Tag Archives: Humility

Anti-racism in the academy work

Just in case this obvious thing needs to be said: I know I’m going to make mistakes in this work. But I can’t let my ego get in the way of trying to work against racism. So let’s talk.

After Tweeting and Facebooking off and on this topic for weeks, I’ve realized it’s time to start *actually* writing about it. This first post isn’t meant to be exhaustive or complete or perfect, but to help me organize my thoughts a little bit more deeply. And I post this publicly because maybe it’ll be of use to others, too.

I’m really thinking a lot about how decisions get made in my higher ed context (UBC) and in my discipline (psychology). In the 17 years I’ve been working and learning at UBC, I’ve seen countless decisions depend on opaque, hidden, unpublished, squeaky-wheel-gets-the-grease, kinds of processes that have bothered me since the very beginning. I’ve always known they are unfair, but couldn’t really pin it down, or feel any ability to change things. These processes privilege those who already feel privileged in this institution, and they form barriers for people to enter/succeed who don’t know how the system works or don’t have the right connections. And now I see these decision-making processes as fundamental to the maintenance of systemic racism… at an institution physically situated for the last 100+ years on the unceded traditional territory of the Musqueam Peoples

I am grateful to everyone who has contributed to recent calls to action in society broadly (#BlackLivesMatter, #IndigenousLivesMatter), in higher education specifically (e.g., #BlackInTheIvory). Although sorry I didn’t see this connection sooner, these calls to action have helped me draw the link between systemic racism and decision making processes in higher education. 

Also so grateful to the people with whom I have been able to dialogue in (socially-distanced) person and online (especially Dr. Amori Mikami and Isobel Allen-Floyd), as I continue the journey into anti-racism work.

It’s important to acknowledge that I have learned to play these games, to find out how decisions really get made here and to insert myself in those spaces. I have benefited from this system. It did not come naturally to me at all. I had to learn this game because I am first generation in the academy. But I’d be naive at this point to think that being White didn’t help me out here. I could go under the radar, get free passes, was assumed to be “one of us” who comes from a long line of scholars. Also relevant for the timing of this work: I received my promotion to Professor of Teaching last year, which has been liberating.

A few resources…

Here are a few snippets from my more recent readings that have really stood out to me:

From Chun & Feagin (2020, Ch 4 “Reformulating the concept of “microagressions”: everyday discrimination in academia”): “A forward-looking and flexible analysis shaped by changing new social and demographic realities should address the impact of covert racial and gender discrimination whose intentionality is hidden within highly nuanced institutional processes and cleverly disguised in vague “meritocratic” justifications” (p. 129, emphasis added). This chapter also led me think on why the concept of “micro-aggressions” is so problematic, including Scott Lilienfeld’s paper “Microaggressions: Strong claims, inadequate evidence” (2017, in Perspectives on Psychological Science; as well as his essay version).

In an interesting twist, our own UBC President Dr. Santa Ono tweeted about Chun & Feagin’s book last year:

The role of “Department Chairs as transformational diversity leaders” by Alvin Evans & Edna Chun (2015, in The Department Chair), https://onlinelibrary-wiley-com.ezproxy.library.ubc.ca/doi/pdfdirect/10.1002/dch.30001

In psychology: (almost) exclusively white journal editors and editorial board members on prestigious journals is linked to fewer authors who are POC and to fewer participants who are POC and to less published research in those journals that examines race. This link marginalizes a crucial variable (i.e., our science is worse for it, conceptually speaking) while simultaneously hurting the careers of people who examine the impact of race (who are more likely to be POC). See Roberts et al (2020 in Perspectives on Psychological Science)  https://doi.org/10.1177/1745691620927709. See also

And some key sources that I have found inspiring/helpful over the last couple of months:

Action

The upheaval resulting from COVID19 is creating an opening for meaningful change in so many ways. People are throwing their hands up and acknowledging we have to re-make pretty much every decision about how we do things anyway… so why not use this moment to build better? Do I “have time” for this? [insert obvious answer] But how can I not? When will we ever get another chance like this?

So, I have begun this work over the past couple of weeks by examining and questioning decision-making processes, particularly as I see them play out in my Department. This is not because I think my Department is any better or worse than any other unit — I’m operating under the assumption that systemic racism is everywhere. Instead, it is where I think I might have the most potential to have some impact in the short-ish term. I can use the bits of power and privilege that I have accumulated through decades of game playing to speak loudly and advocate for change.

Drawing most directly from Chun & Feagin’s work, but informed by many, I am identifying processes that (1) lack clear criteria that are made explicit to those who will be judged by them, and (2) nonmeritocratic job access (i.e., facilitated by or depending on who you know), especially when clouded by rhetoric that decisions are made based on merit.

I’m looking these decision making process as they operate among faculty members (e.g., teaching assignments), and among students (e.g., mechanisms for entry into research assistant positions in labs, including the fact that the first ones are almost always volunteer). Changes made in these areas might actually increase some efficiencies while making them more accessible more broadly.

What am I missing? Where would you start? Are you with me? (Please!?)

And just in case it needs to be said (again): I know I’m going to make mistakes here. Maybe you’re reading this and thinking I’ve already made a bunch. I can’t let my ego get in the way of trying to work against racism. So let’s talk.

Reflecting on Being a “Student”

Just over a month ago UBC, like many schools of all levels, moved all our classes online in response to COVID-19. I have not yet been able to write coherently about what that’s been like, though I suspect I will, at some point, review my extensive Twitter feed and many communications to students, to draw insights.

Today I simply want to capture what I’ve learned from being a “student” in Day 1 of 5 in a synchronous online course called Foundations of Online Teaching and Learning, led by colleagues at UBC-O’s Centre for Teaching and Learning Peter Newbury and Janine Hirtz. Thanks Peter and Janine!!

Insights from how I felt during the 1.5h live class

As soon as I was invited to turn off my video (for internet traffic concerns) at the start of class, my attention shot all over the place. I got distracted by other windows, my email, phone… wowza. I had to deliberately stop myself and shut everything down. I got out pen and paper and started making my list of what I was learning. Insight: OMG how are students doing this at all ever!!!!!! I have so much extra awe for those who continued to virtually attend and participate in my classes. Take-away: Invite students, perhaps more than once a lesson, to pause, explicitly shut down their other non-essential devices/apps, and rejoin us?

I needed to move around! At some point I just got up and walked around for a bit. My take-away: Add a “let’s move around” break.

I wanted my prior knowledge engaged! Day 1 was Foundations of Teaching and Learning. I totally understand why that was the starting point, and I knew that going in. And I also wanted to start engaging in applying this knowledge in the online environment right away. There was only so much I could do to hold myself back before I started adding links and ideas to the chat, and maybe that wasn’t helpful for the class or the instructors. I don’t know. Take-away: Give people a place from Day 1 to share why they’re here in this class, and try to parse whether it’s urgent problem-solving or bigger picture (& give resources or a task to those coming for urgent problem-solving?). Add a note to “rules of engagement” for where to put your extra questions that go beyond immediate content? In hindsight, an extra task that could have helped me today might have been a handout with a place for me to identify my own urgent questions, along with spaces for me to note which of today’s concepts are relevant to helping me figure this out. If it was laid out simply, I could re-draw it by hand so I could also be reminded to doodle rather than click (ie help me harness my attention).

Logistics and Points of Process I found helpful

Set-up: “here’s what going to happen when I click…” especially around break-out groups (they’re clunky!) including the abrupt ending.

Break-out groups: Perhaps better for investing large chunks of time (like 10 minutes) rather than quick think-pair-shares. Allow for 3-4 minutes just to figure out microphones/videos and get started, esp if people don’t know each other. Find out if there’s a setting so we can have the same groups more than once in a class session rather than meeting new people each time.

Screen-shots of where to click to find chat, poll, etc, are helpful.

Opening slide with an invitation to draw/play (e.g., add how you’re feeling, identify where you are on the map).

Have a co-moderator who is on chat monitoring questions. What if this isn’t possible? (E.g., limited TA time budget or none at all?) I was reminded of Student Management Teams who could be delegated as monitors, which might also serve to give an extra task to keeners (quick summary here, https://nobaproject.com/blog/2015-09-02-student-management-teams-bridging-the-gap-between-students-and-the-professor, see author Troisi’s published research for details).

Rules of Engagement were helpful to have listed on Canvas landing page, and repeated at the start of class. Includes info like raising hands, turning off your camera and mic, etc.

Curse of Knowledge happens with tech too. It’s easy to presume students are fluent in the medium… but you don’t get that same fairly obvious visual feedback as in f2f class if students are confused and lost. Be careful and explicit.

Keep an “after class” open question period, akin to how students line up at the end of class to ask questions while I’m packing up. OF COURSE I could have done this… it just didn’t occur to me (and I was barely holding myself together anyway those days so, can’t really feel bad for not thinking of this before).

Reminders of T&L Foundations that are Well Worth Revisiting Right Now

CUT CONTENT. Everything takes more time now, so it’s more important than ever to critically evaluate every single thing I’m asking students to learn (and how). If I can’t answer “why am I teaching this concept?” with a good answer, then it’s a candidate to cut. (omg this also feels so overwhelming.)

ENGAGE PRIOR KNOWLEDGE. Gotta figure out new ways to do this… without feeling overwhelmed by 200 unique answers that I actually can’t possibly address uniquely.

COMPETENCE = deep knowledge of facts + organization in conceptual framework + ability to retrieve and apply that info as appropriate. Need to support and measure all three.

META-COGNITION is important. How am I teaching my students to develop their internal monologues about what they (don’t) know? Implication: frequent low-stakes assessment.

SOCIAL CONSTRUCTIVISM, BEHAVIOURISM. Time to revisit foundational theories. Although it was just a passing historical reference in our reading (How Learning Works Chapter 1), Behaviourism might actually be more relevant in my teaching than ever before! What exactly am I rewarding with points? praise/attention? 

 

That’s all for now. Thanks Peter and Janine for offering this course, giving me some structure as I question and explore being a learner about being a teacher… once again.

We teach more than content

Last week I received a beautiful email from a former student. It gives a specific example of how the way in which a teacher responds can impact a student’s well-being into the future. In case it would be helpful to others, I asked the student if I could post their memory, anonymously, and they agreed. (Thanks!)

Although I do not have you as a professor this year, I have been blessed to have you in my first and second year. You taught me 101 as well as 217. As a [peer mentor] this year, I have tried to relay your “this test does not define you” mentality to the first year students I see every day. Now, I always recall your encouraging and reassuring mantra before I bubble in my first multiple choice, or read the first question of an exam.

One particular memory that may have been minuscule to you, but was so impactful for me, was before the 217 final last year. About ten minutes into the final, I heard a very soft ringtone in my vicinity, and was so irritated–so I asked you to address everyone in my area to take out their phones. Little did I know, it was my own phone I had “snoozed” the alarm for. I was so incredibly embarrassed and on the verge of tears– you had every right to firmly humble me, but rather, you calmly said,

“it’s okay, take a deep breath…You are okay.”

And that is what I did. What could have been a terrible final turned into a lesson to always  turn off my phone, but also to reframe my worry. So often the worry I feel is so imperative one moment, will turn into tomorrow’s laughter.

So, thank you. I know you have done work regarding effectively teaching large classes, so as a student from two of your large classes, please know your impact goes beyond your curriculum.  You have taught me how to reframe my worry, take deep breaths, and view learning as something to be excited about, rather than a module I have to master.

I replied,

Wow! I have tears in my eyes! Thank you so very much for reaching out and taking the time to share this story. You’re right — I don’t remember that moment! I am so very relieved that what I said that split second made a positive difference for you. And what a gift for me to hear about it a year later. This story helps me remember to keep deliberately adding these comments because they can really help people!

I’m reminded of a recent commentary I read about A Pedagogy of Kindness (https://hybridpedagogy.org/pedagogy-of-kindness/), as well as the beautiful wisdom of Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

We teach more than content, folks. So much more.

Finished Pottery!

So I finished all my pottery pieces in December and they were done firing by early January… and yes it’s March and I haven’t shared the results yet! Well, here I am!

My First Three Pieces

Glazed and ready for the final kiln

And finally complete!

Next came this pair of honey pots

And later a trio of bowls

 

 

which I carefully trimmed when they were exactly “leather-hard”…

But sadly, I lost this one.

It was separated from the others while drying, and I forgot to go searching for it. My best bowl 🙁

 

 

Oh well, here’s another.

Which I trimmed a bit, just to clean it up. But it wasn’t made to be a bowl so nothing fancy.

 

The last three pieces glazed! Just one ugly smear from a poor glazing decision. (I knew I felt like I was missing something. I was.)

 

Ta da! The final set!

Bottoms of bowls are so much prettier than bottoms of cylinders… but I found them much much more difficult to make!

The tallest piece turned out *almost* as big as a coffee mug.

 

That was a lot of work! I had no idea pottery was such a lengthy, complicated, time-sensitive process. I’m happy with the products, but more than that, I’m very glad to have tried my hand at learning something entirely new. It was an experience full of excitement, concentration, frustration, celebration, disappointment, pleasant surprises… much more than I could have expected. Thanks to the staff at Claytek and my fellow classmates for an interesting learning journey. Onward to the next sabbatical-fueled adventure!

The Highs and Lows of Pottery: Weeks 2 and 3

Proud Potter

Proud Potter

Walking out of last week’s class felt great! I had made two cylinders that I felt proud to present. I figured I had the hang of it. I had been very careful at every single step, and called over my instructor before proceeding a few times so I wouldn’t ruin the piece. When she was helping other students, I waited rather impatiently. In that very moment I was feeling frustrated I was also imagining what my students may feel sometimes. I just needed her attention for one minute only before I felt I could relatively confidently proceed without mangling the clay. I imagine this can be tough enough to manage in a class of 8 novice hobby potters with an hour to work with. For me, 600 students a term means just that one minute of attention per student equals an impossible 10h each week (and forget timing-as-needed). When it was my turn for her attention, she helped me verbally review the next step, and once she even pushed down on my hands so I could feel the force she meant. I don’t know how I would have learned that feeling on my own. The entire class period I focused on nothing else. The sun was shining, I could centre clay, and I made two cylinders! Hooray! Please, admire my work:

Practice Makes Perfect

“Practice Makes Perfect”

 

img_20161005_125850-collage

“Patience”

 

This morning I spent an hour clearing out my email inbox before class. I left home in a fluster, rushing the whole way and thinking about upcoming travel and the things I needed to do this afternoon. I arrived and quickly checked on my pieces from last week, all looked great, and I quickly prepared them for the next phase. I share this information not to simply recall my morning, but to highlight the state of mind I entered class. It seems to have been incompatible with pottery.

My goal was to create two more pieces today. I quickly failed. The first piece centred* surprisingly easily (and I know it was decently centred because of later disaster), so I went for it. I was the first person to start making my cylinder. Everything was going great for about 2 minutes, until the entire piece of clay had come off in my left hand, leaving only the disc of a base spinning on the wheel. Apparently I had made the wall too thin right there. I chuckled as it dawned on me that it was fully destroyed. Then I was furious. I had to start over from scratch. I would not make two pieces. I might not even make one. Scrape off the clay blob, clean the wheel, knead a new piece of clay, and start centering all over again. Ok. Except it wouldn’t centre! I tried and tried and got more and more frustrated and it got more and more wobbly! After almost half an hour of trying I almost gave up. Instead, enter teacher. I looked up and there she was. I asked for help and she was there. (Again, just the right moment. How can I ever do that?) She made a suggestion and reminded me it was ok—it’s only clay. I was a breath away from quitting. Instead, I kept going. The resulting pot looks like crap. The walls are so thin that when I went to take it off the wheel I almost crushed it into another grey blob. I finished it. This is my ugly, misshapen masterpiece. I title it: Persistence.

Persistence. Upper right and bottom left are still on the wheel. Opposite corners: what I salvaged post-removal.

“Persistence.” Upper right and bottom left are still on the wheel. Opposite corners: what I salvaged post-removal.

* The second step to pottery on the wheel—after sort of kneading it to get air bubbles out—is to get it “centred” which means that as it spins around it’s actually in the centre of the wheel and it doesn’t wobble. If it wobbles, it could spin off or have a bubble in it or otherwise not be sturdy in later phases. Centering can be a time consuming endeavor involving lots of bringing the clay up to a cone shape, then squishing it back down to an anthill. If you rush it, you will probably pay a price later in a weird or collapsed or cracked piece. Patience!