Memories from Academia

This morning, I realized how grateful I am to still be able to teach. This time, though, I work for a college that is far more supportive of diverse faculty and students than most of those I taught at in the past. One of the memories from my last experience in a university department of social work surfaced. I jotted down the symbolic, metaphoric memory that encapsulates much of my late-life career in academia.

Sitting around the large rectangular table
facing the video screen at the front of a cavernous room
at the beginning of a new semester for a midwestern university
while those in power in the department of social work
stand at the podium to show the new diversity requirements
they developed on their own without asking faculty or students
from diverse backgrounds for input

As they drone on, I whisper a question
to my friend and gay colleague beside me
“Does it bother you to be referred to as an “ism?”
“I find it offensive and demeaning,” she whispered back.
The presenters explained the “isms”
“You know – those who are older or differentially-abled
who experience agism or ableism,
or those targeted because of sexism, classism, racism, or homophobia”
Imagine – all of the “isms” conveniently lumped together
simply to meet the diversity requirements of the national accrediting body

Although I prefer to avoid conflict, I couldn’t let this pass
It was just the beginning of the battles I felt compelled to fight
during my short stay to protect students and colleagues
who were targeted by insecure faculty and administrators
because they were different by virtue of gender, age, class, culture,
native language, ancestral background, or sexual orientation
despite public claims by the department and university
that they welcomed diversity and strongly supported inclusion
of the “isms” like me

A columbine blooming in an unlikely place amid aggressive, invasive weeds

21 thoughts on “Memories from Academia

  1. Tubularsock spent thirteen and a half years in secondary teaching and loved every minute of it.

    Tubularsock was a bit more forwardly confrontational than you Carol. That is not to say that your “prefer to avoid conflict” approach may not be the wiser and more effective.

    Tubularsock spent a great deal of time in knock down, knock out skirmishes with the local school board, superintendent, principal, and many fellow instructors over the necessity of CRITICAL THINKING of EVERYTHING one learns.

    Your description of “those in power in the department” directing we mere teachers in what we should be doing WITHOUT asking for our input still makes Tubularsock’s blood boil!

    And one thing that was so obscene to Tubularsock at the time was the highly paid experts the district would have visit at the beginning of the school year to build teacher moral in a district that was continually cutting back program for lack of money.

    Well, seems like we change but the educational structure continues with their stupidism!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences and observations about the sad state of education, Tube. I loved learning more about your background! The challenge when I speak out about diversity issues is the almost certain accusation that I’m just an angry Native American woman! Sound familiar?

      Sending my best wishes to you.


  2. Carol, I love it that you spoke up. None of us is an “ism”. This human penchant for labeling has gone on for long enough. We must open our hearts, change our language (because words have power), and reach out…be loving, inclusive. Be who we really are, not what we’ve been taught to be. You’re awesome, Carol. 💜

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words, Shruba. I love the way you write, too. When I was your age, I wanted to be an ecologist – a bit before most people knew what that meant. I preferred science far more than literature, although I was always a voracious reader of books on many different topics.

      It took me a while to figure out how to reply to your comment. I decided to post something I wrote at the beginning of August. I’m not sure if I will ever post it on my blog.

      “Kahlil Gibran has always been one of my favorite authors. Perhaps it has a lot to do with what I learned from my English professor when I was a freshman(freshwoman) in the Catholic women’s college I attended. My passion was not English or philosophy. I was only interested in chemistry and biology. My ultimate goal was to become an ecologist.

      “I resented the fact that I had to endure required courses in logic, Aristotelian philosophy, English grammar, French and English literature, and music theory. Yet in retrospect, what I learned from my English professor, Mr. Blackwell, has proven to be one of the most valuable gifts from those years. He taught me to think critically, and to appreciate the importance of using different methods for presenting information. I learned that dialectical, rhetorical, and poetical argumentation each offers a powerful way for communicating a point of view.

      “Dialectics encourages us to consider an issue from as many different perspectives as possible, to weigh the merit and utility of what we find, and to choose the best options based on thoughtful review and critical reflection. Rhetoric speaks to emotions and the heart, often the most persuasive form of communication as Edward Bernays proved so clearly. Poetics takes arguments to another plane and touches something deeper in us – encouraging hope, encapsulating truth in the beauty of language and imagery, inspiring us to consider the best we can imagine.”

      Liked by 1 person

      1. This is really sweet of you to share with me! Thank you so much! I feel honoured. It’s true literature when you study it once stays with us and changes out outlook on life. Literally changes the way we perceive other things. No matter what pur career path of life goal might be it colours that with its own hues. It’s amazing that you were so much into ecology and science in your college days! ❤☺

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for sharing!.. no doubt you have helped many realize the path to their dreams, and still do!… 🙂

    “The teacher who is indeed wise does not bid you to enter the house of his wisdom but rather leads you to the threshold of your mind.” Kahlil Gibran

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Some of the most powerful stories we can tell are our own experiences. You didn’t hear about it, or imagine it, you lived it. These stories have another name, a testimony. I take a deep sigh reading your testimony my friend. From your testimony I would guess you are familiar with “the look”. The forced look of a racist or homophobic when they “must deal” with those they are prejudiced against but must act “professional”. I first saw this in the military…..I wish I knew the answer.. ❤️Peace to you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah, Ray, another belated reply to an important and thoughtful comment. Thank you so much for raising crucial issues about racism and homophobia. I don’t believe racism has increased over the years, although I do think it continues to be passed on from generation to generation in many blatant and subtle ways. But I do believe that people’s comfort expressing it in more visibly violent ways has increased because it has been socially sanctioned by powerful people and social institutions,

      Peace to you, too, and to all. 💜

      Liked by 1 person

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