantaged communities, criticize injustice and oppressive practices, and provide commentary on current events.

Intellectual Activism To Change Academia

Beyond serving the general public, or specific communities outside of academia, scholars’ openness – namely use of blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and other forms of social media – can serve as a form of advocacy within academia.  There are many examples of online sources of advice and resources for scholars.   For some, social media can be used to foster scholarly communities; for example, the #ScholarSunday hastag on Twitter, created by Dr. Raul Pacheco-Vega.  Or, it can be used to advocate for change to academic cultures, practices, and norms.

Last summer, I created this blog, specifically for marginalized scholars, where I and guest bloggers write about experiences of discrimination, isolation, and harassment, and offer critique of policies and practices within academia that hinder the careers of marginalized academics. A number of similar sites exist. Some bloggers criticize the adjunctification and corporatization of academia.

Other bloggers aim to increase transparency about experiences and injustices in academia. For example, in October, two women scholars wrote publicly about being sexually harassed by editorial staff at Scientific American.  Dr. Danielle Lee, a Black woman biologist, wrote about an exchange in which she turned down an invitation to be a guest blogger because she would not be compensated.  The editor responded: “Because we don’t pay for blog entries? Are you an urban scientist or an urban whore?” She wrote about it on her blog, Urban Biologist. And, Monica Bryne, a writer and playwright, wrote on her blog about being sexually harassed by the editor of Scientific American, Bora Zivckovic.  Other women subsequently came forward about being harassed by him.  This brought about a bigger online conversation about sexual harassment and gender discrimination in the sciences.

Risks Of Intellectual Activism

Collins notes that demands placed on academics have made this kind of open scholarship a luxury in light of the professional risk – a concern that other scholar have raised, as well.  Unfortunately, some of these risks are either heightened for or unique to marginalized scholars.

First, open access publishing may not “count” professionally as much as publishing in traditional journals.  At best, this is seen as form of academic service, or a personal hobby.  Too much of it, particularly if one does not have the research or teaching record to “compensate” for it, may cost you.  For marginalized scholars, as well as those doing research that remains at the margins of their discipline, open access publishing is an opportunity they cannot afford to pursue.  Let me make explicit here that inequality exists in academia – too often, in the form of discrimination.  So, these scholars often have to work much harder than their privileged colleagues to receive the same rewards like tenure.

This is captured in a blog post, published in August, by Dr. Isis (a pseudonym), a Latina woman tenure-track professor of biology, on her blog – Isis the Scientist.  She pushes back against the increasing pressure to publish in open access journals because such publications may not count as much toward tenure.

Larger than the open access warz, I feel I have a moral responsibility to increase the access to science careers for women and minorities.  I can’t hold the door open for those folks unless I am standing on the other side of it.  That means getting tenure and if someone tells me that I can get closer to those goals by forgoing Open Access for a round or two, I’m going to do it.

She concludes:

To paint Open Access as the greatest moral imperative facing science today condescendingly dismisses the experiences many of the rest of us are having.

This links to my opening comments, that the very initiative to address inequality through open scholarship may actually be having the opposite effect in the absence of institutional rewards and support for open access publishing.  It is too risky for some of us.

Second, there is little institutional reward and support, and it varies by school and department.  There are some instances of blocking scholars’ social media use, or sanctioning it.Earlier this year, the International Studies Association considered a proposal to bar members of editorial boards for ISA journals from blogging, unless it was for the journal.  But, ultimately the organization tabled this proposal.  In addition, Kansas University has adopted a policy regarding social media use in which faculty, including tenured faculty, may be terminated for “improper use” of social media.  This includes any use deemed contrary to the best interest of the university, or that impairs discipline by superiors or harmony among co-workers.  This was passed by the KU board of regents in December without faculty input, eliciting intense criticism that this reflects a threat to academic freedom.

Third, online presence opens scholars up to criticism, hostility, even harassment and threats.  Unfortunately, this is particularly true for scholars of color and women scholars.  Given the professional and personal risks, many scholars use pseudonyms online.  But, even then, they run the risk of being “outed.”  Dr. Isis, whom I mentioned earlier, was outed by Henry Gee, an editor at Nature magazine, with whom Dr. Isis has had a long feud.

Concluding Thoughts

Scholars’ online presence is quite common.  But, academic institutions lag in rewarding and supporting online scholarship.  Open access is a great direction, but at the moment it is not a one-size-fits-all opportunity for scholars; and, there are multiple ways to be “open.”  The reality is, a scholar can still remain “traditional,” staying behind paywalls and be successful professionally.

I encourage those advancing open access scholarship to be critical of the uneven and, in some cases, unequal, advancement of such initiatives.  But, I am a bit pessimistic that, even as institutions begin to value and support open scholarship, intellectual activism will remain seen as something outside of traditional academic work, and thus unsupported and stigmatized.

The Myth Of Meritocracy In Academia

Many sociologists, as well as scholars in other disciplines, talk about the “myth of meritocracy” in their classes.  They inform their students that many in the US believe good ol’ hard work is the primary determinant of one’s successes, opportunities, and wealth — BUT nothing could be further from the truth to explain pervasive inequality.  Not only is this an inaccurate explanation, hence referring to it as a myth, it is also dangerous because it masks all of the other factors beyond one’s control that produce and maintain disparities.  Hopefully, we push our students one more step to see inequality as the product of individual and structural factors, not merely a few bad apples who lie, cheat, and steal, or discriminate and hinder others’ success.

Ironically, academics — including many sociologists — fail to apply this perspective to assess how status, wealth, resources, and opportunities are distributed within academia.  I will admit my own naivete, that I was shocked to experience racist and homophobic microaggressions from the beginning of graduate school (I mean, classes had not even started yet!).  And, once again shocked at the start of my new job, I decided it was foolish to assume the absence of prejudice and discrimination anywhere (including academia).

Ah, the myth of meritocracy in academia.  But, I am not referring here to those who do not yet know the realities of inequality, discrimination, microaggressions, and harassment in academia.  I am referring to those who willfully do not see them.  Let me give a few examples, big and small:

  • Many graduate programs continue to give false hope to their students that there will be enough tenure-track jobs to go around.  Just work hard, publish, and don’t teach too much.  Remarking that, “oh, this is just a bad year,” erases that there haven’t been “good years” in some fields in a while — and there may never be another “good year.”
  • Related to the above point, assuming that professors at certain highly-ranked institutions must be strong, highly qualified, scholarly superstars is a fuzzy proxy at best; but, it also ignores that there are similarly qualified scholars who ended up at lower-ranked schools because of the competitive job market.  And, it seems professors at liberal arts institutions, regardless of their institution’s ranking and reputation, do not even factor into these calculations.  Further, this erases that there are biases that keep some (marginalized) scholars out of the most prestigious jobs.
  • Since starting my new job, I have two colleagues (not in my own department) give me puzzled looks when I expressed concern about bias in students’ evaluations.  “Students will give you worse ratings because of race?”  Both times, I had to look away and count to ten.  Fortunately, I had another colleague who is well aware of these issues quickly and politely explain that, yes, students are not immune to the prejudiced values that surround them on and off campus.
  • Being told, “don’t worry, you’ll get a job — you’re Black,” as I expressed concern about the job market suggested a warped sense of how Affirmative Action and, specifically in academia, “diversity hires” work.  In my short time in academia, I have not witnessed one’s racial/ethnic minority status work in their favor as a job candidate (but certainly the opposite effect!).  I have not seen offers for a “diversity hire” used in a way that was sincerely in an effort to diversify a department.  Interestingly, we can quickly find evidence of racial discrimination in the workforce, but we think of academia as an exception to the rule.
  • Creating a job ad that is open in terms of research specializations, methods, and teaching areas offers a false sense that the best candidate for the job has the best chances of getting it.  What is ignored is that candidates did not start on a level playing field at the beginning of their training and careers.  Also, regardless of the quantity of candidates’ work, this approach also ignores how scholarship is differentially valued.  I still experience some resentment today that I have figured it would have taken me another 2-3 years of grad school to achieve what my department considered “best candidate” status — a solo-authored article in the top journal in my discipline.  For the most part, white heterosexual cisgender men from middle-class families were the student rockstars who were able to achieve that feat; they likely did not lose two to three years on anger, disillusion, and constantly questioning whether to drop out of graduate school.  Further, their more mainstream research interests have better odds of being published in mainstream journals.  But, then again, “you’re Black — you’ll get a job!” did not specify that I would get a highly prized job.
  • Even who students select as their advisors has impact on their careers [download PDF of presentation].  Want the most career options?  Select a white man as your dissertation chair.  Want someone who you would feel comfortable confiding in about your experiences in academia?  Hmm, that probably is not a white man.  So, what do you value more — your success or your survival?  Sure, you have 3-4 other slots on your committee.  Hopefully your department actually has faculty of color, women faculty, LGBT faculty, disabled faculty — and, for many of us, women of color faculty, LGBT faculty of color, disabled women faculty, etc.  But, departments fail to see 1) that faculty mentors are not interchangeable and 2) that the absence of marginalized faculty is related to many of the problems above and 3) the extra mentoring and service (especially things related to diversity) that marginalized faculty do because they are one of few (or the only one).
  • In academia, as with the world outside, there is a tendency to overlook that discrimination, harassment, and violence occurs and, further, to minimize it when it is acknowledged.  At the first step, we pretend these acts of hostility and hatred never occur — not in the enlightened world of academia!  Second, we trivialize these acts when they do occur.  “I’m sure he didn’t mean it that way.”  “Are you sure you’re not overreacting?”  “How could she be racist?”  Third, when these acts cannot be erased, we dismiss them as isolated incidents — one bad apple, nothing more!  Fourth, when evidence suggests these practices are widespread, we go to undermining the data collection — reliability!  non-generalizable!  selection effect!  At what point do we finally admit academia, in general, is not an exemplar space for inclusion and understanding?

Begrudgingly, I buy ignorance as an excuse.  We cannot expect incoming graduate students to know that inequality exists in academia, especially when we are complicit in painting a picture of higher education as egalitarian spaces.  And, unfortunately, we cannot expect our privileged colleagues to know about discrimination, harassment, and other manifestations of oppression within academia — that ignorance is one blissful aspect of being privileged.  Some things, though — like the growing adjunctification of academia — are hard to miss even to those who do not personally experience discrimination and harassment.

This is why I advocate for telling one’s stories, even when teased about being a “Negative Ned” or “Dennis Downer”  Inequality within academia, and academia’s role in perpetuating social inequality, do not go away by ignoring it or keeping silent about it.  At a minimum, talking openly — ranging from correcting others’ belief in meritocracy in academia to blogging or publishing — about one’s experiences of discrimination and harassment raises awareness.  In some cases, it can also lead to change or improvement.  We must encourage our colleagues to turn their critical lenses back onto academia, for it is not immune to the problems of the world.

On Academic Hazing, Intra-Racial Conflict, And Marginality

KasimKasim Ortiz will be a PhD student in sociology at Vanderbilt University beginning in Fall 2014. His research interests include intersectionality, critical race theory, medical sociology, religion, urban sociology, and demography.  Although, he contends that such labels of interests are too restrictive, as he is merely interested in life!  Below, Kasim reflects on the difficulty of finding a supportive mentor, and the broader, uglier reality that academic training often takes the form of hazing.  He offers practical tips for grad students to survive.

May I Work With You, Please?  Academic Hazing, Intra-Racial Conflict & Marginality

~ To be afraid is to behave as if the truth were not true.
Bayard Rustin

The Journey Begins…

Markedly a characteristic of graduate school is identifying a mentor, often someone whose research speaks to you, from which you can grow as a scholar and gain insight on their lived experience in academia.  Also, this decision is often influenced by an ability to gain access to mentors’ professional network. Because it’s more important who you know rather than what you know, right? Racialized minority graduate students often find themselves gravitating towards faculty of color for a myriad of reasons. This mentor could very well be the only one in your department doing research that interests you.  All the blacks doing research on blacks, all the Latinos doing research on Latinos, all the gays doing gay research, all the financially stable doing poverty research. Please excuse my cynicism and generalization concerning academics and financial stability, not trying to give another blow to those in the academy that find themselves financially unstable.

Well guess what, I want to research them all because all of them are me (well, except financially stable… I’m still in the “trenches”).  I recognize my own financial capital in being an “intellect.”   I digress.  This story begins in an email: “May I work with you??  I really like your research and have ideas from which I believe can build upon your work.”  Little did I realize that such “community” seeking would be the beginning of a tormented pilgrimage to belong!

Culture Shock Sets In

A growing space has been supplied to the discussion of academic hazing, especially along tenure, gendered, and racial lines.  Graduate students are subject to certain expected experiences of hazing as “part of the process.”  Hazing it directly complements expected norms of academic life?  The backdrop for this “socialization” process often is remedied with our sole purpose being to obtain those “letters” behind our name because that will then afford us “freedom.”  But why?  But how?  But really?  But wait! “Freedom” at what cost?  Grandma interjects in the back of my mind: “Boy you know nothing in life is free.”

Wikipedia (yes I know it’s not an academically “reputable” source) defines hazing as the practice of rituals and other activities involving harassment, abuse, or humiliation used as a way of irritating a person into a group and can be comprised of physical and psychological abuse. Most campuses have “anti-hazing” policies aimed primarily at undergraduate fraternalism, yet you’d be hard pressed to locate highly enforced policies on campuses that speak to academic hazing among or between faculty and/or faculty and graduate students.

Let Me Reintroduce Myself, My Body is…..

In an attempt to muddle the water, I’d like to discuss my lived experience not only as a racialized minority in the academy but also as an openly gay man with perceived “femininity,” who happens to be outspoken. Now you might ask yourself, why are those unamenable and innate qualities important? They are important because each quality represents a direct conflict against the sterilization (oh, I meant to say professional etiquette) within the ivory towers. The intersection of qualities has often resolved in a positionality reminiscent of Wocquant’s articulation of marginality. This has salience because as Wocquant notes (specific to urbanized areas), marginality is not experienced the same everywhere. Thus, it should be duly noted the situational context from which this piece arose.

I have attended a Division 1 SEC university in the southeastern United States for the past several years. I was mentally prepared for daily racial microaggressions such as when a white professor, studying disparities, proclaims in a public health course that “Tuskegee wasn’t about race? It was about class?!?” This “preparation” nonetheless minimized a constant burning at my soul physiologically and mentally.

However, I was not in any form or fashion prepared when a Black professor called my cell phone one weekend.  A response to my rightfully questioning authorship on a published manuscript.  The conversation proceed with, “Who the *uck do you think you are?  Don’t you know I could *uck your career up?”  The light bulb started warming, but wasn’t all the way on.  The light bulb finally came on when a Black administrator told me, “oh no we don’t want this information to get out because [professor so and so] brings <insert famous politician> yearly to this university.”  At that point it became clear, I was stuck in a crab barrel that promoted docility, unwarranted politics of respectability, and a selling of one’s soul.

My Brain is Larger Than Yours

The intellectual sizing up that accompanies life in the academy has often frustrated me beyond explanation.  This frustration is amplified when it comes from the hands of those in which my hands mirror.  It hasn’t become quite clear as to why such specific hazing occurs. However, why can’t I just be intelligent, passionate about learning, enjoy answering complex questions, read a lot and that be ok….isn’t this a place of “higher learning”?  I’ve often speculated that academic hazing stems from hazing experienced by so many Black undergraduates as they’ve sought brotherhood/sisterhood in fraternal organizations and have made it to glory as a professor.  A true crossing of the burning sands of a sort.

Yet this framing seems insufficient or at best a minimizing lens or an oversimplification. Could it be internalized racism which is rooted in historical experiences of enslavement and beyond chattel slavery? Could it be heterosexism and homophobia that deems my sexualized body dispensable among those that have similar skin tones because I am not quite a man but yet too much a feminine being? Is it because my outspoken nature is reminiscent of a “snap queen” or an “angry Black woman”? Might it be an attempt to cope with constant messages of inferiority where hazing one “less” privileged becomes necessary? Could it possibly be insecurity because of how an intersectional world experience manifests in my “thinking outside the box”? Or quite possible, academic hazing could just be internalized hatred for something someone represents for which others don’t want to be reminded of (the naivety of intellectual curiosity). I don’t have definitive conclusions to these puzzling questions, but I do have truth in being the recipient of their outcomes.  My questions aren’t a futile attempt to argue from the margins without recognizing the center.

So What Have I Learned? (Here’s the Takeaway):

  • Arm thy self! A desire to belong cannot, and should not, compromise your quality of life, emotional well-being, intellectual interests, passions beyond the sanitized walls of the academy, nor deny aspects that make oneself unique. This requires maturity in emotional intelligence, willingness to unveil masks, and ally building.
  • Protect thy self! Sometimes we can be our own worst enemy for an unwillingness to see truth. When situational contexts become clearly detrimental find meaningful ways to exit stage left. This could mean merely throwing the deuces; however, remember the last component of the previous tip. Without ally building it can be challenging to ‘exit stage left’ but with allies you can often find some peace. Also, naivety has to be thrown out the window. Just because someone talks like a duck, looks like a duck, doesn’t always mean they walk like a duck!
  • Love thy self! This cannot be iterated enough. Striking a balance in life while pursuing graduate studies can be difficult, yet you must force yourself. Find healthy (however you define) ways to disengage from academic life without jeopardizing your goals. Life isn’t always about doing; sometimes peace can be found in mindless nothingness.
  • Know thy self! When you’ve had enough, allow yourself to find the coping strategy that works for you. Often this is when you learn who is part of your “community” because those who are a true social support will be understanding. On “community”: immediately locating this is vital for success in academia. If you cannot find proximal “community” develop some form of “community” that provides you shade and cover from the day-to-day psychological distresses of the academy.
  • Challenge thy self! In the face of adversity do not, I repeat, do not run from it. Your feet will quickly become tired. Life in general can place you in uncomfortable situations and gaining consciousness of privilege may lead to heightened sensitivity. This is totally fine, just manage. If you feel there is a need for righteous anger, display it with your head held high, yet be open for change if necessary.

This post is an expression of me taking my own advice in challenging myself for which the following quote is truth of a new awakening.

“The Black [insert Latino] homosexual is hard pressed to gain audience among his heterosexual brothers; even if he is more talented, he is inhibited by his silence or his admissions. This is what the race has depended on in being able to erase homosexuality from our recorded history. The “chosen‟ history. But the sacred constructions of silence are futile exercises in denial. We will not go away with our issues of sexuality. We are coming home.”
Essex Hemphill, “Loyalty” (1992)

 

My Interview On Social Media Use And The Academic Job Market

In the winter issue of the newsletter of the Medical Sociology section of the American Sociological Association, you will find an interview by UGA sociology PhD student Jessica Seberger with me on social media use and the academic job market.  Jessica, as the Student Newsletter Editor, has been interviewing recent PhDs about their experiences on the job market and in the early part of their career in academia, with a particular focus on using social media for research, teaching, and service.  I was honored to be her latest interviewee!

You can see the full newsletter [download PDF] or just the interview below.

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For my stint as student editor I want to explore how recent PhDs found and secured positions within or outside of academia and how sociologists (with a focus on medical sociologists) connect to others through technology. I intend to explore discussion with sociologists who communicate extensively through Twitter, those who use groups on Facebook as a resource for classroom material, those who have and  maintain personal/professional blogs, and those who contribute op-ed pieces to major news outlets.

For this edition of the newsletter I interviewed Dr. Eric Grollman. Dr. Grollman recently received his PhD from Indiana University and has secured a tenure-track position at the University of Richmond. Dr. Grollman’s research examines the impact that prejudice and discrimination has on marginalized groups’ health, well -being, and world views. Within the last year he has also restarted a blog he started in graduate school. That blog, ConditionallyAccepted.com, provides a space for scholars who exist at the margins of academia. In the following interview we discuss his new position, his blog, and social media use by sociologists in academia.

JS: You’ve recently joined the University of Richmond as tenure-track professor. What made this position a good fit for you? How was your transition from graduate school to assistant professor?

Dr. Grollman: What I was looking for, on the job market, was a place where a good balance between personal life and professional life was possible. I’d heard this was more doable at a liberal arts institution. I also really wanted to work at a place where there was an acknowledged synergy between doing research and teaching. When I interviewed at the University of Richmond one of the professors whom I met with mentioned that they focused on this synergy, and I was drawn to that. I expected my transition to professor to be a bumpy transition, but making the switch from graduate student to professor isn’t as automatic as you’d expect. I also had plans to be politically neutral my first year but there were a couple of times where I stepped on political landmines that I didn’t know about and I had to deal with the consequences of that. So I was hoping to quietly focus on my work and establish myself but there was still political stuff that I found myself bumping up against.

JS: In the last year you’ve restarted a blog you started as a graduate student. What inspired you to start the blog? Could you tell me a bit about it?

Dr. Grollman: I wanted to play it safe while on the job market so I censored my online social media accounts while on the job market but that self-censorship took a toll. At some point I thought to myself, “I can’t do this anymore,” especially at a time when I was starting to see parts of academia that were really kind of ugly and upsetting [note from JS: see conditionallyaccepted.com for more details]. This was all when I was most socially isolated because I was working on my dissertation. So I started this blog where I planned to write about instances of discrimination and micro-aggressions, while keeping myself anonymous. But, I still felt it was too risky to do this while on the job market, so I deleted the blog. After graduating I still felt like there needed to be some space within academia, particularly for marginalized scholars who face these difficult and unfair experiences. I felt like these experiences needed to be highlighted so people can stop suffering in isolation. I found out later that many of my experiences were common, but I didn’t have those stories accessible to me. I hope that with this blog I can have this space where people are telling these stories, and talking about how they navigated through these experiences so we can make these experiences transparent.

JS: How have others responded to your blog within the field of sociology?

Dr. Grollman: It’s hard to gauge. I keep waiting for the shoe to drop, for someone to say, “Okay, you’re out of here, you’re fired.” So I’m still waiting for that but it hasn’t come yet. Ironically, I came to the University of Richmond thinking that this was a great place for me because no one would give me grief about blogging.  Initially, I still kept it really private, in part so I could gauge the political climate. At colloquy, when new faculty are introduced to the full faculty body, my dean introduced me and said, “Oh, this is Eric Grollman, he’s a new professor of sociology and he blogs, sometimes personal and critical reflections.” My heart dropped because I was being outed in such a big way. I kept waiting to hear if there’d be repercussions to my blogging. So, I asked the chair of my department, “Do you all know that I blog?” and she said, “Of course, it’s so public, everybody knows.” She said that people like it and that it was part of what made me strong as a candidate. That is not what I’m used to. That just reinforced why Richmond is a good place for me. Outside of my institution I have heard good things. A lot of people seem to appreciate it and say, “Oh this is so inspiring, you’re so brave.” So it’s been good overall.

JS: Do you use social media in other ways as a sociologist (for example, in the classroom or at conferences)?

Dr. Grollman: I haven’t figured out how much I want to use it in the classroom and pedagogically. Right now if I want to share links with my students, I’ll show them the link at the start of class. It’s something I’ve been thinking about but I would prefer to do my homework first before I start using it. I do use Twitter to put out teaching questions like, “Hey, people who teach, what would you recommend for ___.” At conferences, sometimes I’ll “live tweet” with other people so others who are not in a session have a record of what was said. Also, using Twitter and other social media has created a nice academic network, even with people I wouldn’t normally connect with at conferences or in person. It has been good in that way, as far as using and sharing resources.

JS: Do you feel compelled to be “on” or professional with your twitter account at all times?

Dr. Grollman: I’ve been trying to figure out what the right balance is. I’ve been feeling too “out there.” I don’t censor myself too much; I post a hybrid of personal and professional on Twitter. It’s just me and what I would say (outside of class). Lately, I’ve been becoming unhappy because sometimes it opens me up to hostility as I become more visible. I’m not really ready to deal with that kind of hostility. We simply don’t have professional norms around how (and whether) to use social media, whether it “counts,” and what protections there are for those who use it.

JS: Some of the topics on your blog are pretty personal. How do you feel about self-disclosure as a sociologist?

Dr. Grollman: I think it’s underrated. My opinion is that our goal seems to be being “objective,” which we know doesn’t exist. In general we seem to discourage using the personal as a perspective, as a support for something. Pedagogically, you can’t ask a human to set aside their humanness to make sense of the social world. If we want to have a conversation about how racism shapes health, it’s unfair and nearly impossible to ask me to set aside my own experiences with racism and my health. (Keep in mind that this is not at the expense of existing research and theory.) Since we don’t put these stories out there, they’re not out there. I think there’s power in telling your personal experience, otherwise we just leave it invisible and pretend that it doesn’t happen. Blogging and Twitter are spaces where I can actually write about my personal experiences. It opens up these new spaces to have these conversations that are for public consumption. My intent is to provoke conversations about these sensitive issues. For example, writing publicly about my struggles with anxiety in graduate school, or experiencing racist hostility from other academics hopefully contributes to a chorus of voices that highlight how pervasive these problems really are.

JS: What advice do you have for graduate students or junior faculty with regards to social media?

Dr. Grollman: I have two bits of advice. The first is to think about the benefits and consequences of using social media. The benefits of it are being open and accessible, inspiring people, or speaking in ways that you can’t in journals or in the classroom. The consequences may be that since it is public, what we do outside of the classroom and in publications may trickle into our colleagues’ evaluations of our work. You have to be comfortable with what you put out there. There are some people who have been harassed, particularly women who blog or are on Twitter, when people don’t agree with what they’re saying. The second piece of advice is to take time to reflect on why you’re using social media. Because we haven’t crystalized its professional value, you have to be intentional and self-directed in deciding why you’re using it and what you want to come from it.

Three Posts: Impostor Syndrome, Alt-Ac, And Activism

Every once in a while, I search for myself on the internet.  Recently, I have also searched for any references to this blog.  Call it self-absortion, paranoia, or pride — whatever.  But, I like to keep track of what, if anything, is being written about me (and this blog) other than what I write myself.  For the most part, I am pleasantly surprised every once in a while when another blogger notes feeling inspired by me/this blog to write about a particular issue or experience.  Yesterday, I came across three such blog posts, which are interesting in their own right aside from me feeling honored to be deemed an inspiration for the posts.

  1. Nathan Palmer, a sociologist and academic blogger, wrote a post, “I May Be an Impostor, but…,” about some of the fear and self-doubt many scholars experience as we “write in public.”  Unfortunately, as Nathan notes, we sometimes avoid writing all together because the self-doubt is crippling: “Because of my impostor syndrome I’ve ducked opportunities; I’ve deliberately held myself back. I’ve held my tongue (believe it or not).”  Nathan created and currently runs or edits three blogs filled with resources particularly for sociology classrooms: SociologySource and SociologyInFcous and SociologySounds.
  2. I discovered that the first post on AltAc Liberation, a new blog for “PhDs, grad students, terminal degree-ers, and other doctoral folks to explore the road less traveled by,” reflects on my characterization of academia as a “warzone.”  The author, who writes anonymously for fear of professional retaliation, writes about the pain of feeling unsafe and perpetually vulnerable in academia.  Overwhelmed with this pain, and of frustration and disappointment with academia — what it proclaims it is and what it is in reality for marginalized scholars — the author is seriously considering leaving academia all together.
  3. I also discovered a new blog, that of Michelle Munyikwa, an anthropology graduate student — including Michelle’s recent post on activism in academia: “Be vital. Be involved.”  “I think, ultimately, I am likely to agree with Dr. Grollman, and cannot imagine engaging in this career without an element of activism. I’m hoping to avoid the beating that grad school promises (wishful thinking, perhaps?).”  It is reassuring to hear from Michelle that attending to the problems within academia (e.g., poverty among adjuncts, high debt among PhDs) are increasingly important, maybe as important as addressing problems outside of it — and that Michelle recognizes the importance of “being involved.”