key concepts of GWS and why they might make the academy angry

Earlier this week the National Women's Studies Association published a document addressing some problems and new guidelines for evaluating tenure and scholarship in the field of Gender and Women's Studies (for simplicity, we'll just go with that name, even though I understand that it is contested). This document contains lots of interesting and important information about how faculty in GWS can contribute to the profession and to academia in general and about how traditional tools of evaluation in other disciplines are sometimes not fitting or appropriate within the context of GWS departments and career tracks. In the section entitled, "What is Women's and Gender Studies: An Overview of the Field?," on page 6, the document states:

"Approaches to knowledge production and transformation in women's and gender studies are highly divergent. Thus in providing an overview of the field, our aim is to offer context and background for assessment, rather than a directive or mandate for the field. We outline below four key concepts central to women's and gender studies scholarship, teaching, and service."

In naming these 4 key concepts it seems that the document (and the working group who authored it) is doing two things. First, they are identifying/explaining elements that are important throughout and common within the diversity that is GWS. Second, they are attempting to show that because GWS contains these key concepts, the academy misunderstands, is perhaps threatened by, and does not fairly and adequately evaluate the importance of GWS scholarship and teaching.

So, pages 7 & 8 describe the four key concepts and how they are misunderstood by the academy are:

1) The Politics of Knowledge Production- Since GWS is concerned with the examination/interrogation of the production of knowledge, GWS can be seen as "disloyal or transgressive to institutional norms."

2) Social Justice- Since GWS values participation in collaborative activist projects, GWS may be seen as less academically rigorous than other types of scholarship that are traditionally valued by the academy.

3) Intersectionality- GWS encourages scholars to deal with multiple and interacting systems of inequality (racism, sexism, ableism, heterosexism, etc.) and that maybe hasn't been valued in other fields. (I was a bit unclear on why the academy might have a problem with this aspect of GWS.)

4) Transnational Analysis- Since GWS works to de-center western thought and to understand the way that "the center is always multiply constituted in and through it's relationship to 'the periphery,'" GWS may be seen as a threat to the primacy/power/centeredness of the academy. (This wasn't explicitly stated, but that is my read of this section of the document.)

I find these key concepts and the ways that they might be misunderstood by traditional tools of academic evaluation to be really helpful in two ways: first, because it helps me feel that the diversity of GWS is at least provisionally unified about the value of these four key concepts and second, because it helps me more clearly see the ways in which I want to resist and interrupt the pressures of the academy.

I'm not sure if this document will really change the ways that institutions evaluate the work of GWS scholars, but I think it does change (or at least start to change) the way that I envision myself as part of the academy. Perhaps more importantly, this document helps me understand (and be able to more helpfully address) why the academy might be nervous or angry at me....and it helps me not take that anger so personally.

a guide to friending/tweeting/blogging with non-peers

Ok, so having throughly convinced you in my last post that using social media with non-peers is extremely important...I want to make a list of guiding principles for connecting with non-peers on social media sites. While I have thought carefully about this, I am the first to admit that this is a primary list. As a society, I we are all still learning how to use these tools, so I'd love to hear your feedback, experiences, horror stories, inspirational stories, etc. So, without further ado, a guide to using social media with non-peers in safe and effective ways:

  • DO understand your privacy settings. Yes, they change all the time, and they are a pain, but you must understand how to use them.... and you must review them fairly frequently. Know how to keep your information from being publicly searchable. Know how to use Facebook lists as categories of people for privacy settings. Also, when you connect to someone immediately put them on a list/circle that places them in a certain category of privacy. Then if your relationship to them changes later, you can change their group/circle. Lastly, don't let other people post (tag you in posts or photos) about you without your approval.
  • DO post, tweet, and blog about personal stuff. Demonstrate that you are a whole person, show what you care about, show how you spend your free time, show how your professional life impacts your personal life. Use social media as a way to show your friends what you do professionally and your colleagues what you do in your personal life. In both cases, they will appreciate your openness, and sharing these details will help your friend understand you better and build rapport with your colleagues.
  • DO use Twitter hashtags, retweets, and replies to connect and engage with organizations, celebrities, and politicians. Be respectful (of course!) and assume that everyone in the world can read what you've written, but engage! There is so much collaborative potential there, so we need to take advantage of it.
  • DO live tweet at professional conferences and bonus knowledge events. Those tweets will get your name out there, and it will be super useful to other people either in the room or who couldn't attend. It also shows that you are involved in the field and care about attending events.
  • DON'T post anything that you wouldn't say to the person's face. Although they are important, you cannot be sure that privacy settings will be consistent at all times. You can't be sure that someone won't retweet or share your post with the person that you didn't want to see what you wrote. You must assume that everything you write and post is available to anyone who wants to find it badly enough. Because of that, but more importantly because it is an important part of embodying feminist politics and community, you must learn to voice your critiques in respectful, careful, and productive ways. You must learn to think about the implications of your words before you speak and post. Name calling, hate speech, and being inconsiderate are unacceptable offline and online alike.
  • DON'T use separate profiles for professional and personal communications. You are one person; be one person. Using two profiles undermines that potential of these technologies to encourage transparency, to challenges hierarchies of power, and to make ourselves helpfully vulnerable to others. Now, let me say that I understand that some people must use two profiles because they are engaged in work that causes some threat to their well-being. If that is the case, then by all means, do what you must. However, if you find yourself able, I strongly encourage you to use one profile because I think doing so  models some important feminism commitments (as described above).
  • DON'T use social media to vent. Venting is for best friends, spouses, and therapists, but not for public consumption. You will lose followers if all you do is complain, and you will get in trouble with the people you are complaining about...so just don't do it.
  • DON'T pretend to be or have something that you don't. Don't pretend to be more important than you are, because that will come back to bite you. But also don't pretend to be less than you are because denying the power that you have is an abuse of power.
  • DON'T pursue connections with people over whom you have power. Let them pursue the connection with you. It seems to me that a student might feel compelled to accept my friend request because they believe that their grade depends on it, and that feels like an abuse of power. I wait for my students and athletes to connect to me.
  • DON'T post pictures of yourself doing anything that is irresponsible. This means no pictures of breaking the law, company policy, or ethical standards. If you are breaking rules as a purposeful act of protest, take the necessary precautions to keep yourself safe, but that is not what I mean by irresponsibility here. What I mean is that if you are simply being irresponsible (this includes excessive nudity or alcohol consumption) as a way to blow off stem, don't document that irresponsibility. Or better yet, try not to be irresponsible.... try to find other ways to let off steam.
  • DON'T live tweet/post every detail of your whole life. It's annoying, boring, and over share. It means you'll lose followers, and it likely means you aren't posting things that are particularly meaningful which means people will assume that you don't think particularly meaningful thoughts.
  • And finally, DO think carefully about the implications of all of your posts. In fact, I recommend that you compose a post, then think about something entirely different for five minutes. At the end of five minutes, reread your post and see if it still seems helpful and appropriate.

 

Additionally, as a teacher/mentor:

  • DO require your students to use these technologies. Make assignments that require them to blog or tweet. Students need to learn to use these technologies in safe and effectively ways. They need to learn to speak and write publicly. They need to learn to function in an online world. And we must help them learn those skills while the stakes are low. This also applies to co-workers that are under your mentorship.
  • DO communicate openly (and face to face) with your department chairs/deans/bosses about how and why you are using social media. It seems to me that most of the resistance/difficulties people have with implementing social media practices and assignments is that other people don't understand why and how they are making this change. If communication is established early on, much of that resistance can be avoided.
  • DO have a class session devoted to discussing technological responsibility. This includes consideration of the risks involved with these technologies and some mutually agreed upon practices for minimizing those risks. This may include talking through some of the bullet points listed in this post. In the classroom setting, this should also include very detailed descriptions of what is expected with regard to these assignments (re: summary content, analytical content, frequency of posts, length of posts, grading rubrics, etc.)
  • DO learn from your students. Ask students how to do things! Working together to learn the technologies helps students realize and analyze their own behaviors, and it is mutually beneficial. Again, this also applies to co-workers that are under your mentorship.

 

Question time:

(Please do take a minute to comment; I really would love to hear from you!)

What have your experiences been using social media with non-peers? Have you found it difficult? Rewarding?

Do you have any other suggestions to add to this list?

Do you disagree with any of these points?

Dear Small Liberal Arts College

Dear Small Liberal Arts College, You want me.

I am an excellent teacher. My students say that my classes are their favorite, that they learned more in my class than in any other college course, that I am organized, personable, and fair, and that my teaching methods are extremely effective. My colleagues like and trust me and want to continue working with me. I can teach a variety of courses and offer new perspectives on religion, ethics, gender and women's studies, queer studies, technology, and cultural studies. I am six teachers for the price of one. Furthermore, in the next 40 years, I will win teaching awards, work on several important collaborative projects with colleagues, serve on countless committees, work on restructuring the curriculum, and chair the department.

Additionally, I am an ambitious and cutting edge scholar. I graduated from undergrad in 3 years and finished my PhD in 4.5 years (and that includes taking a semester off for my mom's death). I am self-motivated, goal oriented, and fully capable of completing complex tasks ahead of schedule. Furthermore, at 28 I have written 2 chapters, 3 articles, and a book length manuscript in a cutting edge field. In the course of my career, I will publish several books, countless articles, and serve as president of our national conferences. I will be a respected scholar in several fields and will gain notoriety for your institution.

Furthermore, K and I will buy a home within walking distance of campus. We will walk our dog around campus and say hello to everyone. We will volunteer to coach the sports teams. We will attend musical and theater events. We will work in the community garden, pick up trash around campus, volunteer with student groups, and invite students to our house for Thanksgiving dinner. K will also be able to teach some courses if you would like. We will fully immerse ourselves in the life of the campus and will contribute to the community in countless ways.

You will get 40 years of dedicated service from me, and all I need in return is a tiny bit of office space, a living wage, decent health insurance, and enough time off to not get burned out.

In short, I am what you are looking for. I am a great teacher, an important scholar, a helpful colleague, a personable advisor, an active community member, and a huge asset to your community. Isn't this is exactly what you want in a new faculty member?

I will look forward to hearing from you.

~Tracy L. Hawkins, PhD

feminist pedagogies

One of the most important boundaries that I transgress is by bringing feminism into the classroom. In this post, I would like to think about what feminist pedagogy entails. I think that at the heart of feminism is a commitment to seeing all people as ontologically equal, and thereby being equally capable of contributing to society and to others. With that commitment in mind, there are some principles I use (or hope/try to use) in my classes:

  • I do not lecture. My offer information and my perspectives, but in conversational form. I acknowledge that I have more background information to bring to the class, but I am explicit that each person in the course can contribute and that each contribution is equally important.
  • We sit in a circle. I do not sit at the front, and I do not stand. I am one among all those contributing to the class. This is a visible demonstration of our equality.
  • Students lead some part of every class session. No one wants to listen to me talk through a whole class session. Plus, it seems to me that students learn more from each other and than they do from me anyway. Additionally, this again allows each person to bring some information and personal perspectives to the class.
  • If the culture of the university allows it, I have my students call me by my first name. Using a title for only one person in the room creates a clear hierarchy, which I oppose. It would also be possible for everyone to go by their last names (again without titles). I had a professor in undergrad who did this, but at the end of a semester I would know classmates perspectives on really important issues but not know their first names, and I found this to stifle outside-the-classroom relationships.
  • I try to get to know students as people. I ask them about their weekend plans; I discuss TV shows with them; I ask to see pictures of their pets. I do this because I think that real education occurs in real relationships. And I do not know how to have a real relationship with someone while also restricting our conversations to purely academic topics.
  • I encourage students to let the course material impact their daily lives. This can take many forms. In its simplest form, I challenge students to look at the media more closely to analyze the subtle messages that they may be receiving. In a more complex form, specifically in religion and/or ethics classes, this can be more delicate. I, of course, do not want students to feel pressured to change their personal religious or ethical beliefs, but I do want them to be able to look at their personal beliefs from new perspectives. For example, today in class, I was asking students to use gender neutral pronouns for god, and there were a few students who felt very uncomfortable with this. One student in particular was very brave and was able to articulate why she felt such discomfort. As a result of her explanation, we were able to more fully address the way that academic pursuits have the potential to change personal beliefs. In that conversation, I re-emphasized that the purpose of the class was not to get students to change their religious beliefs, and I went on to explain that the purpose of the class was to get students to see and be able to ask the questions that they never knew existed. I explained that this may (and indeed probably will) bleed over into their personal lives. I believe this is another characteristic of "real" education, namely that you cannot leave it at the classroom door.
  • As mentioned above, I encourage students to ask the questions that they never knew existed or were never before able to ask. At the end of today's class session, the student who had expressed such discomfort with gender neutral pronouns for god stated, with a slightly shaky voice, that she had never even thought to question god's gender or what it might mean that religions have traditionally used male pronouns for god. Because of our class, she was able to ask the question... and I consider that a success. It is also important to note that this goal is not content specific, I work toward that goal in all of my classes--ethics classes, religion classes, gender and women's studies classes, even critical thinking classes. If students leave the class able to ask new questions, it means that their perspectives have been challenged and their worldviews expanded.

 

You may notice that these teaching methods seem to require a small, liberal arts type environment. Thus far, I have taught courses with between 10 and 32 students....so yes, I have only used these methods in small(ish) classes where sitting in a circle and having a discussion is possible.

I have applied for a job teaching at a large state university, where one section of a course may have 70 students. If I do obtain a contract to teach in this setting, I wonder how I will be able to enact my feminism in the classroom. Kevin and I have discussed this a bit. We've consider how technology can help with this, and we've thought about some other creative ways to let students contribute.... but we haven't really come up with any ideas that feel "right" to me. Perhaps that will be a post for another day....

Thanks for reading.

And please leave comments if you have any additional suggestions about how to enact feminist pedagogy or if you can share your experience with "real" education or with classes that impacted your life outside the classroom. See what I did there by suggesting that you, dear reader, have as much to contribute as I do? :)

why "transgressing boundaries"?

The phrase "transgressing boundaries" comes from one of my two favorite feminists, bell hooks. bell hooks is a Black, American, feminist, educator who writes about sexism, racism, popular culture, teaching, and other things that are super important and right up my alley. In her book entitled Teaching to Transgress, she talks about how education should be a practice of empowerment and freedom, even though it so often isn't. I first read this book in a Logic course during my undergraduate career (about 8 years ago), but it has stuck with me.

I want my teaching to help students transgress boundaries, to show them that they do not have to conform to the expectations society has placed on them. I want my life to transgress boundaries as I encounter the unfamiliar. I want to transgress boundaries of hierarchies, of gender binaries, of geographic and cultural borders, of social expectations. But I also want these transgressions to be empowering... to myself and to those around me.

So that is why this blog is named as it is. This is a place for me (and you!) to explore boundaries and then to ask questions about how to transgress them and what might be gained by doing so.

I think it might be time for me to reread this book.

PS: My other favorite feminist is Judith Butler... whose work is very very different from bell hooks' work. Perhaps I will one day explore my journey of transgressing the boundaries between their two bodies of work.