Labors in and on the academy

Happy belated Labor Day to our US readers. Hope everyone took (or takes) a minute to learn the history of Labor Day in the US.

Today, the day after, I’m specifically thinking about the labor of “diversity work.”  Who is doing it? Who ISN’T?

Why does it matter? As TSW author dualitea recently wrote, there appears to be a discrepancy in majority identities and who shows up to do the learning and labor of evidence-based inclusion.

Academia is seemingly these days always talking about diversity. But is it working? Who is doing the working? The work that institutions are doing so far may not be working. A new NBER working paper  indicates that hiring ‘chief diversity officers’ is not significantly correlated with increased hiring of non-white faculty across 462 universities.

So I’d like to suggest some homework for scholars in our reader community who, like me, identify as white – go read On Being Included: On Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life (2012) by Dr. Sara Ahmed.

As she herself says of the book, “we need to work on the university when we work at the university.”

This is not labor that should be asked of marginalized faculty, who are already shouldering more unpaid and undervalued labors in the academy.

As TSW author Acclimatrix recently also wrote, there are many kinds of labors in the academy.  One way to be a respectful, kind colleague if you’re a white scholar in the academy is to take on some of the labor of working ON academia while working IN academia.

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Performative allyship isn’t what I need from you, white men.

Hi all, your favorite sunflower is here with a quick reminder: performative allyship is not what we need from you. I am mostly directing this at white men in academia, because in my experience a lot of y’all are into allyship, just not principally because it is a good thing to do. What you want is the cookies associated with good allyship: namely, that it looks really good in your tenure packet and on grants when you serve on committees or perform other soft-skill heavy community actions on behalf of the university, for the sake of “diversity”. Additionally, a lot of you use performative allyship as a honeypot to attract underrepresented students, regardless of whether or not you are actually capable of mentoring these students. Unfortunately, underrepresented minorities in the sciences are not bakeries and our lives don’t exist to dispense you ego cookies–we exist regardless of whether or not it dawns on you that service towards URMs is good for your pretenure review packet.

 

I’m bringing this up because a lot of the time when I talk to white academics about allyship, they bring up that they don’t personally feel welcome in spaces to provide solutions to the diversity crisis in academia. Specifically, I hear a lot of ” I want to provide solutions, but then (insert URM here) tell me to stop talking and I don’t know what to do.”

Well, I am sorry to break it to you: but if the only reason you attempt allyship is to gain recognition as being The Best Ally ™, then your performative allyship really isn’t needed. In fact, if there are already people in the room who are URMs, who are proffering solutions to academia’s diversity crisis, the only reason you should be talking is to voice your agreement. I don’t mean this in a mean or stuck up way. White academics, notably white men, have been saying everything in academia since its inception. It is time for you to stop monopolizing the microphone and pass it to someone else.

White folks, think of it this way: through time, you have accumulated (through both world history and academic history) a vast wealth of social capital.  You-as an ally-know that you are able to get away with things and maneuver through the world completely differently than any URM can, because of this societal privilege. So, rather than being the performative and singular *I*, be the accomplice and actually accomplish something. Be the bank of social privilege that URMs can draw from. Lend your support, your words, your body and intellect–just don’t silence us when you take these actions. Real allyship is giving us the space, the platform, and the social capital to be taken seriously within the academy and other predominantly white spaces. Real allyship is speaking up when you hear departmental colleagues or peers say bigoted things, intervening when URMs are forced into unsafe situations by someone else’s exclusionary behaviors, and lending your privilege to us when we need it. You-especially white male academics- are literally part of the few in the academic setting who are taken at face value. Use that privilege to throw hands for us. There will even be moments when there will be no URMs on a committee: and then it can be your job to speak on our behalf, as well as encouraging those university bodies to add URMs.

 

Performative allyship is trash, because ultimately the performance isn’t actually about restorative justice towards URMs. It is about you and your feelings, about centering a majoritarian perspective over than of URMs. At best, performative allyship is getting yourself ego cookies using URMs as a tool. At worst, you are finding your own personal and professional fulfillment as an academic citizen at the expense of the minoritized populations who had turned to you for help, and that isn’t a good look. Allyship is not a label you call yourself or a pin you can place on your lapel. It is a series of actions that you commit yourself to doing, regardless of any direct personal benefit to yourself.

 

In the end, if you’re helping me, if you’re on committees with me, if we inhabit the same spaces: help me because I am a person. Help me because as the only Latina in your department, I will need an accomplice when department members misname me or when bigots open their mouths at seminar. Don’t talk over me, don’t walk over my hands, and don’t trip all over the both of us in your rush to show me or your tenure committee what a trustworthy “ally” you are.

 

Why you’re a bad teacher

It’s back to school time y’all and Dr. Raptor is here to tell you why you’re bad at teaching (and what you can do about it).

OK so maybe you aren’t a bad teacher, but I’m sure you know some folks in academia who are. Even if you’ve got some great teaching chops, I’m here to talk about why most of us could still be doing better. And don’t lie, my click-bait title reeled you in, right?! Right?! (call me, Buzzfeed)

Top 4 Reasons You’re Bad at Teaching

  1. Your education did not involve any training or coursework in teaching, you TA’d a few classes in grad school but other than that you’re just winging it.
  2. Your tenure/promotion/next job depends on student reviews of your teaching, so you teach in a way that makes students feel good about themselves, instead of in a way that best enables their learning
  3. You ignore research on education and learning in your discipline or don’t even know it exists; or you do know it exists and don’t use it because it takes too much time and effort to change your classes.
  4. You don’t really care or don’t have the energy/time to care because your institution doesn’t care or actively dissuades you from caring.

OK so now that we’ve got the main reasons you suck at teaching, let’s unpack them! Weeee!!!

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survival and activism in academia

Hi all, it’s your favorite sunflowering baddie, and I’m here to quickly let y’all know that activism and survival in academia are not mutually exclusive. It is not necessary to pick one over the other, and the fact that a lot of (old, white, male) folks in academia are insisting that you do so should tell you all you need to know.

I’m talking about this right now, in brief, because of a conversation I had this morning with my advisor about whether or not my significant branding within the institutions I participate in dilutes my science. My advisor argued that I needed to maybe begin toning it down, because what I needed right now is science publications and not Internet notoriety for having loud opinions.

To me, this conversation is wild because the entire reason I had enough clout in the ecological community as a whole to even get into graduate school was because my activism gave me the voice and space I needed to be able to do science. As a first-year student at a PWI, I needed not only to speak up to advocate for myself and my ability to do science; but I also needed allies willing to hear me out and create a space with me. This was the only way I could craft my eventual science persona as a biogeochemist, and the fact that I do advocate for justice in STEM shouldn’t detract from my actual scientific work. Think about it: for what other extracurricular activity could you be shamed for in this way? No one says that someone’s knitting habit detracts from their ability to be an amazing bird ecologist; so why does my social justice activism define my ability to use a thermal conversion elemental analyzer and write about it?

In truth, the reason white women and POC (especially qtWOC) get flak for their activism is because it makes the gatekeepers of power uncomfortable. If we are constantly clamoring for change while tossing around additional weight of our science, it throws into disarray a lot of the dogma that white academia has clung to for so long–namely, that science is an apolitical meritocracy. If URMs point out that our strength in the sciences is in spite of the machinations of an academia made for white men, it forces those white men to reconsider their existence in the system. This is uncomfortable, and it should be. White men have never needed to fight for their humanity in a system meant to exclude them; the idea that they’ve gotten along not just because of their science (stellar or not) but because of a system functionally built to value them (the person) is scary. Which, welcome to the world of URMs–where we constantly juggle the micro and macroaggressions of the people around us just to be able to do the science that should be buying us a seat at the table.

Believe you me, there is nothing I would’ve liked better for me to only talk about my love of carbon cycling and the root-soil interface. I wish every day that I was in a position where my academic life functioned only as a vehicle for my science. Unfortunately, my existence as a queer first gen Latinx means my entire existence in academia is mediated through the intersections of my race, orientation, and class status. Academia does not exist in a vacuum: and is just as affected by the society it exists within as academia affects the society it is part of. The current way academia is run, I have no choice but to to amazing science but also incredible amounts of activism. It the only way I survived to this point. For a lot of URM’s, there comes a point in our lives where simply staying silent endangers us more than making noise does. I lived a lot of my undergraduate years trying to sit silently by, eating the injustices done to me by white academics who constantly discounted my science and my mind because of my ethnicity and gender presentation. All it did was leave me at the end of a jetty at a Famous Biological Lab, debating whether or not I should just leave science or leave this world entirely.

In the end, I am still here in academia because I spoke up: I spoke up about my science, and I spoke up about the injustices done to people of color who just wanted to do science. Through both sets of being active, I was able to find the people I now call my mentors and friends; and the people who ended up writing my letters of rec to get me into graduate school. The day that academia lets URM’s thrive without the constant slam of micro|macro|aggressions and harassment, the day that kids who look like me don’t have to buy their humanity by overworking themselves or hyperactivism; on that day where students of color can go into academia with the same expectations placed on them (and same benefits given to them) as their white peers,

On that day, I will finally shut up about social justice and do nothing but run the thermal combustion elemental analyzer and write about the soil-root interface.

Until then,

-sunflowerqueen

Some problems with that productivity paper

Last month a study was released* by Yana Gellen** of the Becker Friedman Institute for Economics at The University of Chicago, “Motherhood and the Gender Productivity Gap.”

Some outlets, like the American Enterprise Institute and Wall Street Journal, have jumped onto the study and claimed this is the reason that working mothers don’t earn as much as men – they aren’t working as much or as productively.  But does the study really show that?  And what does all this mean for working mothers in the academy?

Does this study prove that mothers are less productive?

In short, no.  Digging into the methods – there are some major problems with how this study was done.
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We’re all colleagues: On toughness, labor, and respect

The absence of external validation or positive feedback. Long, often grueling hours. The uncertainty of promotion. The lack of a regular schedule. The physical toll of working in the field. The fact that your work isn’t valued — and is even the butt of public jokes! The physical and emotional abuse by people who have power over you and your job security. Entitled, demeaning comments about your appearance. The expectation that you go above and beyond to perform emotional labor. The expectation that you spend personal money on things you can’t afford, just to get by. Soul-draining busy-work and morale-busting red tape. Crap pay.  The inability to just leave everything at the door. The expectation that you be constantly available. This job can be really, really hard.

I’m going to bet dollars to donuts you thought I was talking about academic jobs.

I wasn’t.
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What do students really get out of REU’s?

Hello. I’m a freshly pressed Bachelor’s in A Hard Science and I’m new here to Tenure, She Wrote. I’m here to provide some fresh perspective from the smol side of academia–namely, how my experiences in undergrad have shown me what we need to change in Everyday Academia.

I’m here to share some stories about everyone’s favorite Thing That Looks CV Impressive–the REU.

 

REU’s (Research Experience for Undergrads) are typically touted as these absolutely amazing internships–the Rolls Royces of summer research. Us students supposedly get good (for students) salary, amazing mentorship, and the chance to come into our own as researchers by doing our own projects away from a home institution.

As someone who has been through two REU’s and an international exchange, let me tell you how much that isn’t true. Continue reading