Voice, Censorship, and Change

November 6, 2012 –Election Day. –a day where we take to the polls to (re) elect a president. We are reminded that not so long ago, minorities and women battled for suffrage, for the right to be heard and counted.  Even today, in states across the country there remain numerous acts of voter suppression and legislation aimed to disenfranchise minority voters in particular.  We are reminded that in order for democracy to succeed we must constantly fight to maintain and sustain the rights that ALL citizens are entitled to –and work against those who would try to strip or pervert the rights guaranteed to all of us in the eyes of the law.

I was compelled to write this short blog post because today my colleagues and former students at the University of San Diego are beginning a protest to combat the university’s violation of the tenets of academic freedom and censorship.  Actions taken by the university to rescind Dr. Tina Beattie’s invitation to serve as a fellow at USD point to the ways in which donor dollars trump democratic education.  Much has been written about this controversy (see links below) that can provide those interested with a much deeper understanding of the issue.

I am a firm believer that education, at it’s best, provides students with a diversity of ideas, understandings and perspectives.  Particularly in the Social Sciences and the Humanities, these ideals should be used by students to inform their positions and beliefs.  For any authority in power –whether that’s the government, university official, or professor to actively prevent the presentation of ideas –whether one agrees or disagrees with them from those willing and wanting to hear them is an act of violence and totalitarianism., and violates the very foundation of education.

So this is a short note to say, I stand in solidarity with my friends and colleagues today. I admire your heart and passion.  Stay Strong.

Highly recommended reading:

Tina Beattie’s blog explaining her position and USD’s rescinded inviteKPBS audio interview with Drs. Beattie, Mannion, and Hinmen

Inside Higher Ed: An invitation rescinded

When Tokenization abounds…

When you choose a career as a professional sociologist that studies race and ethnicity, immigration, and organized labor –you know you are signing up for a career where you try and teach students and those around you that: 1) Inequality Matters; and, 2) there are a multitude of ways that inequalities based on race, class, gender, and sexuality manifest themselves in everyday life.  On good days, you’re grateful when the majority of your students “get it.”  You relish those moments when your students aren’t trying to “please” you by trying to simply give answers that they think you want to hear –and instead they get real and say what they truly think and start true and meaningful dialogues, regardless of how uncomfortable people may feel.  These lessons and meaningful discussions, however, are often tempered by the realities that lie just outside the doorway to your classroom.

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve found myself astounded by the ridiculous amounts of tokenism that permeate the academy.  As many of you have already seen in the pages of the Chronicle of Higher Education –Naomi Shaefer Riley a journalist affiliated with the neo-conservative “think tank” (I use this term loosely) the Institute for American Values attacked Black Studies and 3 specific graduate students after simply reading their dissertation titles. She provides no empirical evidence for her assertions, and fails to offer any type of substantive critique based in empirical research.  Furthermore, she asserts in a second blog post that because she is a JOURNALIST she doesn’t need to read or provide evidence before writing a 500 word essay.  I’d argue that this type of arrogance that has lead to the downfall of journalism as we know it.  The very simple fact that the Chronicle of Higher Education gives space to racist blog posts with no empirical basis, and written for the sole purpose of spreading vitriol and demeaning a program that’s desperately needed in order to diversify the academy –should make all of us question whether the Chronicle of Higher Education should legitimately be considered the standard bearer for higher education news.

The real danger, however, is that this type of unfounded and uninformed opinion has become the accepted norm.  Instead of actually looking at the realities that surround us everyday, we allow institutions and people to believe that race (or any axes of difference really) doesn’t matter anymore.  That somehow the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 magically ‘fixed’ all racial inequalities and we no longer need to pay  attention to the persistence of race based inequalities in health, housing, incarceration, and housing (to name a few.)  People point to individuals (e.g. President Obama) as proof that success has happened for minorities –but fail to look at the system and the ways it needs to change.  These attitudes permeate all areas of higher education where adminstrators, professors, and institutions see no problem in tokenizing students or professors and using them as proof of ‘what a good job they’re doing” —when in fact they’re simply reproducing the racist, sexist, homophobic mores that historically have gone unquestioned in the halls of academia.

For more years than I can count, I’ve been haunted by the fact that I’ve had the same conversation with a multitude of students of color around this time every year.  Student X comes to my office, they’re unhappy and want to leave.  They’re seeking support, affirmation that their feelings are important, and want some advice.  Unfortunately, after five years, I’m all too familiar with the sources of the unhappiness, and the importance of the student being able to exert some semblance of control over their reality.  At some point in the conversation, they talk about how angry, mad, stressed, and confused they are by how they’re being treated by others in the university.  The student will say something like, “When I told Administrator Y that I wanted to leave, they immediately started lecturing me on why I should stay.” Or, “Administrator Z keeps cornering me and pressuring me telling me I need to make a decision and that they think I should stay.”  In almost every single instance, the student ends by saying, “It’s funny that now that I want to leave –people want to “help” but they are still doing the same thing they always do –talking over me and not listening to me. “

Imagine what life would be like if we listened more and talked less.  Instead, we’ve created a culture in higher education (and broader society really) that privileges the promotion of unfounded accusation and self interest without regard to empirical real world experience.  In higher education, we become so focused on tokenizing people of color that we encourage a culture that lets people care more about numbers and window dressing, than we do about substantive engagement and contribution.  This type of culture allows for the persistence and legitimation of unfounded attacks that lack any real substance or merit.  In addition, it promotes the idea that the way to diversify education is by investing in the ‘claiming’ of students rather than true engagement and conversation with students.  In the end, this type of tokenization leads to anger, resentment, and the transferring of talented and amazing students who could have enriched our university

with PRIDE

For those wishing to support USD students, please see the following website:  https://sites.google.com/site/ausd4everyone/


I turned on the news two nights ago and found myself listening to a San Diego 7 News report titled, “A Campus Divided” (click here)  that reported on the supposed division among students on the PRIDE groups’ decision to sponsor a Drag show designed to educate the campus community about trans community and gender identity.  PRIDE has worked diligently to navigate the considerable number of bureaucratic hoops and hurdles placed in front of them.   The irony of this report is that it constructs upheaval among students, when in fact, it’s off campus individuals and organizations creating the upheaval through their hate infused messages and harassment.

The response from those ‘concerned’ about “Catholic Identity” has been a litany of hate mail directed at the students, their organization, and University administration.    While part of me wanted to laugh when I saw that someone said that the University of San Diego stood for “Undeniable Satanic Destruction” –I found myself saddened (not surprised) by the level of intolerance and vitriol aimed at students trying to honor and celebrate individuals who face discrimination and prejudice everyday.  Just as frustrating and saddening is listening to the type of hate being aimed at these college students in the name of religion.  I fully respect the right of every individual to freedom and religion –but wonder what religion, god, gods, goddesses, or deities preach hate as an acceptable form of behavior and social interaction.  It seems antithetical to any form of religion.

Many of us were reminded when reading an autobiographical article written by the late Dr. Joseph Columbo,, who taught in the Theology and Religious Studies Department, that it wasn’t that long ago that this community and their allies had to meet in secret –in fact professors had to keep their gender and sexual identity in the closet.  While the university has come a long way since that time, my hope, is that we remind ourselves that this is not the time to take a step backwards. For five years, I’ve watched as too many students have struggled to live their lives out loud and be respected for who they are regardless of their sexual orientation, race, religion, gender, or class status. The LGBTQQ community has become the target of religious zealots who claim to stand for all Catholics and Christians –when in fact, we know there is great variation in the ways in which different parts of the Catholic Church and denominations within Christianity view same sex partnerships and unions.  In truth, I might have  a lot more respect for those sending hate mail,  emails, and comments on Facebook pages and blogs if they stepped out from behind their keyboards and actually opened themselves up to a public and meaningful conversations.  Hate thrives in silence and anonymity –so it’s time for us to combat this bigotry by taking a stand against homophobia and hate.

I stand with PRIDE and celebrate the strength, tenacity, and perseverance of the students who are working hard to educate the campus community and combat hate.  I thank USD for standing behind them too.

Giving Obama the Finger Jan Brewer Style by Nicole Guidotti Hernandez (Guest Blogger)

This blog installment is written by Guest Blogger: Dr. Nicole Guidotti Hernandez, Associate Professor of American Studies  from the University of Texas, Austin.  Enjoy!!


I just began teaching Juliana Barr’s book Peace Came in the Form of a Woman in my Feminist Borderlands History course at UT Austin. The book brilliantly details the gendered nature of diplomatic relations between the Spanish and Texas Indigenous tribes such as the Comanche, Caddo and Kiowa in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It details how Native women became the arbiters of peace and negotiation processes during this epoch in Spanish America. My students had a hard time dislodging the idea of diplomacy from the empire. In other words, they couldn’t imagine that Indian nations had sophisticated systems of decorum and processes  that involved women where the Spanish had to obey to survive and pass through the region. At one point in my lecture I asked, “When Obama gets off a plane, people don’t get up in his face and say ‘what’s up homie?’ ” As the students chuckled I continued, “no, we see that there is a particular set of cultural rules that one must follow in addressing heads of state today, just like with Indigenous communities who controlled Texas before the Spanish and American presences became dominant in the nineteenth century.” It was as if I were psychic, because, literally, while I was delivering my lecture, someone did get up in Obama’s face.

On January 25th, Jan Brewer, governor of Arizona did something unheard of. She literally and aggressively waved her finger in President Obama’s face as if chastising a school aged child for behaving badly. While there are several angles one could pursue in interpreting this event, I want to talk about it in terms of race, gender, and immigration.

It still makes me laugh that Brewer and Arizona Republicans want to incarcerate all immigrants and essentially run all brown and black people out of the state, calling for stricter immigration policy at the federal level even though more and more people are dying crossing the border, being intercepted in Arizona and being deported at record rates. Nonetheless, as a Latina feminist, I can’t say that I’m thrilled with Obama’s immigration policy, especially given the increase in deportations under his tenure as President. But as a former resident of Arizona, I can assure that my frustration with Obama is nothing compared to the ire that I feel for Brewer and her posse of neocon henchmen (or is it the other way around?) who in a matter of two years have outlawed Ethnic Studies in Arizona high schools because they are supposedly biased and promote overthrow of the US government, banned books because they incite racial separatism, and passed one of the most stringent anti-immigrant laws in all of the United States.

On to the finger pointing… Some might use gendered stereotypes to narrate Brewer as a pathological, out of control, raving white woman, who insulted the President. Brewer has characterized her finger waving as a normal and moral response, for “she’s always been expressive with her hands and didn’t mean any disrespect.”[i] Enter the politics of race and gender. Would Brewer have waved her finger involuntarily had she been talking with another white woman or a white man who was the President? Or is it that Brewer subconsciously, as many Americans do, see Black men as worthy of disrespect because of their race and gender, irrelevant of the decorum of diplomacy mandated by the power structure? My guess is that this might not have played out the same way had the conditions of race and gender been different. If Brewer were a man, would the media have pathologized her behavior similarly? I doubt it.

While Obama laughingly told Diane Sawyer “I’m usually accused of not being intense enough, right,” his flat affect signaled something also about the politics of race, gender and diplomacy that demand he be anything other than too relaxed.[ii] His job and credibility depend upon this. So while the flat response to Brewer’s finger shows that Obama, like the Comanche in Texas in the eighteenth century have a sophisticated sense of diplomacy in the face of an immigration crisis along the U.S.-Mexico border, what we see in that involuntary finger pointing is that bullying has arrived as a normalized practice, however “involuntary,” even by women.

Continuing Dr. King’s work: Advocating for Immigrant and Worker Rights

This post is the introduction to a paper I delivered as part of a series of talks culminating an immersion trip to Italy sponsored by the USD Francis Harpst  Center for Catholic Thought & Culture.  Today, in honor of the legacy of the work that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr did during his lifetime, I wanted to share some of my thoughts and why I believe we all must commit ourselves to continuing the work of Dr. King.


“ We are not only living in a time of cataclysmic change; we live in an era in which human rights is the central world issue”  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1963, 94)

    On October 23, 1963, amidst a year-long campaign advocating for President John F. Kennedy to issue a second “Emancipation Proclamation” that enforced civil rights and voting rights via executive order (ibid 87), Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered an address to the members of District 65 Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union to commemorate their 30th anniversary. His speech highlighted the idea that the disempowered could fight economic and political power structures to achieve victory by engaging in a social movement so powerful that it enabled workers to “wrest some tokens of dignity from unwilling hands” (1963, 90).   The struggle for dignity, according to King, was an experience shared by unionists and African Americans and served as common ground that made the groups, allies in a broader struggle that linked labor rights to economic justice.  King acknowledged however, that numerous obstacles and barriers including racism within unions and society at large impeded social change. While unions were winning battles,  King warned that  even as those in power made concessions to unions, they would ‘give to us with one hand and snatch back with the other, every gain we make” (ibid). Achieving social justice meant acknowledging, “that mankind through the ages has been in a ceaseless struggle to give dignity and meaning to human life” (ibid).   Dr. King’s words and social analysis are equally important today as they were almost fifty years ago. The struggle for economic and racial justice remains at the forefront of political mobilization and action. Workers, particularly in the public sector, find themselves fighting their state governments for benefits, collective bargaining rights, and retirement. The civil sector, in an era of globalization, was once considered a safe haven for middle class jobs and lifestyles, now find their livelihoods in jeopardy.  Recent legislation enacted in Wisconsin and Ohio, and proposed changes in twenty-four other states, most notably Indiana, directly attack the collective bargaining rights of unionized public employees.  Additionally, there is anti-immigration legislation similar to Arizona’s SB1070, proposed in 24 states. These initiatives bring to the forefront the struggles facing both immigrant and non-immigrant workers across the country.  Funded and backed by a broad array of socially conservative politicians and think tanks, as well as corporate libertarians like the Koch brothers[1], these new initiatives attack the stability of government sector jobs and stealthily disguise moves toward privatization in the public sector including the prison, medical, and finance systems that need lower wages and non-union shops for corporations to profit.[2]The fight for economic justice and the recognition of the contributions of all workers regardless of race, gender, and citizenship is needed just as much now as it was when Dr. King addressed District 65.  More insidious, however, is the vitriolic public discourse that fails to disguise the hate, racism, xenophobia and anger directed at immigrants and the working class –both of who are integral to sustaining the US economy.  For example, Sheriff Joseph Arpaio announced that Maricopa county plans to launch ‘Operation Desert Sky.’ a program “staffed by citizen vigilantes and deputies from human smuggling and drug enforcement units” that will deploy 30 pilots into the air with M-16’s to hunt border crossers.   While these examples are extreme, they push us to question the motives behind, and the public response to these initiatives. Why do individuals feel threatened by workers receiving living wage, pensions, and benefits? Why are people threatened by providing immigrants access to decent, albeit low paying, jobs? Why do politicians and members of the citizenry at large feel compelled to turn to misinformation, lies, or worse –violence as a “solution” to perceived immigration or worker problems?  These attacks on worker and immigrant rights confront us with difficult dilemmas about the divisive way in which politics intersect with identity, difference, and privilege.  As educators focusing on social justice and equality, we must grapple with the complex reality that the challenges and changes we want our students to see depends on a reconfiguration of the social, ethical, and moral infrastructure that frames how work, organized labor, and immigration are viewed by students and society. _______ In the full version of this paper written in conjunction with a Catholic Social Teaching (CST) Immersion seminar sponsored by the Francis Harpst Center for CatholicThought and Culture, I discuss the potential for utilizing the CST principles of Dignity of Work and the Preferential Option for the Poor and sociological research on  stratification and privilege to help teach the importance of advocating for workers and immigrants in the modern era.

[1] Hamburger, Hennessey, and Banerjee. (2011). “Koch Brothers Now at the Heart of GOP Power” in February 6, 2011 Los Angeles Times.
[2] Handley, J. (2011).  “Divesting from Private Prisons” in July 16, 2011 , In These Times. http://www.inthesetimes.com/article/11623/divesting_from_private_prisons

Why Universities should care about the Occupy Movement

This evening, a group of faculty from the University of San Diego College of Arts and Sciences started a one-night Occupy USD demonstration. Some of my colleagues pitched tents and will be there all night, while others (like me) stopped by in solidarity and spent some time talking and listening to one another. Joined by students and some administrators, we spent some quality time talking about our reasons for being there and reflecting on questions posed by Dr. Mary Doak, “why are we participating, and why should universities care about the Occupy movements?

I was deeply touched by the personal and professional reasons my colleagues shared. Some noted their deep spiritual connection to social justice –through their belief in Catholic Social Thought and its commitment to working with the disadvantaged communities and the poor. Others talked about universities being a place where we teach the social realities of the world –in it’s beauty and ugliness. My colleagues reiterated their belief that knowledge is power and as faculty we have an obligation –particularly in the liberal arts tradition to work on providing our students with that knowledge. Dr, Gerard Mannion reminded us that “seminar” derives from the Latin word “seminarium” –to plot seeds. He reminded us that as faculty, students, and administrators we plant the seeds of knowledge –and that this is the foundation of change. Others reminded us that universities teach us the importance of democracy and democratic change –and when corporations can buy elections this disempowers everyone. My colleague, Dr. Lori Watson reminded us that this is a moment where one of the major things we need to lobby for is Campaign Finance Reform.

When answering these questions, I reflected on both my academic and personal reasons for supporting the Occupy Movements. Academically –I study immigration, work and labor. Over the past 3 years, this country has witnessed some of the most vicious legislative attacks on workers and immigrants in the history of the United States. Corporations are actively lobbying to strip workers of collective bargaining power, health benefit, and a living wage. They lobby to keep immigrants in poverty and fail to regulate businesses that continue to perpetuate workplace abuses. While we watch middle class lives erode before our eyes, corporations and the men and women who run them, report increased profits. We are living in a time where corporations pay less taxes then the average citizen, and the educational systems are crumbling before our eyes.

I told the group gathered that I was the first person in my family to graduate college. As a working class kid, if it wasn’t for Financial Aid, Pell Grants, loans (that I’m still paying off) and university scholarships, I wouldn’t be where I am today. In the past, we used to be able to count on the community college system to help alleviate some of the financial burden of four year colleges –but just this fall the State of California turned away approximately 400,000 students from community colleges. What this means is that students who most need financial support for their education will struggle to earn their degrees. What scares me most is that if I was attending college now, my indebtedness (as well as my family’s) would be astronomically higher. In truth, I would not be a college professor because the cost would be too high. We know education is the path to stability and upward mobility for working families. We also know that inequality and poverty persist for generations. We still see the legacies of inequality caused by slavery. We still see the ramifications of Executive order 9066 that stole property and livelihood away from the Japanese during World War II, and now we live in an era where the Supreme Court ruled that corporations can compel government agencies to use eminent domain laws to steal property from working people if corporations can prove “economic benefit. “ It is not fair that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

As I told those gathered –I feel that students deserve the right to the same education I received 15 years ago at the University of California. Education, especially public education, should not be a privilege for the rich. We’re living in a time of increased tuition and decreasing financial aid. We need to stop bailing out corporations and investing in future generations by promoting education.

So why should universities care about Occupy Wall Street –it’s simple. Social change only happens when we commit ourselves to teaching truth, and motivating action, and empowering the citizenry. The goals of OWS are not that different from the goals of higher education. It’s time to speak truth to power.

Things that drive a Professor of Race Relations and Immigration Mad

Over the past few days, I found myself wondering about the “New Class Warfare,” Troy Davis, the “Diversity Bake Sale” at UC Berkley, and a recent invitation I received to participate in a “No Che Day” sponsored by the Young Americans for Freedom and the College Republicans.  Although at a personal level, I find myself angered and at times offended by the type of vitriol, racism, and xenophobia being spewed in relationship to minorities, what concerns me more is the lack of open and informed discussion about race, immigration, the death penalty, and class –particularly with college aged adults.  Teaching moments present themselves all the time, but amidst the concern of creating a media maelstrom, we sweep these important discussions under the rug.  Bigotry remains unchallenged when we can use these moments to create real dialogue.  I was  really moved when I saw this picture in the SF Examiner, because it reminded me that we need to make “isms” visible.

UC Us Now (click link to see full picture)

As much as I disagree with some of the perspectives being advocated for by some of the aforementioned groups, I firmly believe that free speech is important.  I believe that the cornerstone of democracy is the ability to share your views without fear of persecution.  It’s at these moments at the crossroads that I believe it is most important to have real, difficult, uncomfortable, and even angry discussions in hopes of learning and finding new truths.  Yet, it is these very discussions we shy away (or perhaps it’s run away) from.  At these moments, we can actually share empirical facts and confront and challenge the fallacies that fuel so many of these movements.  Just as importantly, I think it is important to ask people why they feel the way they feel.

For example, I am really proud that faculty in the Theology and Religious Study Department at USD signed a public statement challenging the death penalty .  I believe that our community would be enriched if we heard why they felt making this public statement was important.   These statements are not easy to make, but they are important to be heard.

So what really makes me mad as a Professor that teaches about immigration and race relations is not that racism, xenophobia, and bigotry of any kind exists. What makes me mad is the unwillingness to talk openly and honestly, regardless of one’s political persuasion, about finding common ground without promoting and growing bigotry and hate.

Curves for Change: Installment 2

As noted in my previous entry, I’m working on a 30x project on the theme of curves.  30 days, 30 pictures.  I’ve also tried to find inspirational quotes that fit with the pics.  I’ve included my latest pictures and quotes here and try to provide some explanation when possible. I have to admit, my writing energy is at a bit of a low I have a ton of deadlines that are all due October 1st.  Craziness!!  So forgive the lack of written creativity in this blog post.

Kokopelli play for me,
So my heart may sing,
Magic flute of mystery,
Fruitful dreams you bring.
Song of Aztlan,
Fertile Fire,
Canyons of my mind,
Sacred union,
Heart to heart,
Speaks of the Divine.

I’ve always been fascinated with the image of Kokopelli.  The ancient connections connected to the Hopi is fascinating.  The poem reminded of the importance of our hearts, dreams, and minds.

I accidentally shot into the sun, but it had the unintended positive consequence of providing me with a rainbow.  When I was looking for quotes, I wasn’t sure if I wanted one on fountains or rainbows, so I chose one of each.

  • “Some people drink from the fountain of knowledge, others just gargle.” Robert Anthony
  • “And as he spoke of understanding, I looked up and saw the rainbow leap with flames of many colors over me.” Black Elk
I was trying to learn how to use the different exposure settings on my camera, and this candle ended up being a bit trickier to shoot than I thought.  It was a fun experiment though.  We all use candles for all sorts of personal and ceremonial part of our lives.  In darkness it provides the light we need to see the way.  This quote reminded me of the importance of self reflection.
“We are each gifted in a unique and important way. It is our privilege and our adventure to discover our own special light.” ~Evelyn Dunbar
I was trying to find a unique way of photographing something that I see everyday at work, the Immaculata.  I decided since the theme was curves, snapping a shot from the adjacent archways allowed for a new perspective on the same old thing.  With new perspective comes new experiences and knowledge. Alfred Lloyd Tennyson wrote,
 “All experience is an arch wherethrough gleams that untravelled world whose margin fades for ever and ever when I move.”
The picture’s fuzzier than I wanted, but I thought the flamingo was cool.  In truth, there weren’t any inspirational quotes about flamingos so I went with whatever I could find.
“Is there anything more beautiful than a beautiful, beautiful flamingo, flying across in front of a beautiful sunset? And he’s carrying a beautiful rose in his beak, and he’s also carrying a beautiful painting in his feet. And also, you’re drunk.” Jack Handy.
Again, I was playing with exposure with this picture.  I also realized I forgot all the lessons I learned on spot metering.  Anyways, I was listening to a song called “Good Friend and a Glass of Wine” by Leann Rimes and wanted to put together an image of that idea.
I dedicated this picture to my friend Anna Guevarra who just got tenured at University of Illinois, Chicago.  I read this quote by Emily Bronte and thought it captured what an inspirational person she is.
“I have dreamed in my life, dreams that have stayed with me ever after, and changed my ideas; they have gone through and through me, like wine through water, and altered the color of my mind.”  Emily Bronte
Today, Wangari Maathai, Africa’s first female Nobel Prize winner, environmental activist, professor, and leader of the Green Belt Movement passed away after a prolonged battle with cancer.  She focused on the interconnectedness of life and worked tirelessly to alleviate poverty, argued for environmental sustainability, and community lead initiatives.  We need to remind ourselves that resources need to be replenished –there is no such thing as an endless supply.  So the picture I posted today is the curve of the coastline in La Jolla, and reminds me not to take things for granted.
Here are a few quotes from the amazing Wangari Maathai.  Rest in Peace, Professor Maathai.
 “You must not deal only with the symptoms. You have to get to the root causes by promoting environmental rehabilitation and empowering people to do things for themselves. What is done for the people without involving them cannot be sustained.”
“In a few decades, the relationship between the environment, resources and conflict may seem almost as obvious as the connection we see today between human rights, democracy and peace.”

Notes from a Professor: the First Day of a New School Year

There’s something magical about the first day of school.  It’s all about new beginnings, students; fresh energy, and replenished creativity.  In preparation for day one,  you craft and create the new syllabi and assignments.  You remind yourself that you can use the same canned jokes again because most of your new students haven’t heard them before. You pretend, for a minute, that you are going to change the calendar of when you’re delivering midterms and settle on the same pacing you’ve used for years, even if it means students all end up with all their midterms at the same time. (Inevitably, your colleagues are using the same math to decide when to give their midterms too.) Then you send the document off to print, reminding yourself you can always make small adjustments on the fly, if need be.

Then, it’s off to meetings, and ceremonies, a few parties, orientations that really disorient everyone involved, and if you’re lucky a quick trip to the bookstore to see the ridiculously high prices they’re charging students for books that could be ordered on Amazon.com or another book retailer for a third of the price. Then, Somewhere amidst the craziness of the beginning of the year madness, you’re reminded  that it’s important to take a breath, and tell yourself, “I’ve got this.” Then after taking that confidence-boosting moment, you pull out the old lecture that you feel like you could give in your sleep –remove pop culture references that are “so yesterday” in the minds of your 18 year old students, and polish it up with some new, and timely examples.  You hope you’ve remembered everything necessary for the first day of class.  Right before ‘show time’ you say a little prayer and hope that the powers that be bless you with the strength and fortitude to make it through the semester, the grey matter necessary for remembering all your students‘ names, and the common sense to check and make sure you’re all zipped up and buttoned up before you’re in front of the classroom. Then, when all is said and done, you walk into the classroom and own the room –this is their space, but you facilitate (or perhaps dictate) what happens within those 4 walls, for 1 hour and 20 minutes, twice a week, for the next sixteen weeks.

Yes, there is definitely something magical about the first day of a new school year.

Good luck to all involved.

Renewal, transformation, & social change: some reflections

 “The sisters and brothers that you meet give you the materials which your character uses to build itself. It is said that some people are born great, others achieve it, some have it thrust upon them. In truth, the ways in which your character is built have to do with all three of those. Those around you, those you choose, and those who choose you.” –Maya Angelou

It seemed only appropriate on the 18th anniversary of Cesar Chavez’s passing, and the Easter weekend to take time to reflect on the ideas of renewal, transformation, and social change. Too often, we move through life and forget to take a moment to reflect on the beauty of the moment, and the impact we make on the world around us.  We fail to adequately think about what Maya Angelou calls, “the materials which your character uses to build itself.”  We fly through life without regard to the path we’re following or the journey we’re taking. We can’t see the forest through the trees.

For the past few weeks,  –or really perhaps over the course of my lifetime, I’ve contemplated the importance of integrity in motivating and achieving social change.  As a scholar, teacher, and activist I constantly ask myself if my work stays true to the principles of equality, inclusion, and social change that I believe changes the world in positive and meaningful ways. In essence, how do we practice what we preach?

Not surprisingly in moments of transition you find yourself mulling over these deep philosophical questions.  Although, in this case, this blog post is inspired by transitions that those around me are experiencing.  Working in higher education often translates to being surrounded by transition and change. Sometimes it’s change in thought or practice, changes in location, or as is prevalent around graduation time – life changes.  The most frequently asked question during this time period is, “What Next?”  Unfortunately, I never have an answer?  I sit, listen, and wonder if my students feel as if they’re wasting their time because, clearly, I’m not giving them any answers.  Of course I realize, half the battle is listening –providing a safe space for students, friends, and colleagues to voice the questions running through their mind; to allow them the space to work through the ideas and come to the answers and conclusions they already know.

As a sociologist, you find yourself telling truths about society that many don’t want to hear. You teach about the proliferation if inequality, the impact of gentrification, poverty and homelessness, immigration, health disparities and the ways that race, class, gender, and sexuality matter. For some, they wonder what the repercussions will be if they acknowledge the fact that social inequalities exist.  For others however, they ask “what can I do to change what exists?”  Like many, I find myself heartened by this latter response –and hope that more students and colleagues will respond this way.  However, it’s the former that causes me to lose sleep. In recent year’s I’ve had to remind myself that 1) you can’t please everyone, 2) education is a team/group process –hopefully you started the resistant student on a path of discovery, and, 3) don’t’ try and control, what you cannot control.

As I think out loud about these issues, I am slowly realizing that what I need to embrace about renewal, change and transformation is that we all have our part to play, even if we don’t know the bigger picture.  Today, as we celebrate Easter and the renewal of life, and remember Cesar Chavez’s commitment to social transformation and social justice, I think it’s important to ask ourselves what we can do to change the world.   Dorothy Day once said “The greatest challenge of the day is: how to bring about a revolution of the heart, a revolution which has to start with each one of us? “  Let’s start that revolution today.