Follow-up to The day after.
My students came, even after them being told they could take a mental health absence. They came.
I started off the class nervous. Very nervous. I reintroduced myself, reminding them that I am a Chicana feminist scholar and what that means about my academic and personal politics. I told them Chicana/o studies is not neutral on issues of race, gender, sexuality and economic justice. I told them I was not neutral on this election. I also said that this was a space they could talk about the election, any fears, any plans, any questions.
There was nodding, but silence. So I went into my lecture on food and The Hunger Games. But in addition to the focus on food, we also looked at reality TV. Its cruelties and attractions. The discussion and lecture (I mingle the two) had gone on for forty five minutes, and had included discussion on the ways the United States was Panem when I got to my last slide. It asked them to talk about Donald Trump as reality TV star and how this image he had constructed informed the support for his run for the presidency.
Discussion came alive. Everything about the election, about Trump, about his personality and persona and his views was discussed. The students looked at the intersections of his support and what it meant and what it would mean. Their ideas were powerful and informed.
Then we took our break and the students started their presentations. As part of their requirements for this class, five students each week bring in a food that’s significant to them for any reason. They then, in a presentation, give a five to ten minute cultural and social exploration of that food. They have to bring in enough of the food so that everyone can have a taste.
The students last night outdid themselves. We had two types of tamales, each with stories of their connections to home, mothers and sisters, Los Angeles and to Meso America. Another student brought in pralines, connecting them to her family’s history in Louisiana and New Orleans. We had Cuban pork, black beans and rice and their connection to Cuba, Castro, fleeing, and starting again.
But the stand-out moment for me, the day after the election of Trump, was a student who brought in Chinese Chicken salad she had made for us. A Muslim woman originally from the Middle East, she told the history of this salad in her family (which she described as “Trump’s nightmare”). How her Asian American sister-in-law had made it and introduced her to it, along with U.S. customs like Thanksgiving. How this salad, created in California by a European chief based on California cuisine and American Chinese food, was so beloved by her children and her. It was a perfect moment.
These presentations filled me with joy as we came together over the foods the students had shared. They were everything I love about teaching U.S. culture, about how in Los Angeles we rub up against each other, mix together and create hybrid foods, languages and cultures. How this very thing, this majority minority, Bladerunner Los Angeles, is what so many in rural spaces fear, can be so creative, kind and wonderful.
I could not thank my students enough for what they’d done.
I drove home last night at 10:30 PM, after being on campus for 14 hours, filled with energy and hope.
I woke up shaken from the election results. Although I have cried, especially when faced with any kindness today, I mostly feel and have felt hollowed out. As I’ve spent the day in meetings at CSU Dominguez Hills surrounded by people of color, mainly African Americans and Latina/x/os, I’ve wondered if everyone was feeling what I am. More people that usual said “how are you today?” (one said “How about those Yankees?” but meant the same thing) to each other, with each of us replying “I’m okay.” I said I was okay too because what else can I say? I’m not. This reality is about as far from okay as anything I can imagine.
Tonight is my evening class, an interdisciplinary study course on American society. This semester it’s a class on food and culture. Although the semester is in full swing (maybe even winding down) this class only started three weeks ago. It’s a hybrid course, meeting online and in person for eight weeks. My students are only just beginning to know each other. Last week we celebrated Día de Los Muertos together at Self HelP Graphics. It was a wonderful event I loved sharing with them. This week we are scheduled to talk about The Hunger Games, share food and learn a bit about WordPress.
But this morning I sent an email to my class letting them know we are meeting, that I understood if they couldn’t come but that if they did, we would have space to talk about what’s happened and to try and understand what it means. What I’m not going to ask them to do is to pretend nothing has happened. This is not just another Wednesday. My politics and pedagogy do not allow me to pretend that it is.
So in forty-five minutes I’ll go and teach a class unlike one I’ve taught before. I’ll be glad to see my students. I only hope I can keep my throat from closing up as we talk.
This semester has a lot of firsts, a lot of new work. First, as I mentioned, I’m working full time at CSU Dominguez Hills as coordinator of the humanities program and instructor in Interdisciplinary Studies and Chicana/o Studies. I am not teaching anywhere else, so rather than having multiple bags for three different campuses I’m spending my days at Dominguez Hills. I have an office (pictures when it gets set up) of my own and am responsible for making sure other instructors have what they need. I’m trying to get to know the how administration works at CSUDH, learn how to make good administrative choices and understand the history behind the program I’m responsible for leading.
A lot of changes, but that’s not what this post is about.
Because the other new thing I’m doing is teaching a Chicana/o Studies course on the family and gender issues online. This is something different. It’s the first Chicana/o studies class I’ve taught online and the first time the Chicana/o Studies department at CSUDH has offered an all online class.
I confess, after I said I’d do it, I had a bit of a freakout.
Here’s why: first, on a pedagogical level, I wondered how to move Chicana/o studies pedagogy online. How to, within the LMS Blackboard (which I found out I have to use at CSUDH), create an environment where learning could come from the students to each other. So much of how Blackboard works seems to rely on the idea of the transactional classroom where the knowledge and assignments all come from the instructor. I struggled to find writing discussing the teaching of ethnic studies online.
Which leads me to the next and larger source of my freakout. Until I realized I wasn’t going to have it anymore, I hadn’t realized how much I count on my body — that is on being a large Chicana professor — in the room as an instructor in a Chicana/o studies course. How to navigate that? Will my students identify with me as Chicana/o? Will they identify with being Chicana/o themselves? Will we be able to see each other?
As I was obsessing about this, I had a conversation with my mentor Tiffany Ana Lopez about the idea of embodiment in the classroom and online. Tiffany pointed out that online I could do with possibly different results the classic move in Chicana/o studies discourse, to start a discussion saying “within and for the sake of this discussion, we’re all Chicana/o. I’m so grateful for this conversation because I began to see the online space as one not of deficit, but of possibility.
Syllabus: Large credit for the basic construction of the course, especially the readings and recordings being used, goes to Marisela Chavez who was originally going to teach this course.
Blackboard: I’m using the class Blackboard site for grading and to distribute materials. I confess, I don’t like Blackboard mostly because I think it’s ugly but a friend / colleuge made some good points about it being what the students are familiar with and giving them a base where they’re comforting.
Blog: we’re constructing a course blog using part of this site’s domain space. The writing students do for this will make up a significant part of their writing for the class — both in looking at the course texts, finding new ones and constructing content. The content they make is going be surrounding their creation of Dia de los Muertos alters as digital objects.
Slack: I used Slack for the first time this past year and really liked it — especially in the way it was used by different tracks at DPLI. But it seemed like too much to create a Slack team for a class of 20 online students. So I created a team as my own classroom and then a channel for the class. If I choose to keep using Slack, each class will have its own. The Slack space is a space for asking questions, making comments and basically getting to know each other.
The major project for this course is going to be the construction of some sort of Día de Muertos alter for the blog.
I confess, I’m angry. I’ve been angry since yesterday when I read the letter written to first year students by the University of Chicago negating the idea of trigger warnings, safe spaces and student protest.
Kevin Gannon at the Tattooed Professor posted “Trigger Warning: Elitism, Gatekeeping, and Other Academic Crap” which explains in detail why the letter is bad policy and represents institutional elitism.
More pithy but on point is a tweet by Saladin Ahmed that captures U of C perfectly:
honestly U Chicago — a highly policed little white enclave in a city that’s mostly Black and Latino — has no place tsk-tsk-ing safe spaces
— Saladin Ahmed (@saladinahmed) August 25, 2016
What I have to say is that trigger warnings, which I call “content warnings” make it possible for some students to take classes from me who otherwise could be hurt by them.
Why? Because some of the texts I work with are disturbing as hell. Not only that, but unlike the case of disturbing content in Antigone or other classics of Greek literature, there isn’t a corpus of secondary literature out there to warn, for example, that Alicia Gaspar de Alba’s Calligraphy of the Witch has brutal scenes of rape. Why would I begrudge someone fair warning that they’re about to read a dark and violent novel?
I can’t say I always thought this way. I didn’t think about it at all. But then I taught a darkly beautiful autobiography by Josie Méndez-Negrete, Las hijas de Juan, with sustained accounts of abuse, sexual assault and neglect. One of my students was blindsided by the book. It sent her places I in no way expected or wanted her to go. It also moved her deeply. As I processed what she was going through as she experienced the text, I decided whether she went through this not should be her choice, not mine. To make that choice, she needed information from me.
To give my students control and the ability to make these choices costs nothing more than a sentence the week before we read the book. So when I teach Gods Go Begging by Alfredo Véa I give a preview of the coming attractions.
Gods Go Begging is a Chicano noir novel with surreal (I would say gothic) breaks with reality. There are disturbing images of gang violence and flashbacks to the character’s experiences in the Vietnam War.
That’s it. But it’s enough that a student already struggling with PTSD because of their own experiences can decide how they want to handle the text. They can then come to me for more information if they want it. The decision, the control, is, as it should be theirs, not mine.
My students already know from the syllabus I can be flexible with assigned reading and screenings. So far, no one has opted out of a book or film, though last semester I had a student decide to watch American Me on her own rather than on a big screen in the darkened classroom. Letting her do this cost me nothing.
I think that’s why I am angry. Making classrooms safer (or brave) spaces where students feel they can speak without being attacked or can question or take issue with some speech or action they find silencing makes the classroom a better, kinder space. Me not assuming that my students will respond to texts with detachment is positive. I want them to be moved by these books, these films. Letting them know they’re going to be encountering disturbing material doesn’t spoil it or take away from anyone’s reading.
So I go back to the University of Chicago’s letter. What that letter is saying is basically: we’re in control, not you. Don’t complain, don’t talk back, don’t try and have a say in your education.
There’s nothing brave or new about that.
I’ve spent the past week at the University of Mary Washington as a fellow at the Digital Pedagogy Lab Summer Institute. There were wonderful keynote speakers — the amazing Tressie McMillan Cottom and Cathy Davidson and great “tracks” to choose from. I spent about a month trying to decide which track would be right and decided to choose Intro, not so much because I consider myself new to digital pedagogy but because I wanted a chance to have a sense of the foundations of why we do what we do in our physical and virtual classrooms.
Although the institute is about digital pedagogy, one of the most valuable things I’ve taken from it has been asking ourselves not simply what technology we use with our students but what the implications are of that technology. One of the powerful exercises we did was to break into groups and look behind the apps. Looking at their founders, their boards, where their capital came and is coming from and, most telling, their Terms of Service left me unsettled about the technology, including learning management software and companies like TurnItIn, that my students are using for their classes. Too many of these companies see their users as products to produce content for their platform and sources to harvest data from.
After several days of talking about pedagogy, mostly through discussions of writings by Paulo Freire, bell hooks and Seymour Papert, Sean Michael Morris led us in a series of timed writing exercises to get at what we thought about ourselves as teachers and our own pedagogy. (I didn’t write down the prompts so I’m guessing at them based on memory.) This is what I produced:
First exercise prompt: When did you first think of teaching, of yourself as a teacher? Start with “What I want to say” and write for 7 minutes without stopping, circling back to “what I want to say” if you get stuck.
What I want to say is that throughout most of my education I saw myself as a student. Even in grad school, even finishing my Ph.D., even in the classroom, I saw myself as trying to be a student with all the insecurity about whether I was good enough, real enough to be wherever I was. I have that same insecurity now. I teach from a place of insecurity, of instability, wondering almost constantly whether what I’m doing or having my students do is the right thing, if they’re getting anything out of what we’re doing.What I want to say is when I feel like a teacher, when I see my pedagogy is when I see / listen to / look at what my students are making, writing, saying. And I can see the texts we’ve read or watched together in their work, how they’ve thought about them, how they’ve been, in some way, influenced by them.Where I teach from, what I feel confident in is my activism. It’s not hard for me to take a stand, to have a position. I do adhere to the Chicano studies philosophy that Rudolfo Acuña wrote that sometimes there is no other side. That there is a moral or just position, a good fight to fight as it were. So when I teach Chicana/o studies I teach activism, art and justice. I sometimes argue my position with my own thoughts, but mostly my students are getting my ideas from the readings, art and writing we do. I wonder sometimes why I don’t get more push back, something that friends and colleague in the field do get. Perhaps I’m good at using humor to defuse or lighten tension. Perhaps (though I hope not) it’s that my students see my passion and feel overwhelmed by it, are afraid to push against it. I really hope that isn’t the case. And I don’t think I have anything more to say here and am just waiting for this last minute to stop.
— Annemarie Perez (@anneperez) August 10, 2016
There are not enough voices engaged in Chicana/o studies in this university, in this state, in this country, in this world. Our artists, our people are under attack and it has pretty much ever been so. Yet there is so much that is significant in Chicana/o thought, in literature, art and in our own lives. I teach what I do the way I do because I want us to see it and talk about it together. I want my classes to add to and be part of this collection, to hear the voices from our past and amplify them. I want your voices to be amplified, your word to be read, your art seen. And so there is a lot of for us to look at, to read, to watch, to uncover. It is work and it is amazing.
Most important, we should ask ourselves whether what we are teaching is worth learning.
As I finish up my summer gigs: online course for interdisciplinary studies at CSUDH, a two week program on Chicana/o art for elementary school teachers at LMU and third year of work as a editor and writing coach for USC’s Global Ed.D., program, I had some news. I got the job of Coordinator of Humanities at California State University, Dominguez Hills with a two year appointment.
What does this mean? In terms of work it means I’ll be coordinating (sort of but not quite functioning a chair) for the undergraduate humanities courses, the on-campus MA program and the (coming soon) the HUX program, an all online humanities MA. I get two course releases for this work and another course release for my work as Academic Senate Parliamentarian. These, combined with the two classes I’m already teaching each semester means I’m full time at CSUDH (while not being classed as “full time” but that’s the way the system works).
Which means something else. For the past four years I’ve taught at three different places. It wasn’t bad. My iPhone, Dropbox and Evernote saved me, as did having different bags for each campus. But being able to be one place, in my own office, with a Mac desktop no one else uses sounds great. Being at a majority minority campus, a Hispanic serving institution and a state university where I’m represented by a union, better and better.
Life is good.
Take aways from online course.
- I felt closer to my students than I imagined could happen in a five week course. The combination of them being online and their blogging about subjects that were important to them gave me a greater window on their lives than I had in a conventional classroom.
- Time creep. Teaching online left me surprised by how much time teaching seemed to be taking. On the one hand, there was no assigned classroom time. But on the other, online teaching happened all the time. My students were working different schedules, working on the class at all hours. This was the first time I’d taught the course (either on or offline) and my students had questions about readings and assignments I hadn’t anticipated and which needed to be answered. I hadn’t realized how much conventional class times and office hours define and confine class work.
- I do like Canvas better than Blackboard. (Shh, don’t tell.)
- I liked having a group with my students on Facebook.
- Five weeks goes by very fast!
This summer I’m doing something new. I’m teaching a class on online communities and cultures for California State University Dominguez Hills (new class) and it’s all online (new experience). I confess, I was nervous. How much of my teaching is, after all, dependent on personal interaction in the classroom?
My reaction after the first week? I love it.
I’ve taught several hybrid courses where the class meets for seven or eight weeks and then does half of its other “meetings” through online interactions. They went pretty well, but it felt like a huge leap between that and an all online course. I was fortunate in that my friend, Adeline Koh, had taught an online class on a similar topic and generously shared materials and advice.
The first bit of her advice that I took was to hold the class using Canvas‘ learning management software rather than using the university’s Blackboard system. It’s my first time using Canvas as an instructor and it does have some quirks of its own, but I like it miles better than Blackboard, perhaps because it makes discussion and peer review such central parts of its structure. The surprise was how fast the students adapted to it given that they all come from a background of using Blackboard. So far, no complaints. A side benefit is that since their enrollment in the Canvas class isn’t dependent on their university status, when a few were dumped from the course due to non-payment, they were able to stay up on the work while they worked out their enrollment status. Bonus.
I worried that a class set all online would lack the human relationships and interaction that I so value. But how foolish, really. Those are important to me so they become central to any class I’m teaching. Plus, despite having lived a vivid online life for the past twenty years on Usenet (where I moderated a newsgroup and met my partner), IRC, up through to the present interactions with friends and students on Twitter, I was discounting the online as impersonal. Very ironic, especially given the topic of the course.
The architecture of the class is on Canvas. We also have a class group on Facebook and then each of us has started a blog on the topic of our own choosing for this class. Mine is on Coffee in Los Angeles. It’s also a first because it’s the first time I’ve blogged on a domain that I don’t own (we’re using WordPress.com) and I don’t think I like it! This was also on Adeline’s advice. I originally planned for us to each do a WordPress install using Reclaim Hosting‘s student program. But this class is compressed — we only have five weeks and, I suspect, the logistics of setting up a WordPress install and getting everyone’s working would have taken up much of the course. So that will be for another time.
Something I didn’t expect? I learn students’ names much faster online than I do face-to-face. This is no doubt deeply revealing about my degree of introversion and how I relate to people well through the screen.
The idea that became a class that became a research project
The process began in fall 2011 when I began discussing on my personal blog and on Twitter whether or not “the gothic” would be a fruitful lens for examining Chicana/o literature, especially in the reading of classic works like Rudolfo Anaya’s Bless Me Ultima and lesser known ones such as Alicia Gaspar de Alba’s Calligraphy of the Witch. In building the idea of the course and imagining its syllabus, I received input from Chicana scholars and writers both online and in person. Loyola Marymount University’s department of Chicana/o Studies gave me the opportunity to teach this course in Spring 2014 as a Chicana/o literature course, cross listed with the English department. The class was made up of 32 students, mostly seniors, with a number of Chicana/o studies majors and minors as well as a significant number of English majors.
Idea – wondering about the existence of a Chicanx gothic as a way to read / understand Chicanx literature.
Class – defining and exploration of the Chicanx gothic
Archive – create a site where students could create and link to digital object / writings exploring an aspect of the Chicana/o gothic
Site: (used WordPress, Weaver theme, on personal domain)
As of Spring 2014, when this course was offered, while there was sizable exploration of the American gothic, even and including in connection with African American literature, there was only a single article and dissertation on the subject, both by Tanya Gonzalez.
Even now, when one Google’s Chicano Gothic (in various variations), my students’ work for the class forms the bulk of the first page results.
Offering this class and having us create an archive site is in keeping with both Chicana/o studies pedagogy, one which fosters student contributions to research, and helps counter the lack of significant Chicana/o studies content on the Internet. Students engaged in public research and writing, with our discussion our reading and research among ourselves in the classroom, on Twitter and through posts and comments on the class site.
Why is this important? It’s important for several reasons, on several levels. U.S. literary critic Leslie Fiedler wrote of American gothic literature that “it is the gothic form that has been most fruitful in the hands of our best writers,” yet since little has been written about Chicana/o literature as gothic, Chicana/o literature is not part of this discourse.