Control and Content Warnings


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:

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.

Teaching Manifesto

Photo by Shannon Hauser via Flickr.

Photo by Shannon Hauser via Flickr.

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.
We went from that exercise to constructing (quickly) a tweet that was our pedagogy in five words.  Mine is

 The final exercise was what I was dreading most because I knew our goal was to produce a teaching statement or philosophy. I’ve been working on materials for the job market and find that while all the materials produce anxiety, writing the teaching statement has left me hating what I’ve written. Our prompt to was to write something explaining why we teach. Maybe because of the earlier exercises or the feeling of the class being a community, as I started to write I began to tear up.  What I produced was something I thought I could put on my syllabi explaining to my students what I hoped the class would be like and why.
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.
My writing partner for the exercise called what I wrote a “manifesto” and I was happy with the thought that that’s what I’m doing, teaching from the position of activism as an act of social change.
The final thing Sean asked us to do was to write either the opening or closing sentence of a speech on pedagogy.  My stab at that and end for this post:
Most important, we should ask ourselves whether what we are teaching is worth learning.

All on line: Retrospective

Take aways from online course.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. I do like Canvas better than Blackboard. (Shh, don’t tell.)
  4. I liked having a group with my students on Facebook.
  5. Five weeks goes by very fast!

All On-Line – Week 1


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 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.

Chicana/o Gothic – HASTAC 2016 – Researching with Students

(These notes form the rough basis for a panel talk with Anne Cong-Huyen and Anne Choi at HASTAC 2016.)

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.

The Case for Reparations in Digital Spaces

These are my remarks as part of the MLA 16 roundtable: Repair and Reparations in Digital Public Spaces.

As I begin to pull together my thoughts on the subject of repair and reparations, I find the ideas I had in January 2015 when Adeline and I, over plates of Korean fried chicken first began discussing the subject of reparations in digital spaces are not the same as they are today in January 2016.

Originally, and in keeping with our Texas location, I was most concerned with issues of how digital tools, themselves at best neutral, are used and abused to re-enforce and expand the hegemonic imperial nation state, to militarize and police the US Mexican border against and at the expense of economically and politically colonized bodies.

I’m still concerned with this, but I want to focus my remarks this afternoon on issues of repair versus reparation. Much has been discussed recently on care and repair practices. So why then use the term “reparation”? Repair can be a positive thing. The term denotes fixing, making something that doesn’t work or properly function or function better. But repair is also utilitarian and philosophically neutral. Repair is not revolutionary. Physical repairs, as Gloria Anzaldúa discusses in Borderlands, are forever being made to the border wall, the 1,950 mile open wound, where the ocean meets the shore, where Tijuana touches San Diego. This decade has seen much fence and wall building and repair. Yet no one, I believe, would call these repairs “reparations.”

“Reparation” is not neutral term. It has revolutionary resonances. Reparations speak not simply to fixing something that’s broken, but of making something or someone who was harmed whole. Reparations demand acknowledging responsibility for past injustices and active resistance to their replication. Reparations are not simply repairs but compensation. Reparation judges. It is repeatedly returned to in critical race theory, post-colonial and ethnic studies. To deny reparation is to ignore that theory, history and philosophy. Reparations, the current and past border situation would suggest acknowledging and teaching the history of Operation Wetback, of the braceros. Of resisting the militarized wall. Of, as Homi Bhaba wrote and as my fellow panelist Linda Garcia Merchant does in her work, haunting the unwritten history.

As was learned through the cynical use of deconstruction of video in the Rodney King beating case, when police defense lawyers used a deconstructed reading to see resistance and danger in King’s beaten body, neutral tools may not remain neutral. It is the nature of hegemony that a neutral tool will tend to work to repair and reinforce white, neoliberal capitalism. It is therefore important not only to repair and care for our digital spaces, but to construct and reconstruct them as spaces where reparations are made.


Disrupting DH: Lowriding Through the Digital Humanities

This was written as a position paper for MLA16’s roundtable Disrupting DH.

Note: The title of this piece is shamelessly borrowed from Barbara Noda’s “Lowriding Through the Women’s Movement,” a piece which creatively addresses the power a group made up of women of color could have on individuals during the women’s movement. It was published in the classic, This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color.

There has been wonderful work recently on #TransformDH by the TransformDH collective discussing how racial / gender / sexual / disabled bodies in the academy are and always have been doing digital humanities work. Nevertheless, because hegemony constantly replicates the dominant discourse, there needs to be a consistent and constant engagement with issues of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, class and able-bodiedness as its counter. To discuss this hegemony, I’m going to fall back on Chicana feminist praxis, which means locating myself and speaking from that position, with the hope that from that self-situated ethnography some insight into my concerns may come. This piece uses autoethnography to specifically discuss issues and effects of racial absence in the digital humanities community and what the costs of that may be. It begins to discuss how the discourse surrounding racial bodies and there absence in DH spaces replicates the discourse surrounding the invisibility / absence of women of color from second wave feminism.

Those who think Twitter is a waste of time, as opposed to it being a time-waster, are failing to see its potential. Or maybe they’re not following the right people. Twitter is the main way I keep up on what’s going on in two areas: digital humanities and ethnic studies, especially Chicana/o and Latina/o studies. My point of entry into both of these online communities is through Twitter, though in the case of ethnic studies, it also reflects my disciplinary background and my areas of research. Both Twitter streams are very active, some days more than others, but even so, more than I can read most days. Both use hashtags to discuss important issues, though Chicana/o studies somewhat less often than DH.

In 2011, as I struggled with the final revisions of my dissertation between adjuncting gigs, feeling the absence of intellectual community, I found academic Twitter. Although I had been active in online communities going back to Usenet alt.* groups in the mid-late 1990, except for a little work on a department lists erve, my online communities never intersected with my academic ones. Questions of why should probably be reserved for the digital equivalent of psychoanalysis (would that be blogging?).  By the end 2011 however, I’d been online as a Chicana doctoral student / recent Ph.D. for more than a year. I had engaged with an online community of Chicanos, of other academics, of Doctor Who fans (communities that frequently overlapped). And I’d participated in having a hashtag (#AztlanReads — a response to the general lack of knowledge about Chicana/o authors and books) become a small but vocal movement as a website and then an anthology. Being part of this made me imagine how the fields of digital humanities and digital pedagogy was intersecting with Chicana/o studies specifically and ethnic studies / critical race theory more generally.

Because of this experience engaging with and in technology with my digital community, I attended the 2012 MLA convention in Seattle with plans of branching out from attending mainly Chicana/o panels and into this DH community I’d grown to (virtually) know through social media. I’m taking a long time telling this. It is because the memory is painful. The panels and workshops I attended were a shock. Not only because the work was so exciting, especially, for me, the pedagogy, the mapping and time lining and other amazing projects. But because even at MLA, even at a literature conference, I had never experienced a stronger sense of being racially / ethnically other. The rooms, crowded to bursting were visibly, notably white spaces. This was a bit jarring, but what was even more so was that no one was taking about this. No one was asking where the brown people were. The absence of racialized bodies was un-noted.

The degree to which I was unnerved is hard to overstate. On the one hand, here were all these wonderful ideas, ways of thinking about literature and community and its intersection — merger even– with the digital that I had never considered. On the other there was a seemingly lack of awareness of the hegemonic replication of whiteness. I left with nothing to say, something that’s unusual as I’m generally a loud mouthed sort of woman. Yet I was unnerved and had felt a fear of participating. Most people, understand that it’s hard being the only woman in a room of 50 to 100 men. For people of color most of us know, it’s just as hard to be the lonely only. That’s how I felt. Alone and painfully self-conscious. When I’m one of the onlys, however kind and welcoming the environment, I experience stress. There’s a fear of asking questions lest I be seen as speaking for my race / culture and somehow reinforcing biases. I left those DH sessions with the thought of attending the Chicana/o Latina/o / Asian American / African American literature sessions.

On the way, I went and found coffee, sat in the hotel lobby and tried to sort out my thoughts and emotions.  On a personal level the moment was hard. After enduring the alienating damage of being one of a very few graduate students of color in my Ph.D. program, I had been enfolded, and to an extent, healed by MALCS, a Chicana / Latina community of scholars and community activists. Did I want to leap back into the world of unthinking micro and macro racial aggressions? As a scholar of color, there are few things as rare and wonderful as getting to be in a room with a multitude of scholars of color. For me, there’s a feeling of intellectual safety, of being able to take risks without risking being found intellectually naive, or worse still, reflecting badly on all Chicana/os. I feel I can be wrong, that we can build theoretical castles in the air, find their flaws, send them crashing down.

Alexis Lothian, someone I knew from graduate school, came into view and kindly came over. I poured out what I had seen and felt at my somewhat limited exposure to the digital humanities at MLA. She affirmed what I’d seen and felt and we began discussing issues of racial, gender and sexuality hegemony within the DH community. It seems this feeling was something of the zeitgeist of the moment and soon tweets began to appear with the #TransformDH hashtag.

There was and continues to be pushback, a sense that DH is welcoming to all and has no need to transform itself or to be transformed. In the four years since the Seattle MLA, I have witnessed the hostility and impatience that seems to greet discussions of how DH could / should imbue itself with critical race theory and feminist praxis. Enumerating DH projects by or about communities of color or women seems to substitute for engaging with the white male hegemony being reproduced from our academic institutions into DH structures and communities, for me, reproducing the experience of women of color with second wave feminism. Yet at the same time, the potential for change, the excitement for the field continues. If DH can learn from cultural studies and feminism to recognize and unsettle its privilege, to demand diversity of itself and its communities, that would go a long way in bridging these discourses. It means not waiting for scholars of color to find DH and ask us about it, but going to them, understanding and listening to their theories and practices and discussing with them how the digital works in connection with the work they’re already doing. We need to understand what it costs for a scholar of color to admit to not knowing or “getting” something and don’t take it lightly. Meanwhile, I know I speak English only. My code is as stumbling and ungraceful as my Spanish. I feel like Cherrie Moraga, trying to find a way to be a bridge and not being adequate to the task.


November 3 – It’s #DigiWriMo!

Late to the party…

November is Digital Writing Month, which you can read all about at the website.   Lots of great people are doing lots of amazing and innovative things.  However, this people (me!) is going to work on updating this blog with a few goals.

  • Run all the updates needed on WordPress for the sites’ themes DONE!
  • (possibly) Move my site over to my new domain, at ReclaimHosting.
  • Update site information.
  • Redecorate here — the place is looking kinda dated
  • Blog some content

I’d say “watch this space,” but honestly you’d need to be pretty bored.

Teaching: Crowdsourcing Assignment

I was talking on Facebook today about this assignment, one I use across courses, but especially at the start of courses where we as a class are trying to define contested terms. The term “Chicana/o,” for example, has been defined a number of ways without having any one definitive meaning.

Here’s an example of it in action. Last Spring, when I taught a course on the Chicana/o Gothic, I asked my students to crowdsource definitions of Chicana/o and gothic the first week of classes. To do this, the students can search any sources, on or offline, to come up with the definition, citing their source. The catch is that each source can appear only once. If a previous student has used a source, they have to find another one. When we meet in class, these definitions become the basis for discussion and understanding how these terms are contested and what definitions would be most useful for us individually and collectively.

Image Credit: David Ludwig

Teaching – Spring 2015

I have my schedule for Spring 2015. I’m teaching three classes at Loyola Marymount — two sections of Rhetorical Arts on Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons and one section of Intro to Chicana/o Studies on Thursday evenings. I may also be teaching an online or weekend course on American Ethnic Literature at CSU-Dominguez Hills, we’ll see how that goes.

I taught Rhetorical Arts with the theme of “Digital Divides” last year. It worked well, but I’d like to spend more time studying rhetorical theory. I’m torn about what rhetoric book to use. I liked the book we used, Jason del Gandio’s Rhetoric for Radicals, but the university program is centering itself around The Rhetorical Act: Thinking, Speaking and Writing Critically by Karlyn Kohrs Campbell and Susan Schultz Huxman. On the one hand, The Rhetorical Act is clearly set up as a course book, which could make it easier to use. On the other hand, Rhetoric for Radicals deals a with digital rhetoric and the construction and influence of movements in a way that’s great for my topic. There’s also a huge price difference. The one the university is recommending is $172, whereas Rhetoric for Radicals is $16. Actually, as I write this, I’ve realized I want to stick with Rhetoric for Radicals, but I suspect I’m going to have to make a case for going against the rest of the program.

The Intro to Chicana/o Studies is a new prep for me. The people I teach with at LMU have been great about sharing their syllabi, but I want to put my own stamp on it. What I’ve realized though is that I need to get a better sense of what I think Chicana/o studies is. I’m tempted to start with Elizabeth Martinez’s “A Word about the Great Terminology Question” and have the students crowd source definitions of Chicana/o, Latina/o and Hispanic. I also want them to try writing their own version of El Plan de Aztlan. But mostly I’m feeling the pressure of teaching a class that only meets once a week. I want to make sure there’s enough variety of activities going on each week so we get enough done and it isn’t boring. One nice thing about the large chunk of time is that I’ll be able to show some films.