Now Is the Time to be Rude

A friend of mine from a writer’s group had to go to the post office. Here in Nashville, it often falls on customers to enforce social distancing guidelines for their own health. My friend got into the line, and a woman came up behind her, unmasked, practically breathing down her neck. My friend asked her to back up, and the woman did so, but not without an argument that sprayed her breath all over my friend who couldn’t get away fast enough without losing her place in line.

My friend is gutsy, so she asked the woman her name. The woman declined to give it to her, so my friend made a note of the car the woman had gotten out of, and the woman asked why. My friend said that she wanted to have a complete list to give doctors for when she catches Corona and the doctors ask her to do contact tracing to see who she caught it from or may have given it to. The woman seethed from a distance until they got to the counter.

I’m incredibly proud of my friend. Keeping yourself safe from Covid-19 and preventing the spread depends on people rigorously enforcing social distancing and keeping track of everyone from whom they were unable to distance. Doing so means that they will have to break social norms and stop being the people who make others “feel” good. They’re going to have to be rude.

Continue reading “Now Is the Time to be Rude”

Dispatches from Quarantine 2020

Tanya

As I wrote on Facebook earlier, today is tentative. Today, I was supposed to start my (much-needed) two-week spring break. My goal was to sit in my home office and work on my book. I spent the weekend relaxing and reading, hanging out on the couch while my son played Minecraft. Any time I thought, “oh, maybe I should go get started on some book edits?” I paused and told myself it was okay to do that later.

Then my son’s school district announced at 6:30 last night that there is no more school for 3 weeks.

We’re very fortunate: with my two-week break, we don’t have to worry about childcare. My reality may look different than I planned, but it’s okay. (Or it will be: in all honesty, I’m struggling to wrap my head around everything and feel more than a bit panicked at times.) Even when my “break” ends, my school will also transition to online learning, which will also alleviate childcare concerns for the most part, but synchronous learning will present its own new challenges.

For the time being, I’m going to try to settle in. I was homeschooled for most of my own education before college, and helped raise several of my (much-younger) siblings. I’m a teacher, although admittedly I don’t usually teach first grade. On the plus side, I’ve been paying close attention to the Singapore Math they’ve been doing, and I think I can get my son more practice on his reading and math, with a few more side adventures, in the next couple of weeks.

Today is tentative; my self-care focused on breathing and not setting expectations too high. I’m hoping for fun and cuddles with my kiddo, laughs, and – probably the highlight of his day – my first-ever Minecraft tutorial, which will turn the teacher into the student.

 

Lynn

As Tanya stated above, I feel that my own success during this ordeal will be achieved by keeping realistic expectations and having appropriate responses.  As a newly immunocompromised person (only 3 weeks of chemotherapy to go!) I oscillate between concerns that I’m too worried and not worried enough, feeling prepared and then panicked. 

So far, I feel that I’ve been rolling with the punches fairly well.  When colleges and universities started moving online I was ready with my web based courses.  When local schools closed I was prepared to work from home so I didn’t have to stress about childcare.  However, with both I’ve had to make adjustments with my expectations. Due dates for students have to be more fluid as we all work together to continue despite new challenges that none of us have ever faced and I can tell in our electronic communications that students are stressed so I’ve tried to keep that in mind in my responses. I’m trying my best to focus on compassion and kindness.  I’ve been trying to do the same in my own home as I’ve quickly discovered that my attempts at home-schooling a 1st grader will have its own unique challenges, as well. 

I’m doing my best to take it easy on myself and those around me.  That’s all I can do, and hope that everyone can come out of this safe and with a renewed appreciation for teachers, nurses, those stocking shelves, delivering supplies, and everyone keeping us all on track as best they possibly can.

 

Raquelle

What a month. Less than two weeks ago, Nashville was hit with a tornado that barely missed my campus and ravaged our neighbors. Now, my students have to be out of their dorms by tomorrow at 5pm because of covid-19. The original date for move-out was Saturday evening, but administration has hastened the deadline in anticipation of increasing governmental restrictions.

I’ve mostly been in states of shock and stasis, frankly. I sit down to get started on work only to get distracted by an article on travel bans, an email that another of my conferences has been cancelled (and now I have to attempt the reimbursement circus), or a text from a connection in France with updates on the total lockdown or who is suffering from decreased access to medical services. Today, I was finally able to type out a plan for the rest of the semester. My motto? Simplify. I’m taking a step back, reconsidering my course objectives, and cutting out material that doesn’t directly meet them. I don’t have the emotional or mental ability to do otherwise, and I also want to be compassionate toward my students who have widely varying priorities and access to technology. So, we’re going to keep it simple. In an uncanny turn of events, the adjunct professor of another French course at my university passed away, so I’m also absorbing that (now online) class. Today, I created and sent a video message introducing myself to those students in hopes of striking up a human connection. To give some semblance of stability, I also shared a plan for moving forward––which I instructed them not to even think about until next week, because they needed to focus their time and emotions on getting themselves home and attending to loved ones.

For now, I’m totally operating from home. I’m trying to act out of compassion by self-isolating (with my spouse/housemate) to flatten the curve and attempt to care for those who are most vulnerable. I’m not worried about catching the virus, but I do not want to spread the virus as an asymptomatic carrier. I’m really lucky to be able to work from my apartment, as so many I know do not have this luxury. 

After this month, I’m just grateful to be alive and grateful for the human connections that I have, both beautiful and terrifying. My students and I had no idea that we would be sitting in the same room with each other for probably the last time last Wednesday. I’ll be excited to reconvene virtually with them next week–synchronously and asynchronously–and imagine that I’ll hesitate to take such relationships for granted in the future and will learn a whole lot about my teaching (and about myself) during this phase.

Angela

Just two weeks ago, on March 4, 2020, an EF3 Tornado ripped through my neighborhood of North Nashville, taking out homes, churches, businesses, and power lines. It happened early in the morning, and there was no warning. I woke up, ran to the bathroom, and crouched next to the bathtub as my house shook and the sound of a roaring freight train drowned out the clanging of debris battering the roof. I was unbelievably fortunate that the damage to my home was minimal, but the house 8 doors down the street from mine saw utter devastation. Trees older than this nation had been ripped out of the crumbling sidewalks and dragged through houses. Nearly all of the neighborhood was rendered uninhabitable. 

For over a week the entire area was left without power, and people slept under tarps or in cars in front of their ruined homes, trying to figure out what to salvage and how to navigate the complicated and emotional web of disaster response and relief. 

We were already aware of Covid-19, but back then (I say, as if this was long ago, because these past two weeks have been the longest year of my life), few Americans feared it, or understood its potential for spread. We couldn’t think about a virus when people’s most basic needs weren’t being met. Dozens of families struck by the tornado with no immediate shelter travelled by foot over wrecked houses and downed trees and powerlines in order to join the survivors at the Farmer’s Market makeshift overnight shelter. When damage was discovered to the sanitary facilities there, the shelter was moved to the Sportsplex. Their beds were just a few feet apart: certainly not far enough to meet social distancing recommendations. Meals came from generous donors everywhere, and were served by countless volunteers. There was so much touching, and so much in the air.

In the aftermath of the tornado, competing concerns drowned out awareness of the virus. You see, people in North Nashville live in one of the most rapidly gentrifying communities in the country. The historically black, mostly working-class neighborhood with three HBCUs in its area code, is just a mile from downtown, and so it became inundated with opportunistic developers who posed as tornado relief volunteers. These predators knocked on doors of ruined homes with offerings of canned food and bottled water in one hand, and a business card in the other. 

Every time I leave my home (which is getting rarer and rarer these days), I pass a sea of blue tarps waving in the wind, barely concealing the fragmented remains of my neighbors’ homes beneath. Yet  I’ve stopped seeing news about one of the biggest natural disasters of the decade, because Covid-19 has taken over all media. Many articles are chiding people for not being cautious enough (which is true), but how can we be? 

In a way, the story of this virus reads almost like a fairy tale: billionaires in bunkers notwithstanding, no one person can securely protect themselves against the virus, but each person can protect everyone else from it. Self-isolation and obsessive hand-washing and disinfecting isn’t so that I don’t get sick- it’s to stop me from giving the virus to someone who can’t survive it in case I’m already infected. This virus is showing us how tightly we are bound together- if I don’t take care, I could hurt others. Those who aren’t taking care are endangering me, and everyone else. 

But when a tornado has taken your home and/or your job (many of the businesses here hire from within the community), and supermarket shelves are bare, and you were living hand-to-mouth to begin with because gentrification has raised property taxes and rents in the area, there’s no space to think about sanitation and self-isolation, even if those things were affordable and available to all. Which they are not, at all. 

These are the thoughts that consume me during my Covid-19 self-isolation in North Nashville. I’ve read the Imperial College Report. I know what’s coming, and I know how North Nashville will once again bear more than its fair share of the brunt of the awfulness. I know that we are nowhere near prepared to deal with any of it: the racism and classicism and ageism endemic in the private healthcare industry, or the vast number of deaths this nation will sustain. 

We are all going to lose someone that we love. 

That someone is going to be older, and hold a wealth of experiences and knowledge vital to the community.

Many of us are going to lose more than one someone. Especially up here. 

When this is over, nothing is ever going to be the same. 

If you are in a position to help, please do. Gideon’s Army has my strongest vote of confidence to always make the right decisions for people affected by the tornado and by the virus as they help rebuild North Nashville. 

 

Dear Job Searchers: Don’t Forget to Have Fun

person-holding-cappuccino-in-white-ceramic-mug

I recently had coffee with a friend before going to see the Oscar-nominated animation short films. We went together last year and really enjoyed it, so I was excited to continue the tradition. I proposed grabbing a coffee before the viewing because I really wanted to hear about my friend’s job search, how she’d tailored her documents, and what kind of positions she was looking for. Lo and behold, she had no desire to talk about any of these things. We both grew quiet. I sat for a second, cappuccino in hand, and realized I didn’t have much else to say.

As a PhD who’s really good at narrowing in on (and obsessing over) one thing, I realized that I’d focused so intensely on my own job search that I wasn’t allowing myself to grow and be stimulated in other ways. I felt…boring.

I should pause and give myself a little bit of credit, though. I have been actively working toward the life/work balance (purposefully switched) that I set out to achieve at the beginning of the year. I made a goal to invest in personal time and wellness by planning an event or series of events for myself every month (for at least the first 5 months of 2020). In January, I began working out 4-5 times a week, bought a cycling studio membership, and scheduled professional portraits (okay, mix of professional and personal, but it was a fun session so it counts!). In February, I planned a weekend hiking trip, and in March I booked another silent retreat.

But after that conversation with my friend, I was left feeling like I need some sort of creative output. A hobby that didn’t involve words or skills related to my career path or intellectual identity. I started to remember how much I loved drawing as a kid and how rarely I return to this activity as an adult. What if I made that a bigger part of my life? I decided to sign up for a 4-series class at a small, women-owned business, which happens to be right around the corner from the coffee shop where I had my epiphany.

I just finished my first class and am already so glad that I signed up. One reason I enjoy drawing is because of its meditative quality. It invites me to be in the present moment. When I’m drawing, I’m focused on the object at hand (or my actual hand) rather than the river of thoughts flowing through my head. (Tanya just wrote a wonderful post on mindful teaching moments, and I think drawing helps me to take the same calculated pause that lets me recalibrate and more thoughtfully engage in the next activity of my day.) Also, drawing is a skill with a learning curve, which appeals to me, but I also don’t feel like it’s something that I need to master. Because I’m doing it for fun.

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My first artistic productions.

Prioritizing these “personal” activities is helping me to keep the job search in perspective and take it in stride. At least that’s what I’m striving for––to remember that something will work out and that devoting time to personal wellness that takes me (momentarily) away from the search might actually provide some necessary distance and clarity that allows me to get in touch with what I really want out of my career.

Mindful Moments

Mindful Moments

In the past couple of years, I’ve tried to embrace mindfulness more frequently in my life. I tend to be on the go a lot, and have multiple to-do lists and things going on at any one time; I do a lot of different things, and when you teach, this is just the way of things. Even without anything else taken into account, on an average day I could go from teaching a background to Latin American independence, to reviewing US history content, to leading a discussion on the Middle East.

You can probably guess where this is going, right?

This school year, I took one particular step to help me move towards a more mindful approach to my school day: closing my classroom door. Let me explain…

Continue reading “Mindful Moments”

When a White Scholar’s Work is Not Cited: 1619

I don’t need an excuse to talk about the 1619 project. It’s so exciting! Synthetic works like this, which center groups that colonizer-history has marginalized, are notoriously difficult to create, and therefore are deeply impressive. They are also fundamentally exciting and threaten established power structures.

So it wasn’t a huge surprise that some establishment historians felt the need to attack the 1619 project of Nikole Hannah-Jones. Though I’ll admit, I was surprised that Sean Wilentz had to go in for a second attack last week, veiled as a concern, of course. He accuses Hannah-Jones of factual inaccuracy, when many of us historians agree that her claims are plausible and grounded in evidence and existing scholarship…just not the scholarship of Wilentz or his contemporaries. This is because for the story she is telling, he and his contemporaries are largely irrelevant.

The product of these public articles has been really robust conversations among historians, on social media, elsewhere online, and offline, about the stakes of this public debate. There’s one thing I often find missing in these conversations.

Let me quickly drop my own relevant details, since this discussion is all about identity, and none of this is neutral or objective: I’m both a German and US citizen, white, who received my PhD in Atlantic History at an elite Research 1 institution. I also grew up working class, first-gen, a woman, and I read as queer, but none of those things erase my privilege.  My research is in the slave trade, and slavery. At the moment, most (but not all) of the older established scholars of this field at the most prestigious universities are white men, and most of the younger, up and coming thinkers are largely not.

I’ve been going to conferences and publishing in my field for over a decade now. This means I have more than ten years of experience hearing from peers, and seeing how similar arguments at conferences play out.

There is a thing that happens at every academic history conference, regardless of which panels I choose, and which conference it is: without fail, a (usually) older white male scholar from an elite institution will stand up and call out a younger scholar from one or more visibly marginalized groups during their talk, to mention that the younger scholar had not incorporated the suggestions, article, book, or website of the older scholar and/or his peers.

If the younger scholar responds with an apology, or intention to do so, all is well.

If the younger scholar indicates (as politely as possible for such an impolite public call-out) that they will not be doing so because it is at best tangentially relevant to their scholarly interests, a shitstorm occurs.

Many of the older professors want us to believe it is because the younger scholars don’t see the bigger picture, and could be doing harm to the field. Occasionally they are right, but more often than not, there’s something else going on:  the more established professor conflates their contributions to the field with their self-worth, and this means that new takes on the topic that pivot away from theirs make them feel less significant than they are prepared to feel or know how to deal with.

In other words, they are being irrational.

Often these established scholars will make a plea for objectivity.

How can a white male scholar in a white supremacist first-world nation with an entire history built on the enslavement of people with dark skin claim any sort of objectivity?

Objectivity in history is not a thing. Many white men pretend it is, but what they are saying is that they think their lens should be the default lens that all other lenses should emulate. How can a white male scholar in a white supremacist first-world nation with an entire history built on the enslavement of people with dark skin claim any sort of objectivity? We are all part of the living, breathing ramifications of the injustices of the slave trade and of enslavement in the US.

There is no value-neutral position any historian in the US can take.

I have made a career looking at history that is painful to a marginalized population. It is a privilege to be able to read these accounts detailing the objectification of humans of African descent while knowing that it didn’t happen to any of my ancestors. I also don’t suffer the daily indignities and microagressions that come with being a black scholar in the US. It means that I spend less time processing emotions like rage and pain, issues around identity and self, etc. than a scholar who has a more direct connection to this history. It also means that I am questioned less by the public and by students when I outline the extent of racial injustice and terror in this country. My teaching evaluations will often be better than those of my black colleagues will, not because I am a better teacher, but because this reality is easier for white people to hear from another white person (while our demographics are shifting, white people are still the majority in most higher ed classrooms). The comments on teaching evaluations some of my black colleagues have shared with me echo the criticisms levied against 1619.

Your feelings about history are always going to be dependent on your personal relationship to the history. Many white people’s relationships to the history of enslavement are complex, yet incomplete. Most are unexamined, twisted up with guilt, denial, and gaps in knowledge, and in some cases, false narratives that have appeared in textbooks, websites, and spread through memes. It takes a lot of reading, discussion, reflection, and self-work to understand that while the guilt isn’t mine, the responsibility to help illuminate and correct the persisting injustices from that time period is.

I say all this to make this point: Being aware of history causes feelings, because history has shaped the way we are now. While those feelings can hurt, they are ultimately good. They point to what lies unexamined within ourselves, and therefore within society, and to where justice was denied. Wise people lean into that inner guidance and make the discoveries. They pull away when it hurts too much, and come back to it as they can. Unpleasant feelings don’t have to consume or control us.

…unless we deny our feelings and pretend that we are objective. Then they cause us to say all kinds of embarrassing things that show the world that our greatest fear lies not in being blind to and therefore furthering the injustice our nation was built upon, but in becoming irrelevant.

Learning to Love Online Teaching

by Lynn Clement


Last week was the start of my 2020 spring semester and although much of it was very familiar, it will be unique because it’s the first time I will be teaching entirely online.  I first started teaching online courses 6 years ago after the birth of my daughter and thus it was an experience borne (pun intended) of necessity.  Back then I was hesitant to accept the appointment, even though I knew teaching online would provide an income while also allowing me to remaining home with my child, because of the preconceived notions I had.  I had doubt in the effectiveness of the medium, the caliber of the students, and my ability to find the same enjoyment or innovation in comparison to the traditional face-to-face class.

 

I’m happy to report that I was wrong on all counts and just as my effectiveness in the classroom has evolved over time, my effectiveness as an online instructor has gown with experience and experimentation.

auditorium benches chairs class
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

Like in a traditional classroom setting, I begin my online semester with introductions. Not only does this allow students to get to know each other, it gives me a chance to learn a little more about who I’ll be working with, and vice versa.  I was struck, particularly this semester, by what I read in these autobiographies: so many of my students where taking my courses online for reasons similar to why I was teaching them.  People with full time families, with full time jobs, with illnesses, without transportation. People working on second degrees, people with GEDs, people in high school, or home school. Motivated, intelligent people with so many varied circumstances of life coming together in one online forum to explore art and its history together.

 

Continuing this sympathetic attitude and open communication beyond the first week has been a key to success in teaching a quality online course.  In addition to being very clear about my time constraints, I am also very clear that during the week I am open to questions, open to suggestions, and available for guidance.  I once had a student tell me that she’d never had an online instructor be so “present”. I was pleased by this, but also surprised. Since then, I’ve tried to be “there” even more for my online students.

women s working space
Photo by Kaboompics .com on Pexels.com

 

Clarity in requirements and expectations is also a necessity. This means a lot of writing and revising of assignments and syllabi and it means being realistic about expectations.  After my first semester teaching online, and deciding that it was something that I wanted to continue, I took an online teaching certification course that made a huge difference in this regard. The biggest lesson I learned was to avoid overloading my online course with too many assignments.  There can be a tendency to over-compensate with an online course and increase the academic rigor to make up for the bad rap it gets. However, this can make the course overwhelming for both student and professor.  Instead, I was advised to think of creative assignments that would enhance student experience and activities that didn’t compete or recreate a face to face class, but that enhance what the online format can offer.  I have papers that center around experiencing, analyzing, and critiquing how art is experienced online. Students seem to enjoy these exercises, and many are even inspired to travel to see things in person.

 

I’ve learned that teaching an online class means fine-tuning every semester, not only in terms of content, but also in my use of technology. In just 6 years, things have already changed so much. Innovating classes can be impossible to do during the year, but I try to use my summers “off” to implement and experiment with the new advancements in online learning.  2020 will bring my attempts at creating my own “podcast” for students to listen to lectures, incorporating voice recording over my power points to walk students through visual analysis, interactive, jeopardy style quizzes that allow students to work together, or battle each other, and skype “office hours”.

 

I’ve got an amazing set of students this semester and I can’t wait to get started.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Celebrating MLK Day in Nashville, TN

“… I am convinced that men hate each other because they fear each other. They fear each other because they don’t know each other, and they don’t know each other because they don’t communicate with each other, and they don’t communicate with each other because they are separated from each other. And God grant that something will happen to open channels of communication…”

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at Cornell College, Oct. 15, 1962

In Nashville, I have been attending events over the past few days to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and legacy. It feels particularly special to celebrate this holiday here in Nashville, given that MLK confessed to feeling inspired by the city’s methods of nonviolent protest during the civil rights movement. During a trip to Nashville in 1960, MLK spoke at Fisk University, whose students propelled the city’s lunch counter sit-ins in the following decade. As a result of those protests, Nashville eventually became the first Southern city to desegregate lunch counters. (This year marks the 60th anniversary of those Nashville sit-ins.) So it seems that MLK both inspired and was inspired by Nashville’s social justice scene.

Last Friday, Fisk University celebrated MLK’s life with a campus-wide convocation that called upon the university’s history of social activism. The invited speaker, State Representative Harold Love Jr., insisted on the need for continued action against injustices in this time of paradoxical progress and stagnation, a sentiment that was echoed by students’ responses to the speech. While the representative delivered the core message, undergraduate students were quite heavily involved in the rest of convocation: they delivered vocal performances, introductory remarks, responses, and led the audience in song. As a faculty member in the audience, it struck me that the university was preparing students to assume the action and leadership they observed in the civil rights leader. As one of the students said during her address to the crowd that day, the students sitting in the university chapel pews are themselves the blossoms of MLK’s labor, the flowers offered in tribute to his life. The students embodied the legacies of both MLK and the university.

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Fisk University’s Program for the 2020 MLK Convocation

At Vanderbilt’s MLK commemoration event, it emerged that one form of “action” that can be taken is that of sharing one’s own story. (While Vanderbilt held a less admirable role during the civil rights movement, the university has created partnerships and foundations in order to support its mission to foster education for all regardless of race, sex, or religion.) Last night, Dean Emilie Townes cited the epigraph above from Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech delivered at Cornell College in 1962 in order to ponder how we are opening lines of communication today. At the series keynote panel with Janelle Monáe (songwriter, producer, actress, and more) and Yusef Salaam (one of the Exonerated Five), the two invited guests spoke with moderator Emilie Townes about the power of storytelling to communicate to broader audiences. Monáe insisted on the power of being vulnerable and transparent in order to foster empathy, connection, and love through sharing one’s story. Salaam empowered listeners to understand that we are all “born on purpose and with a purpose.” With this conviction, Salaam compelled the audience to live a full life by recognizing one’s worth in order to go forward, pursue one’s passions, and give to the world whatever their gift may be. Salaam continued that the “best of our story is yet to be told,” and it is up to us to tell it.

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Dean Emilie Townes, Yusef Salaam, and Janelle Monáe at Vanderbilt’s 2020 MLK Commemoration keynote panel

Both institutions insisted on celebrating the life of Martin Luther King Jr. by taking action in order to make the world a more just place, whether that be through sharing one’s own story through the media of film or fiction or through direct participation in governmental decision-making bodies.

After these events, as an instructor, I felt re-inspired to empower students to tell their stories, to hone the art of argumentation, and to leave space for students to express themselves both critically and creatively in the classroom. I also felt re-energized to engage in others’ stories through literary and language study in order to engage with multiple points of view and generate more empathy. These are certainly impulses that I have felt in the past, but that were strengthened during these commemorations of a national leader who valued communication and connection that surpassed superficial differences that create false hierarchies in order to foster change. 

However you decide to celebrate MLK’s unique legacy, I hope you get the chance to reflect on your purpose and passion while considering the singular impact this leader had on American history and how we–and our students–can further that impact.