Social Class Difference at University of Michigan

Social Class Voices FlyerOn Monday, I attended a University of Michigan bicentennial event celebrating social class difference. At the event, we launched an edited collection of student writing titled Social Class Voices: Student Stories from the University of Michigan Bicentennial. Last Spring, Professor of Sociology Dwight Lang and I worked with student writers, helping them to read and revise their deeply personal, deeply political essays about their experiences of social class both during and before their time at University of Michigan. On Monday night, I read from my afterword to the book, encouraging listeners and readers to celebrate the great risk our student authors had taken in writing about such a controversial issue as social class difference as well as the grace and effort with which students told their stories. I invited readers of the anthology and listeners in the audience at the event to reflect on their own social class experiences and to take action against social class stratification–especially in educational contexts where our differences too often stand to divide us rather than facilitate conversation and learning as they rightfully should. Then, I sat in the audience and listened as 17 of our student authors read excerpts from their own reflections on social class.

This event was remarkable. Individual students shared their experiences, and collectively we participated in a respectful discourse about social class difference. That night, it occurred to me how rare such respectful discourse across difference—especially social class difference—is in today’s contentious political climate. I felt proud and humbled all at once to have the opportunity to learn from these students, their stories, and their examples of respectful dialogue.

Contributors Photo2 - Reading 11-6-2017

Editors and student authors at the event

The event—and the anthology—are also remarkable in their inclusion of multiple perspectives from a range of social classes. In my experience, narratives about social class too often rely on an up-by-your-bootstraps, rags-to-riches cliche—meaning we only really get to hear the stories of working poor and working class people, and those people often are obliged to remind us how great (and possible) upward mobility is. But in this instance, students from working poor and working class communities told a variety of stories. Their stories described the great risk working poor and working class students take in pursuing college. Some of their stories expressed certainty in upward mobility, others questioned the possibility, all asserted and demonstrated the valuable aspects of working poor and working class communities—refusing to give in to any high idealizing of the American Dream.

We also heard from students who identify as middle, upper middle, and upper class. That in itself is remarkable. Rarely do we hear stories of the ultra wealthy—instead, their lives are purposefully mystified, made to seem exclusive and unattainable. I come from a working class family and am easily put-off by displays of upper class pretension. I saw none of that pretension from our upper and upper-middle class UM student authors that night. Instead, I saw honesty about their own privilege and promises to remain aware of social class stratification and its effects in the lives and education of themselves and others from all social class backgrounds. I heard pledges to use their college educations—which they pursued out of tradition and out of certainty they would maintain their station in life through that education—to help lift others up, not to exclude.

Aubrey-Dwight Anthology Reading 11-6-17

Co-editors Aubrey Schiavone and Dwight Lang

Our middle and upper-middle class student authors studiously noted the difficulty of describing that which is always (but also never) described, that which is quickly disappearing: the middle class in America. They talked about the experience of usually having enough to get by but often not having nearly as much as others around them. Of pursuing college education with both certainty and trepidation about what that college education would afford and cost them.

Overall, I came away from the evening with overwhelming pride and hope that this generation of social class awareness would create change in our stratified social institutions, especially in higher education—often touted as the great equalizer.

Then on Thursday the popular political news site Politico published a lengthy expose on the state of social class stratification at the University of Michigan. The (accurate) introductory synopsis of the article states: “The University of Michigan, like many public flagship universities, faces a crisis of confidence in working-class communities.” I recommend reading this article to better understand the stronghold that social class

Michigan Union

University of Michigan Union

stratification has in higher education—especially at elite institutions like the University of Michigan. The whole thing is excellent, but one moment struck me especially; the article discusses elite universities’ loyalty to admissions practices that perpetuate social class division and the exclusion of working poor and working class students, stating:

“Some want the university, and other elite publics like it, to do more by moving away from economically biased admissions standards like standardized test scores, for instance.

‘They’re still creaming the cream of the cream,’ said Arizona State University President Michael Crow. ‘The University of Michigan is worried about losing their elite status. Their elite status is not on what they produce, it’s on who they don’t admit. What elite status is that? That’s not elite status.'”

Here’s the paradox: exclusionary admissions practices are actually detrimental to any institutions’ attempts at becoming or staying elite. Multiple studies in the field of higher education—across a range of times, institution types, and student populations—show that recruiting and retaining a diverse student population brings a diversity of ideas and approaches to the educational context and enriches learning for all students. The same is true of research: recruiting and retaining diverse faculty, graduate, and undergraduate populations brings a diversity of ideas and approaches to research settings and enriches the research experience as well as the outcomes of that research for everyone involved. The University of Michigan and other elite universities are shooting themselves in the foot by not reaching out to diverse faculty, graduate, and undergraduate student populations—especially by not reaching out to those populations


Me: a proud co-editor

that are typically underrepresented in higher education. These new kinds of learners, teachers, and researches would continually revitalize the university and reconfigure what it means to be elite.

As a first-generation college student who comes from a working class family, earned her Master’s and PhD, and currently works as a college professor, I have lived in and moved through a lot of different social class communities. In each of them, I have found people and practices to value. I wish that our institutions of higher education, especially those that fancy themselves elite, would learn to do the same. #GoBlue

Taking My Body Back

On May 22, 2017, my dissertation committee and the Rackham Graduate School signed off on my final dissertation and I finished my PhD. YAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

On May 23, 2017, I started taking my body back.


At WWE Live, celebrating finishing my PhD.

In my five years living in Michigan and doing my PhD. work there, I gained 50 pounds. Let me assure you, my weight gain in no way diminishes the accomplishment of finishing my doctorate. I was fully aware that I was putting my mind and body through serious high-level stress and simultaneously neglecting my health and wellness. A one-track-mind approach was the only way I was going to finish the thing. It took me the same kind and amount of discipline and motivation to get up and write my dissertation everyday as it takes me to get up and workout everyday, and I had made the decision that the dissertation and finishing the PhD. had to be the priority at that time.

So, as soon as the PhD. was done, I set out shifting my priorities and taking care of my health and wellness again. The progress was slow at first. I started out at a crossfit/high intensity interval training gym, but only made it to about three classes before realizing this was a thing I was going to have to work my way back up to. I was sort of doing the workouts and keeping up, but I was so sore and the recovery was so slow that I knew I wouldn’t be able to stick with it.

So, I did a few days of at home yoga podcasts to help recover and then started Insanity. BUT: I was only doing the Insanity warm ups lol. Which is about nine minutes of light cardio and another six or so minutes of stretching. I knew this wouldn’t give me the results I wanted, but I also knew (from past failed attempts) that I wouldn’t stick with the 45-60 minutes, five days a week routine that Insanity sets out. So, I ordered T-25 (an Insanity-like workout with the amazing Shaun T, but only 25 minutes of workout + 3 minutes of stretching) and kept doing the daily Insanity warmups until it arrived.

On June 22 (so, one month into my taking my body back journey), I started T-25. T-25 has a five week alpha cycle and five week beta cycle; I started with alpha and today I finished the full five week cycle!! Woohoo!! So, due to summer travel, moving across the country to Denver, and how out of shape I was when I started, the five week cycle actually took me about 7 or 8 weeks to complete. But, I did it!! And, along with eating mostly paleo, I lost 20 pounds this summer. Yay!



So, while I was working out, I was also adjusting my diet. I had eaten paleo for about two years while I was doing my Master’s degree and had done week long or two week long stints of it sporadically throughout my five years in Michigan. I knew I liked eating paleo because I didn’t have to count or measure anything. I could just eat as much as I wanted of foods that are good for me. And it meant I got to bring back some of my old favorite recipes and experiment with new recipes for cooking and baking. Paleo baking is super fun and I try to make something about once a week that can stand in as a dessert or breakfast food. So, I’ll make berry or peach or apple cobbler or any number of paleo quick breads like lemon poppy seed, zucchini, pumpkin, or banana bread (made with flour substitutes like almond or coconut flours and sugar substitutes like honey, maple syrup, and vanilla extract).

When I first started out eating paleo again, I eased into it. I committed to ten days of no bread, no beer, no lattes. This helped me to detox and to start supplementing my regular, terrible diet with some paleo staples like bacon and eggs, salmon, berries, and nuts. Some things came easy, for example cutting my latte intake down to one or two a week instead of five or seven a week. Some things did not come easy, like still wanting to drink beers and order nachos at happy hour with friends.

In the last couple months, I would say that I’ve been eating about 75% paleo. I mostly eat paleo in the house with a few exceptions like tortilla chips, hummus, and Breyer’s vanilla ice cream that I still keep around the house and eat less than daily. Then, whenever we go out to eat (which is about two or three meals a week) I let myself splurge and order whatever I want. Sometimes when we go out I order a kale salad and an iced tea bc it looks good and sounds delicious to me at the time, and sometimes when we go out I’ll get enchiladas or empanadas or a couple beers.


Last meal before moving from Michigan to Colorado

My plan going forward is to complete the second five week cycle of T-25 and to keep eating mostly paleo. I’ve already lost 20 pounds, and I’d like to lose another twenty. Full disclosure on weight stuff: at my fittest, about five years ago, I maintained 135 pounds. While living in Michigan, my highest and most scary weight was 185, which is a lot for my 5’6′ frame; when I went to the doctor for a general checkup in March of 2017 (before my excellent grad student health insurance was set to run out on me), she was CONCERNED about my BMI, and her concern helped me to set a game plan and get motivated for losing the weight this summer.

Now I’ve lost about 20 pounds and am sitting around 165. I’d like to lose another 20 in the next few months so that I’m back under 150 and hovering around 145. I probably won’t get back to 135 unless I start intense hour long workouts several days a week and lifting weights again. I love lifting; it’s so empowering and one of the best ways to get in shape, and I’ll probably get back to it someday down the road. But for now, I’m sticking to what has been working for me: at home workout dvds with mostly cardio and body weight exercises.

Some take aways from my experiences that might be helpful to others:

  • Find a workout/diet plan that works for you and stick with it. I went through a couple failed workout plans (Crossfit, Insanity) beforeI landed on one (T-25) that would work for me now with my current level of fitness.
  • Stick with your routine but be flexible and generous with yourself. For a few weeks I would workout first thing in the morning. Then when that routine got to be boring or too much for me, I started letting myself workout at night, and I stuck with that for a few weeks. Sometimes, I’d miss a day or two due to fatigue or travel. This will happen. Life doesn’t care that you’re trying to lose weight. Just pick up again where you left off and don’t be too hard on yourself.
  • I documented my diet and exercise on Instagram and got lots of helpful words of encouragement and great tips and feedback from friends and strangers. I mostly just posted sweaty selfies and healthy food grams. But having a way to communicate with others about my progress was really helpful and motivating.
  • I brought my workout DVDs and my laptop with me and worked out while traveling on vacation with my family for a week in North Carolina, in California for ten days for a wedding, while visiting family and friends or seeing music around

    Working out in California

    the state and country. If you’re going to be gone from home for 2+ days, I’d recommend making a plan for how you will workout in that time.

  • I worked out in my favorite band t-shirts and crazy lipstick when I needed extra motivation. Build something fun like this that connects to your other interests or hobbies into your routine.
  • I spent some money on the stuff I needed: a gym membership to start out, a good pair of workout shoes, a new set of DVDs, a spiralizer for making zucchini noodles. None of these expenses were too absurd, and they all helped me. If you see a tank top you love that you think would help you to feel more confident or zany or strong while working out, then buy it for yourself. You deserve it.

Most of all, you can find ways to do it. And your life is so much more than just your weight, your diet, or your exercise routine.


Hiking with friends at Red Rocks

A Rant Against Those Anti-Technology “Removed” Photos That Are Going Viral Right Now

In case you haven’t seen it, there’s a video going viral right now of some photos where the photographer has removed people’s phones and tablets in order to shame them for using technology in social settings. And in case you can’t already tell: it pisses me off. A lot.

I first saw this video this morning while I was laying on my couch scrolling through Facebook, watching muted nail art tutorials on YouTube, and listening to a live bluegrass show that someone had recorded yesterday and posted to Facebook from across the country. So, I was spending some much needed connected alone time and recharging from a couple weeks of intense dissertation writing and a weekend of academic conferencing.

After I watched the video, I FB messaged it to my friend and fellow blogger Merideth and said “This pisses me off. I actually think most of these people look like they’re happy and having fun. That couple on the couch especially. Who cares if you’re using a screen, you’re likely using it to stay connected to people and information that matters and likely going to share it with the people in the picture with you seconds after this photo was taken.” And I stand by that defense. Maybe those dudes standing at the grill are looking up a recipe, or watching a YouTube tutorial on how to get their charcoal grill going. Maybe they’re reading interesting political articles that they’ll talk about together. Maybe they’re checking their fantasy football scores (that’s a thing right?). Maybe they’re scrolling their social media feeds and connecting to a bunch of people who aren’t even in the photo. My point is: using technology can be socializing. It’s maybe a different kind of socializing than face-to-face encounters. But that’s it. It’s just different, not worse or better.

Merideth, who researches high school students’ uses of technology and social media BY THE WAY, responded saying “Also. Sorry to break it to you, folks, but technology neither causes nor resolves your social problems.” We forget this: devices like phones and tablets are tools. We use them to for particular purposes, and in that way, they likely heighten behaviors or habits that were already there. Basically, socialization existed before and will continue to exist long after your technology changes shape or dies away. This is not a new phenomenon. We have been using tools to mediate our social interactions for a long long time. And just because our socialization looks different now doesn’t mean we’re in crisis.

I also clicked on the video and started reading comments. I was happy to find that I was not alone, and that comments in the video were pretty much 50/50 pro-this-video (“I just don’t get people who stare at their phones all day.” “Kids should play outside more instead of playing on their iPads”) and con-this-video (“these pictures and the music they’re set to are manipulative and hypocritical” “what if we took this photographer’s camera [A TECHNOLOGY] away from him, what would he be? a hypocritical voyeur too attached to his device?”) That last one is my favorite criticism: This photographer is shitting where he eats in a big way. He created a viral campaign about how he hates the devices that allow for viral campaigns of his photos. Maybe he shouldn’t be so quick to shame the people who are looking at his photos through their devices and the social media those devices house.

Anyway, I’ll end my rant here: just because socialization looks a little different now doesn’t mean we’re not socializing or that our socialization is broken. I am over the top grateful for the chance to stay connected to family, friends, and colleagues who live near and far and who share valuable knowledge and resources with me through their devices.


Technology is so bad these days that even dogs are addicted to it 😉

Mo’bility Mo’ Problems

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the metaphor of upward mobility and the ways in which social mobility often involves actual mobility—moving around to move up. I never really realized the emphasis on mobility in social mobility until it happened to me. That is, until my pursuit of graduate education coupled with financial need took me away from my home, family, and friend networks in Maryland to a fully funded PhD. program in the Midwest. I’ve written here before about the weirdness of living in a new geographical location than the one you’ve grown up in. But this time around I’m also interested in what gets gained and lost when one moves around as part of moving up.

I’m worried that increasingly I encounter popular rhetoric that assumes everyone is upwardly mobile or aspiring to be—that mobility is inherently good. Or, as President Bartlett puts it: “That’s the problem with the American dream. It makes everyone concerned for the day they’re gonna be rich.” These kinds of assumptions (that upward mobility is absolutely good, and thus that everyone must be looking for it) erase the challenges that mobility brings. These assumptions also erase the experiences of people who are content in their social standing or who are working just to keep that social standing secure, let alone to move out of it.

Social mobility is hard, especially when it involves actually moving. When you move, you lose networks of friends and family—networks of emotional, intellectual, and oftentimes financial support. And that’s fine. Sometimes things should be difficult. But we should talk more about that difficulty. Instead of just telling people encouraging things like education is the key to success or you can be whatever you want to be, it might help to temper that encouragement with honesty about how difficult it is to join a class of people who are not like the class of people you know and love best. This is not to discourage moving up or moving around, but to open up dialogue about challenges. Honest dialogue about challenges would also help for kinship purposes; for people to be able to find peers and mentors who support them and who they could help support in return.

Mobility is hard. You don’t always get to make ends meet, and that often feels like your own individual failure rather than the failure of a system that tells people to do and be whatever they want but really only rewards those who stick to the status quo and don’t shake things up too much. You miss things. People get married, people get born, people get sick, people die. You don’t get to be there for the celebrations and the successes, and you don’t get to be there for the tragedies and challenges. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. You build new networks, make new friends and family. And your relationships to your old networks shift and change in fun and exciting ways, not just in scary ways. We need people who’ve moved up and moved around. If only so that when they get where they’re going they can say, this isn’t actually better than where I was before, it’s just different, different in good and bad ways from where I was before.

A little background music for your enjoyment whilst you peruse this post.

Michael Scott


Things I Learned from TV

For the last few months I’ve been interviewing first-generation college students about their experiences with reading and writing in college. I’m also a first-generation college student myself, and at the end of a long day of interviewing I can usually be found standing at my kitchen sink doing dishes and thinking about what I’ve heard and learned that day. As I think about students’ interviews I often wonder, how would I answer these questions if someone asked me?

Towards the end of our first meetings together, I ask students, “How did you know that you wanted to go to college or how did you decide that you would be a person who goes to college?” A lot of times, students talk with me about TV shows or movies they saw or books they read that showed them what college was like and made them believe that they wanted to go to college.

This matters to me. It matters to me that watching TV or seeing a movie or reading a book could be the thing that gives you a window into the world outside your immediate life, outside your immediate family or community. It matters to me that these pop culture artifacts might show you that you could go to college, or have a fulfilling career, or make contact with a new and different community.

In my own life, countless TV shows and movies have shown me a world outside myself and helped me learn about a different community, a different experience outside my own. Being a first-generation college student, and coming from a working class community, a lot of these shows and movies and books showed me examples of middle class people, of going to college, of having a white-collar professional job; examples that I otherwise might not get to see everyday. Even if I didn’t necessarily choose to pursue these things myself, I saw them and knew they were viable options.

Here are some things I learned from TV: (disclaimer, my TV tastes are super mainstream).

One of my favorite shows, Gilmore Girls, takes on class difference directly as the show’s driving conflict. Lorelai comes from a wealthy Connecticut family whose ancestors came over on the Mayflower—old money. But she chooses to leave that community and raise her daughter Rory in a goRoryod ole’ small town, middle class community. In the first episode of the show, Rory decides to leave the local public school and commute to a private college preparatory high school in order to better her chances of fulfilling her dream to attend an Ivy League university. I was obsessed with Gilmore Girls as a high schooler and watched reruns everyday after school with my bff while we made microwave quesadillas and pretended to do our calculus homework. When Rory went away to college, I got to see what living in a dorm might be like, what eating at a dining hall might look like, what attending a college lecture or seminar or discussion section might look like. Even if I didn’t have Rory’s exact family or financial situation, even if I didn’t want to attend an Ivy League school myself, I got to imagine what going to college would be like and that I could a person who did that.

We were also obsessed with Sex and the City and binge-watched my friend’s mom’s SATC DVDs. Though I didn’t learn much about college from SATC, SATC was the first time I heard a woman say: maybe I don’t want to get married or have kids. SATC was the first time I saw a woman have a real discussion about that possibility with people who took her seriously. Even if I didn’t want to live in New York, wasn’t obsessed with expensive shoes, or couldn’t relate to the thirty-something dating scene, I got to see examples of women who worked challenging, fulfilling careers and valued their friendships with other women.

I also love Friends. I feel like Friends taught me a lot, A LOT, about how to behave like a middle class person. The characters on Friends probably represent a range of social classes, but by and large I think their interactions showcase a solidly middle class (maybe upper middle class?) lifestyle. Chandler Bing taught me how to talk lChandlerike what I thought a middle class person should talk like. He’s clever, quippy, sarcastic. He works a hugely unfulfilling white collar job in a huge office building and jokes “I’ve got to get to work. If I don’t input those numbers… it doesn’t make much of a difference.” Ross Gellar is a college professor, a job which I knew nothing about until I watched him teach a lecture in rollerblades. My point is not that I can quote a specific episode of Friends that taught me that I could be a person who goes to college; instead the collective influence of all these shows was that I had plenty of examples of people who went to college, worked middle class jobs, delayed getting married or starting a family, left home and moved around for college and for their careers.

Finally, I love Roseanne. I remember my family gathering around the TV on Tuesday nights at 9pm to watch Roseanne. When I was too young to stay up and watch, I’d sit on my bedroom floor with my ear to the door trying to listen in on the show and on my family’s conversations about it. Roseanne is about working class people, and seeing those people depicted on TV also mattered to me. Roseanne taught me that working class people’s successes and their problems matter, they’re real, lots of people experience them. Seeing people on TV whose lives looked like ours and whose voices sounded like ours mattered. In short, Roseanne taught me that the lives of working class people are valuable and important, just as valuable and important as anybody else’s.

Workday Success!

I’ve posted here a couple of times about my difficulties with work life balance and confusion over values surrounding work in graduate school. In the past year or so, I’ve found a few strategies and routines that have worked for me and helped me to work consistently, accomplish some major goals, and give myself some needed breaks and celebratory fun times. I’m going to try and describe those strategies and routines here, in hopes that I can come back to them in moments when I’m feeling sluggish or that someone else might be able to benefit from bits and pieces of my own experiences.

First off, I’ve found myself keeping a pretty regular eight-hour work day routine. For the last couple semesters since I achieved candidacy and started working on my dissertation, I’ve been on fellowship, which means I don’t have teaching or coursework demands on my time and energy. My work day gets to be totally committed to my dissertation process and other related tasks like pursuing funding, publishing, or conference opportunities. Without regular teaching or coursework time commitments, I’ve been able to keep a roughly eight hour workday routine. My eight hour workday runs from about 10-6. This is sort of ironic for me because, coming from a working class family, one of the reasons I chose to pursue graduate school was to avoid an overly rigid work schedule. But I’m finding that being able to choose the eight hours I’ll work for, the space I’ll work in, and the work that I’ll do has helped me to work regularly and to avoid the kind of mandated rigidity I was hoping to escape. Most of my days look like: get up, workout, eat breakfast, shower, walk my dog, go out into the world somewhere and work for eight hours, come home and have dinner, do something fun at home or go out with friends for a few hours. I’ve found that this routine has served me well and allowed for variety within structure. I get to choose where I want to work each day, what I want to make for dinner (I enjoy cooking and find that it de-stresses me!), what fun things I want to do at the end of the night, and who I can spend my work hours and fun hours with each day.

This kind of variety within routine is hugely important to me because in the past too rigid a routine has made me restless and resentful in a matter of days. Any time I have to do something the exact same three times in a row, I lose interest. So, this pattern has been a great, productive compromise for me. One of the most important things I’ve learned how to do is to let myself actually put the work down at the end of the night to do something fun for myself without feeling guilty about not working. The same goes for morning time. I let my mind stay clear of work for a couple hours each morning while I get ready for the day. Without this time away from work each day, I would feel run ragged and end up accomplishing a lot less. Within the actual eight hour workday, I’ve started to assign myself two major tasks a day. For example, I might work on transcribing interview data for four hours and then completing a grant for funding for four hours. I might revise a dissertation chapter draft for four hours and then spend four hours coding data. I might revise an article for publication for four hours and then spend four hours reading. I like to try to switch the tasks up about halfway through the day, again guaranteeing the variety within structure that seems to be most productive for me.

Another strategy I’ve found useful is using lots and lots of to-do lists. I keep the following to-do lists: master list of things I have to do in order to graduate/complete my PhD. program by a particular date, smaller master list of all the things I have to do in a given semester, a semester calendar to show when each of those things has to be done by, a daily to-do list for each day’s tasks (I write the next day to-do list at the end of each workday. I find writing a new to-do list while I’m still in work mode saves me a lot of time and energy the next day when I’m gearing up to work again), revision lists for each of the writing projects I’ve got going, post-it notes EVERYWHERE breaking components of all the lists down into manageable chunks. And when I check something off, I get to check it off ALL THE LISTS! Such a great feeling. To-do lists have helped me to be realistic about how much I can accomplish in any given amount of time. I write the hard copy lists in pencil, so as to be forgiving of myself when not everything gets done and the list has to be adjusted. With electronic to-do lists (in my phone’s notes app) I use a checkmark emoji next to a task to denote that it’s been completed. This is great because I don’t have to erase completed tasks and I can look back and see all that I’ve already done successfully! Woohoo! Go me!

Maybe the most important thing I’ve started doing (and that really I’ve been doing all along) is talking about the work with whoever’s willing to listen! This helps me to reflect on my own strategies and to learn new strategies that have worked for others. Listening to others’ experiences has also taught me to be patient and forgiving of myself when I’m feeling frustrated with the work. No single strategy works for everyone all the time, so talking with others and listening to their experiences helps me to recognize successes when I’m experiencing them and to cope with the challenges as they arise. With all of these strategies, I’ve found myself enjoying doing challenging work that matters to me and to the kinds of people and students that I care about most.


Doing work with my dissertation dog, Bella 🙂

Sexual Violence. I will not watch you. Here’s why.

I don’t watch Game of Thrones. Whenever anyone asks me about it or it comes up in conversation, I tell them “I can’t handle sexual violence.” This is true. I don’t watch or read or listen to things with sexual violence in them. Because they keep me up at night when I’m alone ruminating over them and because when my friends are around to listen I have full tail mental emotional breakdowns about them. Not just because I feel personally threatened by depictions of sexual violence (I do.), but also because they’re often presented in ways that are not transformative and only serve to perpetuate (not critique or deconstruct or interrupt) our cultural glorification and acceptance of, or apathy towards, sexual violence. As someone who has only ever had over-the-top-consensual sexual experiences, I often doubt my own authority to speak out on this topic, but I’ll speak anyway, and I think it’s important that I do. In a weird perfect storm of interactions, this topic has been on my mind a lot the last few weeks, and just today it was announced that the Fifty Shades of Fucking Terrible will premiere on Valentine’s Day 2015 and its absurdly rape-porn-y trailer was released; so, yeah, I’m worked up about it and I’m gonna rail against it now. At the bar earlier this week, a couple of friends and I talked this topic out quite a bit. We talked about how it’s important to resist pop culture products that depict sexual violence, because those depictions are so often rape-porn-y and work to glorify sexual violence. And because we have enough REAL LIFE examples of these crimes against women (and men) that we would do well to work within the terrible reality of sexual violence and rape than to pile on fictional depictions of it. We also acknowledged the viewpoint (held by lots of women we know and respect) that pop culture depictions of sexual violence help to make the reality of sexual violence more apparent to people who might not see or acknowledge its presence in our day to day lives. Or that pop culture depictions of sexual violence might do some kind of healing work for victims of sexual violence. I acknowledge those viewpoints and respect them. And I do think there are some transformative depictions of rape and of sexual violence in pop culture products. Happy to talk about those transformative depictions with anyone whose interested. But my argument is: you need a conglomeration of all these viewpoints in order to create change. People who are willing to work within the system to change the system and people who are standing outside the system saying “ABSOLUTELY NOT AND HERE’S WHY.” People who are willing to encounter depictions of sexual violence and talk with others about them in ways that are transformative and people who refuse to watch them at all and will talk with others about why that is. The risk being that, there are also others who will watch depictions of sexual violence and not interpret those depictions as transformative and will not engage with conversations about them at all. The risk being that, depictions of sexual violence will continue to glorify rather than interrupt the terrible reality and prevalence of sexual violence in our day to day lives. Don’t be these people. If you’re a person who is willing to watch or hear or read depictions of sexual violence, please do so in ways that are transformative. Think. Make Decisions. Is the thing I just encountered glorifying sexual violence? Then I will not choose to encounter it again, and I will tell others why I think it is a glorification of sexual violence. Is the thing I just encountered doing some sort of transformative work? Will it help others to see our dangerous culture of apathy towards sexual violence? Then I’ll talk with others about it and why I think it’s transformative. Will the thing I just encountered potentially offer some sort of healing to victims of sexual violence? Then I will talk about it and why I think it might be healing in some way. Again, we need a multitude of viewpoints and a variety of action to create change on this pervasive, scary, dangerous, terrible issue. But please, please, please develop a viewpoint and take some action. Don’t be apathetic. And on that note, I will say again:   Screen Shot 2014-07-24 at 1.30.53 PM

My Mom, The Advanced Typist

Re-blogging a couple posts that I wrote for a course blog last year.

My earliest childhood memory is waking up to the sound of my mother’s fingers racing across her keyboard. She was two rooms away and my door was closed, but I could still sense her fervor as she tried to meet the morning’s deadline (I didn’t realize at the time her deadline was something like “get this done before the kids wake up”). For much of my early childhood and elementary school years my mother worked from home as a typist transcribing legal documents for a law firm in our hometown. Every morning on our way to school we would stop by the law office to drop off the transcripts from the day before and pick up the next set of audio tapes to be transcribed. Even though by the time I was hearing her fervent fingers on the keyboard she had long switched over to an actual computer, when I read our assignment description I knew that I wanted to interview my mom about using a typewriter. Again: I hear “type” I think “mom”.

The most important things I learned from my interview with my mom are: 1) How shockingly little I know about what her life was like before I arrived on the scene 2) typing, according to my mother’s experiences, is a woman’s world and 3) the “technological revolution” is a lot more complex and recursive than I naively assumed it to be at the start of our interview.

My mother told me that she learned to type in eleventh and twelfth grade on a typewriter for a business course where students also learned shorthand but mostly just sat in rows each day and typed away preparing for timed tests every Friday. She continued: “So in our twelfth grade year we had a typing contest for the whole school and I was the fastest typer in the entire school […] I can type 120 words a minute with no mistakes”

My mother can type 120 WPM?! This didn’t mean much to me when she first said it, but I looked it up and as it turns out an average typing speed is 40 WPM. 100 WPM with no errors is considered a high speed. Working at speeds like 120 WPM with no mistakes earns you a spot in the “advanced typist” category. Go Mom!

In addition to gaining this more detailed picture of my mother as a teenager, I also realized throughout our interview that the typist’s world is a world of women. My mother told me “I just remember typing ‘the brown fox jumped over the whatever’ over and over again and I liked typing. And for whatever reason I wanted to type really well to make money, and my mother was a legal secretary so I pretty much set my sights on that. And back then they made a lot of money.” I had no idea that my grandmother had been a legal secretary or that she was my mother’s inspiration for pursuing that career herself. This kind of passing down of a very specialized literacy between generations of women echoes for me aspects of Patricia Crain’s argument in which the figure of the mother is very much caught up in the process of printing and imprinting. The alphabet acquires a medium, a body through the mother, and the child is meant to be seen and listening. In these cases taken from my mother’s life, my grandmother first was imprinting while my mother was listening until at some point my mother began imprinting and I became the listener.

Another role model my mother mentioned with reverence was her business teacher who encouraged her to partake in the school-wide and then the county-wide typing contest: “I guess there was a county wide test and I went with my business class teacher. Her name was Genevieve Farmer, and I’ll never forget her. She was awesome. And I went with her to the contest and they were giving the instructions to everyone, and you were supposed to flip that paper over and get it into the typewriter. And I immediately said it was over. A lot of the people next to me went to the other side and I just sat back and watched and I just marveled.” My mother’s inspiration and her mentor for pursuing typing were both women. Additionally, she found her job as a typist in order to stay home with me and my brother and sister when we were young. My mother’s acquisition of typewriter-literacy and then of computer-literacy were very much motivated by her identity as a daughter and then as a mother.

My mother’s recollections of her experiences with the typewriter brought us right up into present day, where I realized I had grossly oversimplified the development of writing and digital technologies as a linear, step by step process. When I asked my mother if she preferred or missed the typewriter in any way, she surprised me with “Enough so that I have one at my desk at work, and I use it occasionally.” I had assumed typewriters had become fossilized oddities that sat unused in abandon storage spaces or obscure museums. But, my mom has shown me that her continued use of the typewriter is not only nostalgic but functional as well. In her current profession as a legal secretary “sometimes there’s legal documents that you can’t do on a computer. The ABA, American Bar Association, still has certain forms that we have to put in the typewriter to fill out. They’re like 98 percent there. But there are one or two court documents that have to be on the typewriter.” Can you imagine? I had no idea! The American Bar Association still has documents they have not put into digital format.

At first I thought there must be a way to do these things on a computer, but my mother just hasn’t figured them out yet or is choosing to rely on the typewriter out of familiarity. She proved me wrong: “How do you explain this one, our company has a certain program to do envelopes on the computer. But I find it easier to do on a typewriter so a lot of times I’ll just use a typewriter for that. So what it is we have a predetermined format, it puts it on all four, and I might only need one label so I put it in the typewriter so that I don’t ruin four labels I don’t need.” My mom not only understands this computer technology, she understands it so well that she has learned to anticipate its flaws and chooses to use a typewriter as the more efficient means of writing technology when producing mailing labels. Picture it: she has a typewriter and a computer station sitting side by side at her desk and sometimes uses both for different purposes in a single day. Writing technologies of the past are in fact alive and well and being used in conjunction with more advanced, more recent writing technologies.

We ended our interview on a note of nostalgia. In response to the same question of preferring or missing a typewriter, my mother also said: “Yeah, it’s great because all the attorneys yell out. That’s one thing that’s weird, they miss the sound of the typewriter going fast. The clicks of it. When I’m standing there typing labels they always freak out like ‘oh I remember that.’ They like it when I use the typewriter.”

Why I Hated My Literacy Narrative

Re-blogging a couple posts that I wrote for a course blog last year.

I hated writing my literacy narrative. It was difficult for me on a personal level to look back on my history with reading and writing, and it made me extremely uncomfortable to share these things with our class. Several moments throughout our course readings and discussions have helped me to make sense of my resistance to writing a literacy narrative. Firstly, when we all shared in class about our process of writing these narratives, I was taken aback by how many people had interviewed their parents for the assignment. This thought had never even crossed my mind. Why not? It seemed a logical starting point to ask the people who had taught you to read and write how they had gone about it, and I was no different than others in the class; my parents had taught me to read and write. So, why did I not think to ask them about it? This question haunted me for a few weeks and colored my approach to the course readings (seriously, that’s not embellishment or hindsight. I was worried. What made me, my family, and our relationship to reading and writing different?)

Some personal and family history: I am a first generation college student, and although my parents both earned high school diplomas, they have spent their professional lives as a secretary and letter carrier while I have pursued graduate education in English at both the Master’s and Doctoral levels. I have acquired specialized forms of literacy that stand in stark contrast to my parents’ literacy experiences which have constantly frustrated and embarrassed them. I should say that my parents are both generally happy, fulfilled individuals, but that fulfillment does not come from their work or their experiences with literacy especially in institutionalized settings. For these reasons, I have been experiencing over the past decade of my life a Richard Rodriguez-esque surpassing of my parents’ educational and literacy experiences.

Up to this point, I have effectively ignored this uncomfortable family situation, but throughout this course on literacy I have found myself learning about and reflecting on my personal and family history much more than I had ever anticipated doing in an academic course. Particularly, I found in Randy Pinder’s dissertation chapter “Literacy Meta-Discourse” a piece of an insight into my unsettling experiences with writing a literacy narrative. In describing adult learners enrolled in literacy programs, Randy’s work started to blur the lines between literate and illiterate in ways that were meaningful to me: “Students know the stigma of not graduating high school, resist the judgment others have for them, and become frustrated when they are unable to persuade sponsors like college admissions and employers of their literacy. They are forced to feel impoverished, even when they feel that their literate abilities are valuable and should be accepted without traditional documentation […] regional learners can feel literate without a diploma, but they feel frustrated when sponsors do not recognize the value of what they do possess. County learners can feel illiterate with a diploma, seeing themselves as impoverished in literate resources and cultural capital.” These descriptions helped me to make sense of the divide between my experiences with reading and writing and my parents’.

These passages, and Randy’s chapter in general, have shown me what literacy experiences are like for my parents on a day to day basis. They read and write in a variety of contexts, and I believe that they find value in it; however, I do not think that others have always valued my parents’ literacy practices and I know that they have felt that devaluation. I have seen my parents reading and writing and enjoying it. I have also seen them struggling and frustrated by it. In rare cases, when things at work have really come to a head, I have heard them outwardly and directly express their bitterness and indignation at not being valued for their individual performance or achievement, and these rare cases of embarrassment have often been related to literacy. Before reading Randy’s chapter, I did not have the language to express this description of my parents’ literacy experiences, but I definitely knew them and felt them intuitively.

And so, I did not and still have not asked my parents to talk to me about teaching me to read and write. I think my interview with my mom about typewriters was a less threatening way in for me to talk about literacy with her because it did not include any focus on my experiences with literacy. This comparison and contrast between their experiences and mine is what scares me. I cannot go there. Instead, I have revised my literacy narrative to foreground the artifacts that have influenced my reading and writing experiences. In this way, I found writing my literacy narrative much more enjoyable and less threatening to my relationship with my parents to and my relationship with reading and writing. And believe me, my parents are still there in my literacy narrative. In most cases , they were the ones who passed on these pop-culture, literacy artifacts to me or they were the first people I reported back to about my experiences after having consumed these artifacts. That exchange of pieces of pop-culture continues to characterize my relationship to my parents and continues to structure those of our literacy practices that we can share.

MUSIC/Feminist-y Relationship-y Career-y Stuff (-y)

Earlier this week I cried at a bluegrass festival. *Pause for a second while no one is astonished.* I cry in public a lot. Most often because of something beautiful I’m seeing or reading or in this case hearing. The Crane Wives opened the festival, and I’ve been listening to them for the past few weeks while I slog through the toughest part of a tough semester, and their music is beautiful. So here is the perfect storm that facilitated my most recent public display of emotion.

I don’t want to have children; I’ve known this about myself since I was 14 and have solidified it into a certainty over the past twelve years. Marriage is still a question mark in my mind. Maybe it’s an adventure I’d be willing to embark on, maybe it’s not. I’m in no hurry to find out. In spite of these less than traditional views of marriage and family, I am still a very relationship-y person. Add to this already complicated mix a key ingredient: relationships in graduate school are challenging if not impossible to maintain well.

So, in addition to weird societal pressures that complicate my life decisions (or what looks to most people like a lack of life decisions), I often struggle with asking myself: if I don’t want to get married or have children, then what’s with all this relationship-y stuff? Why do I intertwine my life so closely with another person’s life when I have no ultimate end goal in mind? Rather than being discouraged by these questions and uncertainties when they insist on pushing in, I like to live in them for awhile, give them their due diligence. “The unexamined life is not worth living” or some other viral internet quote. JK, apparently that’s a quote from Socrates; he can stay.

I also feel like because I don’t want to have a family/children I should want to be a kind of heavy hitter academic, leader in my field type. But I’m not sure that that life’s for me either. I do want to have a vocation, not just a job or a career. I want to love the thing I do and be happy in doing it. But, I don’t want my life to be a constant performance, like I imagine that kind of intense job-only, career-mindedness would be. And these tensions lead to an intensifying of my already thriving impostor syndrome. Again, rather than be discouraged, I try to live in these uncertainties for awhile. And music helps.