Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Reaching Out to the Other, or A Performance of Striving

Walking to where my husband said he would pick me up, I consider my new role as a student-teacher at a private university. "How important is identifying with students? How does it affect your teaching?" (Hernandez). My husband smiles at me from our new vehicle purchased specifically for the snowy winters in Colorado and tells me that we need gas ("How will we pay for gas? Why did we take the risk of buying this car?"). It is Tuesday September 4th, 2012, and earlier that morning, I had already gotten lost on my way to my department's convocation event, which welcomes new doctoral and masters students. I'm depressed and sweaty, and before I get picked up, I have decided to again walk alone towards a building that I have never seen or heard. You see, Frank Tuitt, an Associate Provost of Inclusive Excellence, is giving a talk today on bell hooks' Teaching to Transgress: Education as a Practice of Freedom entitled "Education for Social and Political Change: The Continued Search for Education as the Practice of Freedom," so although I am emotionally and physically drained, I am determined to experience this lecture. In this blog posting, I weave my reflections of my first week as a student-teacher at a private university alongside my notes from a lecture on teaching to strive for a performance that urges my fellow Latin@ communication studies scholars to reach out to each other throughout the year. Utilizing an autobiographical performance as a response to some of the blog entries on this AcademicZ website, it is my belief and argument that an ongoing analysis of our blog entries and comments to each other should continue in order to strengthen our alliances as a Latina/o Communication Studies discipline.

As I walk, I am not quite used to the humidity, so I roll up the sleeves of my button-down turquoise dress shirt. I bought it at a Marshall's clothing store (it was on sale) before I left my California home to start my doctoral program in a new state. I'm depressed because I am alone and lost and my funding has been stalled by a bureaucratic system that doesn't seem to understand that I am the closest I have been to poverty in a long time. However, I am hopeful because this talk on bell hooks and the state of education has me excited about the possibilities of reaching out to the Other. About fifteen minutes later, I find my building by following a gaggle of freshmen undergraduate students, and I sit front row center eager to hear a female voice that has pushed me to strive for freedom many times before.

However, something is wrong. The male voice is saying all the right things ("This is the most diverse freshman class we have had since I have been here"), but I cannot quite connect because I am in a sea of whiteness. I am reminded by Bernadette Calafell in a recent blog posting that "this may be a red flag. Sometimes a department has had a history of problems around race, gender, and sexuality, and they naively think the way to change this is to hire a person of color (as if we magically transform a space with our presences like unicorns) or the university puts the pressure on them to do so." Although Calafell is discussing faculty positions, it feels like students are being used in much the same way. My notes are covered with critical questions like "isn't the classroom the 'real world'?" and "Citizens? Is that the only goal of education?" Again, I am feeling alone and lost and I'm remembering Bernardita Maria Yunis Varas' recent AcademicZ posting: "When I became a citizen, I was expected to forsake my country for the United States.  But how can they not understand?" I stop building my bridge to the Other and write disappointedly in my notes that "this is not a conversation with bell hooks." The male voice is saying all the right things, but shouldn't the institution change because of this diversity? Students of color are not just a quota on a piece of paper.

Leandra Hernandez's struggles discussing the realities of academia with her female Mexican-American student perhaps comes closest to how I felt in the moment: "Was it even my place to divulge such information about how I’m very saddened at times by the unwelcoming culture here? Should I put on a straight face and pretend that racial/ethnic differences are not a problem here?" Like a random bolt of lightning on a humid Denver afternoon, Tuitt brings me back into the space by attempting a performance where he dialogues with bell hooks on how to care for the souls of our students. He says that teaching and learning comes easiest for those who focus on the soul within the mind-body-spirit matrix of a person. He professes that "everyone can learn" and that as teachers we have to "be exciting." Is this really what bell hooks would say? Should it be my goal as a teacher to simply entertain?

"Once again, we are referring to a discussion of whether or not we subvert the classroom's politics of domination simply by using different material, or by having a different, more radical standpoint" (hooks, 1994, p. 148). I cannot care for the souls of my students alone. It takes a village. I am resistant to pedagogies that ask the instructor to turn education into entertainment or to strive for success alone without a community to draw strength and guidance from. I write in my notes: "What is the students' responsibility for a pedagogy of freedom?" As if to answer my question, Tuitt urges his audience to "resist the temptation to present oneself as an all-knowing expert." I nod appreciatively because I am beginning to hear my literary hero's voice again. He continues by stating that a "democratic setting is created through sharing of personal experience" and "students must enter the classroom ready to be active... they must want to learn." Maybe, I am beginning to build a bridge to this African-American male. Why did I hesitate before?

Bernardita Maria Yunis Varas writes passionately about how "the difference as I have come to recognize vividly in grad school comes from life and lived experience, in moments, emotions, relationships and people." Like the blog entries on AcademicZ, Tuitt and hooks place a significant value on voice and its power in the classroom. Tuitt emphasizes that we must "teach with multiple pedagogical styles" and that we must "build a community of learners" by "modeling how to use voice by using and sharing [our] personal experience." Maybe, there is something here that we can use to survive this academic space. Maybe, there is something here that we can use to connect to Others.

"Coming to voice is not just the act of telling one's experience. It is using that telling strategically--to come to voice so that you can also speak freely about other subjects" (hooks, 1994, p. 148). The talk ends, and like a good audience member, I stand and applaud. As I walk to where my husband said he would pick me up, I am suddenly proud that I know what it is like to not have the money to pay bills, gas, groceries, and entertainment. I am proud to be Xicano and queer because these histories of colonization and oppression have placed me (and Others) on a very different trajectory. I am proud because I realize that I do deserve to be in this privileged space. However, like hooks, Tuitt mentions how "learning and knowing is not enough. We must take responsibility to do something with it." In other words, now that I am here--what will I do?

In the tradition of queer scholarship and women-of-color feminisms, such as in Gay Latino Studies: A Critical Reader or Chicana Feminisms: A Critical Reader, I want to offer this performance as a response to three blog entries on the AcademicZ blog for Latina/o Communication Studies. Specifically, this is a response to "Excuse me, Perdón. And other translations" by Bernardita Maria Yunis Varas, "Being Honest to One’s Students and One’s Self" by Leandra H. Hernandez, and "Post Tenure Blues" by Bernadette Marie Calafell. To me, these blog entries are already in discussion with each other, and as a chorus, these blog entries highlight the importance of striving towards a practice of freedom for Latin@s in academia. What will I do? Given the harsh realities of being Latina/o in the academy, I will urge everyone to respond to the blogs on this AcademicZ page and to write whenever you feel alone or depressed. Somehow, I made it through that first week, but I can't help but wonder if things would have been better if I would have reached out to you all instead. This space to voice my experiences has given me the courage to fail, and collectively, our experiences on the margins have given us all the strength to get up and fail--and get up again. I find hope in this striving towards freedom. Will you take up my challenge? Will you be the community that reaches out throughout the year? I humbly ask for a response, because with others who understand what is at stake, we have a better chance of doing more than just surviving.


Arrendondo, G. F., Hurtado, A., Klahn, N., Nájera-Ramírez, O., & Zavella, P. (2003). Chicana Feminisms: A Critical Reader. Durham, NC: Duke University.

Hames-García, M. & Martínez, E. J. (2011). Gay Latino Studies: A Critical Reader. Durham, NC: Duke University.

hooks, b. (1994). Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. New York, NY: Routledge.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Rest in Peace Nick Trujillo