Bad Female Academic: Not Interested in Passing

(See what I did there? That’s the second post in a row where I’ve come up with a clever title with two possible meanings, both in the traditional academic sense and in the socio-economic sense. Anyone? Anyone? Alright, I’ll get on with it.)

When Dr. Crazy was talking about gender and class, she brought up the concept of “passing”, or being able to move up and fit into a different socio-economic class. Women, especially, have been practicing this since, well, since there were marked differences between different groups of people implying an hierarchy.* I think if this Bad Female Academic series has shown anything, it’s that I am not very good at passing myself off as a “traditional” academic.
But writing this series has forced me to look back at my personal history both inside and outside academia, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I have never really been interested in passing, and in fact now seem to be actively seeking out situations where it would be impossible for me to pass. 
Let me explain, and bear with me if we take a short voyage into my non-academic past.
In elementary school, I was the only girl in my class who didn’t at least try to figure skate or do ballet. This was an offense punishable by being mean-girled for all of elementary school. I swam. I never hid the fact that I swam, nor was I interested in giving up swimming in order to “fit in.” In high school, too, I wore my hideous swimming jacket as a badge of pride, marking my difference from the rest of the group. It was also in high school when my parents got divorced and I was suddenly thrust into a different economic reality, a reality that was much different from that of my friends. Swimming, while a welcome escape for me, was also a place where I didn’t quite fit in, as I was one of the youngest and only girls. 
After a particularly difficult two years at a private CEGEP, where I decided that I couldn’t join the socio-economic elite I was going to school with, nor did I have any desire to beat them, so I wore sweatpants for two years, I left to go to a French university. I knew I wouldn’t, couldn’t pass as a French person, but I didn’t care. The impossibility of passing was liberating. 
After my PhD (where I probably tried too hard to pass, failed miserably, and was miserable), after getting married, after adjuncting while pregnant, I got my tenure-track job. At an HBCU. Once again, while pregnant. There was no hope of passing, in fact it would have been insulting and ignorant to even try. But I liked that. I had realized that letting go of the pressure, the desire, the desperation, to be something I wasn’t, I learned more, was more open, and a better teacher. I wasn’t wrapped up in whatever I needed or thought I needed to do, so I could focus on what my students needed me to be. 
Think about that for a second. If we just stopped worrying so much about what our colleagues or administrators or “the elite” want us to be, maybe we can be better teachers and researcher, actually attuned to what they need from us, and what we need from ourselves. 
Now, I am an instructor in the South. My accent marks me as different. And that’s perfectly fine by me. Maybe by being myself, I can teach my students (and my children) that it’s ok to be yourself and to be different. 
*I don’t use the term “passing” without realizing that it is a problematic term; I’ve worked at an HBCU and I study Black writers, so I am well aware of the history of “passing” for African-Americans in the US. And even the fact that I have the choice to be able to pass marks me as being a more privilege position. And my apparent rejection of that privilege is also not unproblematic. I don’t see what I do as “slumming it” but instead a conscious effort to do things differently. 

There are no words today, only action

I was all set to write a post about how we remain obsessed with the Ivies and those top, elite colleges, to our own detriment. And I’m not just talking about how families will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to get little Jimmy and Suzy into Yale or Duke, but how we, in academia and the media, keep pushing these colleges as the standard, for better or for worse. Three items:

Nothing from a regional state school (or community college). Nothing from a PhD from a less than elite program. Nothing about the variety of experiences that are found in higher education, from how English is taught to the experience of the workforce therein. 
And then, I read about an adjunct professor in community college who killed himself. 71 years old, history of depression, and all I can think is, did he not get help because he didn’t have health insurance? And I remember reading about another adjunct who worked through his cancer treatments because he couldn’t afford not to. He passed away from the cancer (sorry, no link; I saw it on facebook, in a private note, and I don’t have permission to share). And how some are trying to create an Adjunct Emergency Fund. And. And. And. And.
So, I’m sorry if your experience at Brown and with elite MBA students isn’t all that you imagined it would be; most of us are teaching our “mediocre” and “non-elite” students how to write quite well, thank you very much. And, I’m sorry I’m not the kind of role model you’re looking for in English. Or, maybe I am, but you can’t be bothered to meet me. Finally, I’m so, so happy that you’re academic fairy tale has come true. Doesn’t mean that it has for most people.
Ivory tower, indeed. 
For the rest of us, it’s real life, and it’s about time others started realizing that. Although, most people reading this blog already do realize it. Preaching to the choir. Now, it’s up to us to actually DO something about it. I wrote this. I’ll keep writing this. 
I need to figure out what else it is I can do. Because these words that I write, while reaching an audience, can only do so much. 

The Academic Elite: Who Are These People, Really?

So, class has been on everyone’s brain lately. Not the kind of class that is about to start in less then three weeks (I really need to get on that), but the kind of class that involves money, social mobility, and how to properly “fit” into higher education. I want to start with a little bit of a roundup of recent posts that are either explicitly or implicitly about class issues. If I’m missing any, please let us all know in the comment. 

Obviously, this isn’t all that has been written on class issues in higher education, but these seem to have all come to head, right now, online and in real life, at least for me. Thinking about my graduate and teaching career, I have one question that nags at me:

Who in the heck are these people who are forcing and enforcing a very clear and distinct set of class values on us? Seriously? Who are they?

Because it’s not the majority of people that I’ve met on my path to where I am right now. Maybe it’s because I’ve never attended an “elite” institution, either as a student or a professor. Maybe it’s because I self-selected the people I hang around with, naturally drawn to those with similar backgrounds to my own (my husband, for example, who is also an academic, is from the same socio-economic background as I am). Or maybe, like so much of what we believe about higher education, it’s all just a massive ruse that we’ve been blindly perpetuating.

I still remember being put in my place when I was an MA student by one of my professors. I was commenting on a novel we were reading, saying that it was written for “them” and not for ordinary people (or something like that). She took great offense to that, outlining all of the ways she was not one of them, in terms of her background. It was the first time I really took a step back and looked at the people in front of me and around me. Now, we did have a professor who was a stereotypical professor, in terms of both his class and attitude, but it was only one. And, I don’t remember one of my peers in the program who came from anything higher than lower-middle-class.

It was the same for my PhD. There was, again, one professor who was clearly “one of those professors” (he came from a very wealthy and influential family, apparently, and my colleague of mine was horrified when I revealed, no, sorry, never heard of them), but the rest of the professors were largely from working-class and immigrant families, as were my colleagues in the program. I’ve taught at four different universities in two countries and three states, and I have to say that the majority of my colleagues come form backgrounds similar to my own.

So why then does this obsession with class markers persist? Did we all get into higher education so we could be snobs? Really? And why do we keep requiring that aspiring academics perform tasks that we know they can’t afford? Go to conferences, work for peanuts, receive little institutional support both before and after the tenure-track job. Take on more and more debt, shop at the right stores, live in the right neighborhood, go to the right shows, the right conferences, etc.

We’re suffering in semi-silence. I can’t believe that, despite all of these voices speaking out, we can’t change higher education, if not structurally, then at least culturally. I refuse to meet certain cultural markers. I’m not good at “passing” (as Dr. Crazy writes about) and, judging by the comments and traffic my blog post has received, I’m not the only one who is either incapable, unwilling, or just plain burnt out about the whole thing.

I am serious, though. Where is this pressure coming from? Because, from where I’m sitting, there are more of “us” than there are of “them.”

Bad Female Academic: Am I In the Wrong Class?

Throughout my examination of the pressures female academics face to conform in order to “make it”, and how I (attempt to) resist or break, or simply just don’t fit those expectations, it’s become increasingly clear that a lot of the issues surrounding being a Bad Female Academic isn’t just about policing gender, but it is about class (socio-economic) expectations. When I admit that I am loud or that I like to get dirty, I am essentially signaling a lower-class upbringing.
This is important when discussing the ever-nebulous issue of “fit” when it comes to hiring and tenure decisions. During one of my on-campus interviews, one of the faculty who was taking me around campus revealed that she had attended school in Southern California near where I was currently living. We got talking about living in SoCal; the traffic, the weather, our favorite beaches, local news, going to the Getty Museum, and the like. I made the mistake, however, of revealing that I listened to KROQ, a rock-alternative station. Their morning show, in particular, isn’t known to be very progressive when it comes to issues of sexism (they have an annual Miss Double-D-cember contest), racism, and homophobia. But, to me, they are hysterical, don’t take themselves too seriously, and often take-down the self-importance of Hollywood/L.A. And, I really like the music.
Obviously, the correct answer was that I listen to NPR or a classical music station. Even if I had lied and said that, it would soon become clear that I didn’t, in fact, listen to these stations when I would be unable to offer comment on that morning’s feature story. Honestly, I hate talk radio. I appreciate classical music, but need something a little more…invigorating to start my day. I grew up in a house filled with popular and rock music. We listened to music in the mornings, peppered through with the news (sports scores were essential) and funny bits done by the DJs. I’m not sure how much of it has to do with class, but there are certainly assumptions to be made because of my favorite kind of music and what I like to listen to on the radio.
But it’s not just what kind of radio I enjoy listening to. These expectations start to permeate every decision I make, especially as a mother.  I let my kids watch TV, even indulging in my daughter’s love of Disney Princesses.  I don’t have a nanny, but instead send them to preschool, and not one that is a Montessori. These are all revelations that slowly by surely leak out as I become more and more integrated in the community. Where one shops, what kind of food or clothes one buys, it all reflects a certain class expectation.
For example, I shop at Wal-Mart. This, in many academic circles, is a sin punishable by death, or at least a good shunning. But here’s the problem. I can’t afford not to shop at Wal-Mart. For groceries and basic necessities for the kids, it’s the most affordable option available. I would love to be able to afford to drive an hour to shop at Whole Foods, or the organic co-op, but I can’t. The student loan debts my husband and I have from our educations are taking huge chunks from our income.
Here is where class really comes into play. Those of us who had to go into a great deal of debt to get their PhDs often can’t afford to play the game of being a good “fit” or embodying the non-academic values of higher education. I want to take my kids to the symphony or the ballet, I want to sign them up for culturally enriching opportunities, and not just because of the societal pressure of my job, but I can’t afford to. And that inability to pay can be interpreted as refusing to teach my own children the proper “values,” thus calling into question my “fit” in an academic setting.  We are also often the same people who came from a lower class to begin with, meaning that all of those “free” symbols of class that come naturally to some aren’t obvious, comfortable, or authentic for us.
When we talk about diversity in academia and what it means to be a “good” academic, we can’t forget the economic privilege that exists for those who have long set the rules as to what it means to be a Good Academic.
(Worst Professor Ever and I must share a brain, or at least be on the same wavelength; while I was writing this post, she published “You Stay Classy, Ivory Tower!” I encourage you to read her very similar reactions to the class expectations of higher education. I think the more voices we have talking about this very real issue, the better.)

City Living versus Country Livin’

(I know, it’s late, and a bit off topic compared to what I’ve been writing about lately. It’s Friday, it’s my anniversary, and this was lying around on my hard drive.)
I live in the country. Technically, I live “in town”, but when the town in question is only about 6000 people and in the middle of a National Forrest, I think I can safely say that I live in a rural area. We are an hour from any real city, but even the cities we are close to aren’t large urban areas. To say that living here has been an adjustment for me is an understatement.
I grew up in the suburbs of Montreal. Downtown was only a bus and metro ride away. We had sports teams, museums, a symphony, concerts, shopping, restaurants, ethnic neighborhoods, everything. I’ve also recently lived in Southern California, with everything that involves. I loved having relatively easy access to just about anything and everything I could ever want.
And by relatively easy, I mean, willing to put up with the traffic to get there.
There are certainly advantages to living in a rural area. Real estate is much more affordable; the house and lot we just bought would be unattainable for us in any urban area. We live only a short walk from campus, meaning we only own one car and use it sparingly. Parenting isn’t a full-contact sport here. There is no competition as to who has the best stroller, whose child has the latest and greatest cognitive development toys, and who got into which (obscenely priced) preschool. I don’t have to worry about over-scheduling my kids because there is only a limited amount of things I can sign them up for.
Which is a disadvantage as well. My kids both love dancing, but there aren’t any classes offered for their age group, unless I am willing to drive an hour each way.  Perhaps a parent more dedicated than myself would make that drive, but two hours (and the gas) are a luxury we can’t really afford right now. I miss having options for just about everything: food, shopping, entertainment. While at a recent conference in Toronto, my mouth watered as I walked passed restaurant after restaurant, offering cuisine I just don’t have access to anymore and seeing posters for events I know my family (or just me) would adore.
Finding things for us to do here is also a lot more work. I am used to being able to just simply look online for schedules, directions, pricing, and other information. Here, most local businesses don’t have a website, and the city website is equally unhelpful and usually out-of-date. Here, if you want to know what’s going on, you have to buy the local paper and make friends with the locals. Not that that’s a bad thing, just something that I am still trying to adapt to.
We feel pretty fortunate, however, to be living (and working!) where we are. There were no waiting lists or tests or sky-high registration fees to get my kids into the best preschool here in town, which they both adore. The schools here are good, and, although not tremendously diverse ethnically (the entire state we live in isn’t very diverse), there is a great deal of socio-economic diversity.  It’s been hard to “break in” to the social circles here (we are city folk, after all), but we’re making inroads and starting to feel like a part of the community.
It hasn’t been an easy transition, but I can see the changes in myself when I do travel to the city for one reason or another (mostly conferences). I feel more at home when able to ride on public transit, more comfortable around people speaking different languages, more excited by all of the opportunities, cultural and otherwise, that the big city offers. But I also recoil at the site of the giant, impersonal high-rise condo that seem to be springing up everywhere and disgusted at the price. I am more grateful for the slower pace here, grateful for the fact that my kids can be kids here, and I can be myself as a mother. This place may not have been our first choice, but it’s now home and home for now.

Grad School for All?

Worst Professor Ever alerted me to this New York Times article about how the Master’s degree is the new Bachelor’s degree. I posted my response on her facebook page:

I have to say I was more than a little flatter that William Pannapacker (aka Thomas H. Benton from the Chronicle) liked my response. And WorstProf wrote an absolutely hysterical Onion-esque response: “Education Secretary to Today’s Youth: Stop Getting So Many Fucking Degrees.” I do want to expand on my facebook comment, because it does reflect on how the economics of the universities are getting more and more screwed up.
I’ve written before about the economic realities of getting PhD, especially in the humanities. But what about from the other side, from the perspective of the universities that are increasingly offering MA programs. Faculty, particularly at public universities, are seeing their salaries if not get cut, then certainly decrease in purchasing power. One way to appease faculty is to create graduate programs; it’s like a perk! Smaller classes! Better students! More prestige! Never mind that it’s actually more work to recruit and retain these students, not to mention mentor and supervise them. From the university’s perspective, they’re getting the faculty to do more work for less money. And, the added prestige of graduate programs. Win-win.
Actually, it’s a win-win-win. Grad students are cash-cows. You can charge more for grad programs (even though they aren’t hiring any more faculty, or paying the current faculty more) and they’ll pay. Plus, you can then use the grad students a cheap labor, working on campus, for professors, and maybe even teaching some of those pesky intro classes that no one else wants to. And did I mention the prestige? Rankings love grad programs. 
But does the student really win? It keeps them out of the work force longer, usually will end up putting them further into debt, and makes them over-qualified for many of the jobs they may want. And, for the most part, this will benefit the same students who are benefitting from a BA anyway; the wealthy and upper-middle-class. Applying for graduate school is perhaps even more difficult and complex than applying for university. And even more expensive. To get into the best graduate programs, you have to not only be outstanding, but also know the right people. It’s a big circle jerk, and those who benefit are those who have always been a part of it. 
And do the professors really win? Soon, College Misery will be devoted not to the under-qualified and entitled undergrads, but to the under-qualified and entitled grad students that the college accepts because of the money and prestige. The MA will be the new BA, insofar as students will feel entitled to their degree on the basis of having a) been accepted and b) paid for it. The best and the brightest will continue to go to the “best” schools, while everyone else will move from one mediocre program to another. You’ll be able to say that you supervise grad students, but at what cost? 
To reiterate, I hate it. We’re fooling ourselves within the academy into thinking that what we are doing is in the name of social justice and equality, when really we’re just providing excuses to governments and corporations to compress salaries, benefits, and cheapen our students’ educations, not to mention out own value as academics. 

Bad Female Academic: Slightly Progressive Parenting

My daughter was physically precocious when she was little; she was crawling before she was six months, walking by the time she was ten months old. She also loved to climb and would scale the jungle gyms at the park meant for children much, much older than she. It also meant that I had to be on the lookout for a tiny person who didn’t understand that it wasn’t a good idea to crawl right off the edge of the highest point of the structure. She dug for bugs, rolled in mud (well, sand, as she loves the beach), and generally challenged herself to any and all physical challenges. 

Imagine my surprise the day we were in the store and she lost her mind over a princess shirt. 
This wasn’t a Disney Princess shirt; it was pink and sparkly and had a picture of a girl with a crown on it. I had no idea that she even knew what I princess was. She didn’t go to school, and at this point didn’t really have very many friends who could teach her about princesses. We were very careful about what she watched on TV, and while I own a lot of the Disney Princess movies, she had never shown any interest in them. But that day, something took over my daughter, and she became obsessed by all things princess. She was barely two years old.
My son, on the other hand, can’t pick up a stick without turning it into a weapon. He hunts dragons, kills bad guys, and imagines he is a super-hero. He dreams of owning a dump truck and a motorcycle. 
My last post about being myself, I mentioned that it was hard for me to allow my daughter, in fact, both my children, to be themselves. As a professor (ok, instructor) in the humanities, and a feminist, it grates on my nerves that my daughter is all about pink and sparkles and princesses. I worry about my son’s “aggressive” behavior, but at the same time, try not to come down to hard on either of them. They are being themselves. It would be hypocritical of me to punish my daughter simply because she enjoys different things than I did, just like it would be to punish my son for liking (ironically) the same things I did when I was little (seriously, I dreamed of becoming a part of G.I. Joe). 
Being an academic, I am supposed to know better. If it wasn’t hard enough to be a mother in academia, it’s hard to be a mother who isn’t perfectly progressive in every way. A recent post, How to Remain Sane Among Alpha Moms, really struck a cord with me because it reminded me of so many academic women, both mothers and non-mothers, who judge the parenting of their colleagues, judgements that bleed over into decisions of whether or not to hire or award tenure. I let my daughter play princess and my son play superhero. I let them watch movies and TV shows…from Disney. 
But my daughter also imagines herself as a superhero and wants her own motorcycle. She still loves to climb and is much more physically adventurous than my son. My son calls all of his stuffed animals his “babies” and is always taking really good care of them because they are “sick.” I try to embrace all of the facets of their personality, the ones that are engendered and the ones that appear transgressive. I want them both to be whatever they want to be. If that’s a “pilot and a mom” (as my daughter says), then so be it. 

The Mysteries of the Administrative Structure

In light of the recent firestorm over the new book: The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why It Matters, I’m posting this today. See the discussion going on at Inside Higher Ed.

This post originally appeared on So Educated

“How will the Emperor maintain control without the beaurocracy?”

“The regional governors now have direct control over their territories. Fear will keep the local systems in line”
“What of the Rebellion?”
In higher education, we are currently in the midst of an elaborate game of whose-to-blame. When the economy was booming, faculty didn’t seem to care what the administration was doing, even as the number of contingent faculty rose while the amount of tenure-track lines decreased. Grad students were funded, technology was being put in place, and shiny new buildings were attracting the best and brightest students and faculty. But now that the economy has tanked and cuts are being handed out left, right, and center, the faculty are rising up with fingers pointing at the administrators for all that ills higher education. Administrators (and some members of the public) are quick to lay blame on “lazy” and over-indulged faculty for their high salaries and low productive output.
Let’s be honest; we’re all to blame. Administrators and faculty. We, as faculty, have remained purposefully ignorant of the inner-workings of our institutions. We stare in the face of the bureaucracy and shrug our shoulders in a collective act of defeat. What can we do, we ask? It’s too big, it’s too powerful, and we’re just a lowly professor. And professors show little to no interest in becoming a part of the administrative structure in order to change it. Administrators are increasingly professional bureaucrats, not academics. The two worlds are existing simultaneously within the same institution with seemingly very different missions and priorities.
But when we say we blame administrators, do we really know who we are blaming? Our chairs? Our deans? Our president? What about the mountains of layers of administrative structure in between? Do we know how budget decisions are made within the institution? Do we understand the process, or just the results? We grumble at the shrinking budget numbers and lines, but do know how to change them?
Professors are increasingly losing their voice in how their institutions are run. Faculty members who have unionized are finding that their institution punishes them by removing them further from the administrative table. And while the few professors who are left rightly complain about the amount of administrative tasks/committee meetings they are expected to participate in, I wonder if it isn’t just busy work that has little to no impact on the big picture and just gives the illusion of participatory governance, hence my example above from Star Wars. What if some overly-ambitious university president or board decides that it is cheaper and more expedient to eliminate much of the bureaucracy, meaning meetings and committees? Fear would, in fact, keep the professors in line, much like it already does, fear and ignorance.
But what of the Rebellion, that tiny band of idealists who manage to take down the all-powerful Empire? So far, there doesn’t seem to be any real effort or ability for faculty (all faculty, on and off the tenure-track) to come together and form some sort of concerted effort to rebel against what we perceive as the dismantling of higher education. We cannot organize ourselves to counter from without, and we steadfastly refuse to change it from within. So we remain fragmented, hopeless, and ignorant.
Ironic, isn’t it.

Bad Female Academic: Being Myself

Ben Folds, who is probably my all-time favorite musician, has a song from his first album (with Ben Folds Five), “Best Imitation of Myself.” The song opens with the following verse: 

I feel like a quote out of context
Withholding the rest
So I can be for you what you want to see
I got the gesture and sound
Got the timing down
It’s uncanny, yeah, you think it was me
Do you think I should take a class
To lose my southern accent
Did I make me up, or make the face till it stuck
I do the best imitation of myself

That seems like a pretty good description of how we try to be as academics, especially women. We mould our research interests into a project that pleases our supervisor. We then contort ourselves in cover letter after cover letter in an attempt to fit what we divine a department is looking for from a brief job description. If we’re lucky, we dress in identical power suits (and, apparently, we’d best make sure they’re suits that match), and we try to fit ourselves, our research, our goals, and our values, to a hotel room of people in 30 minutes or less. Or we try to read the myriad of faceless voices at the other end of the phone in order to convince them to fly us out for a campus interview. Then, if we do get a campus interview, we spend up to three days, from the moment we get on the plane to the moment we’re finally safely back home, playing the role of ideal future colleague. If, by some miracle, we get hired, it dawns on us that we have to at least try to keep being that person who was interviewed. We also have to bend ourselves according to the wind and will of the department, faculty, and institution in the quest for tenure.

I’m exhausted just writing about it. But if you’re not convinced, here is a little Twitter conversation that took place in regards to a piece in the Chronicle on how inter-faculty conflict is your fault:

I think that sums it up quite nicely, don’t you think?

The most liberating thing that has ever happened to me was giving up my tenure-track job and ending up as “just” an instructor. I am now free to do whatever research interests me, rather than what I think will lead to tenure. As I am now place-bound, I’m not stressed about the job market or trying to be what I think people want to see. Even living in a small town has its advantages; there’s no hiding here (there’s also little competition for my job). For the first time in a long time, I’m truly free to be myself.

But this quasi-rebellious streak isn’t new. I’ve always made contrary choices (I prefer thinking of them as the road less traveled) when it comes to my education, in large part because I was searching for a place where I could be myself. I chose my dissertation supervisor because she allowed me to do the research and work that I wanted to do. Career-wise, that may not have been the wisest choice in the short-term, but what it did do was allow me to develop confidence in my ideas and my abilities. Miraculously, my first experiences teaching were ones that freed and empowered me to develop my courses myself; they trusted me, and I was able to be myself and discover my strengths in the classroom.

But my dirtiest secret is how I “won” my tenure-track job. I figured that the hiring cycle had finished. I had dozens of phone interviews, three on-campus interviews, and no job offer. We had just moved to larger place, my husband had just started receiving benefits from his job, and I found out I was expecting again. Because I had been working at my current teaching position for three years, I was eligible for a small, paid, maternity leave. When I got the call for a telephone interview, I just figured it would turn out like all the other phone interviews I had done. But it didn’t matter because I had the next academic year figured out. So I didn’t sweat the phone interview, and I answered every question as myself instead of trying to give them the answer they wanted. Imagine my surprise when I got the job.

Writing this blog, writing for the University of Venus, doing these Bad Female Academic posts have brought me so much joy. If anything, it’s really reinforced the idea that who I am, who I really am, is okay. In fact, it’s better than okay. It’s fantastic. Even if we’re living in a time of supposed extreme narcissism and unearned self-confidence, somewhere along the way, women (and especially women in academia) are told over and over again that being self-confident and self-assured in who we really are is unattractive, undesirable, and needs to be broken. To a large extent, writing these posts (and the response they’ve received) has helped “fix” me back into who I know I am.

One of the biggest challenges, however, is trying to pass that lesson along to my daughter. Especially when who she is is so different from who I am.

Getting Sucked In or Putting Myself Out There?

I’ve written about this issue before; that I’m a Bad Female Academic for having administrative ambition, but also how it’s a difficult position to put myself in because I am not on the tenure-track, thus it doesn’t “count”, nor am I afforded the same protections. Nonetheless, and despite being warned, I volunteered to be an “Early College Mentor.” What does this mean? Well, our college offers early college credit courses in the high schools and I will be mentoring the teachers in the high schools who are teaching these classes. 

The question is, why? 
I have often written about the “exploitation” of contingent labor in academia. And I am acutely aware of my own position, trying to make sure I don’t put myself in (or get sucked into) a position where I will either be taken advantage of or made a scapegoat out of (or both). But this mentorship role seems to me to be a relatively safe compromise. 
For one thing, I’m doing it for the money. The mentors are getting a significant amount of professional development money for every teacher we mentor. I can use the money on conferences, books, research trips, whatever. This is not an insignificant reward for me because I am an instructor and therefore don’t have the same level of support for these activities as those on the tenure-track or have tenure. 
I’m also doing it because I like the idea of mentoring teachers and creating a community. It’s one of the reasons I co-founded #FYCchat on Twitter. We should be more active in helping one another be better teachers, for ourselves and for our students. I really am hoping to facilitate a learning community for the teachers I will be mentoring using social media. I also hope to encourage (inspire?) these teachers to use social media in their teaching. 
Our university’s service area is largely (exclusively) rural and mostly poor. Many of these students come to our college underprepared and have a lot of difficulty completing a college degree. If I can help high school teachers better prepare students for college, then I think I am doing a great public service. These students are just as deserving of a good education as anyone else. This is a concrete way that I can help. 
And I look like a good university citizen. Hopefully not too good, however. I am only supposed to be mentoring five teachers, but it looks like I’ll have at least three times that many. I am also scheduled to teach five classes in the fall. Something has to give, so I am not afraid to stand my ground to make sure that my students don’t get short-changed, either. Or my family, for that matter, and my research. I’ve been warned by those who have participated in this program in a similar capacity in the past that the university is all too willing to keep pushing the number of responsibilities. I’ll push back. 
Or, I’ll just walk away. If I have to chose between a conference or my sanity and dignity, I know which one I will chose.