Honoring MLK Day through recognizing Black Women; Reclaiming a Seat At the Table

I was honored to be asked to keynote at my city’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration, one that they named “Moving the Dream Forward”. I am a new-ish transplant to the community and have been looking for ways to connect and give back, so I happily agreed. However, a few days after agreeing I was emailed and told that there had been a mix up amongst the organizers. Other organizers had asked another person to be keynote, a black male Reverend, and so now I was no longer to keynote the event, but to become the “Distinguished Guest.” I couldn’t deny that I felt a little slighted, but decided I would make the best of it. And since I was no longer the keynote, I felt more freedom to make the speech that I wanted to make. And I decided was not a speech about MLK, but about black women. Here is what I said:

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Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s spirit of love and of fight for racial justice is one to be admired and celebrated and replicated. This day has always been meaningful to me. When I was in high school, in East Lansing, Michigan, we held a sit-in to demand that we observed MLK day and actually won. The next year we had the day off from school. We were able to change the policy in our school district. We were his legacy in action. I am honored to be here honoring him, especially on the 50th anniversary of his passing.

However, I am actually not going to talk too much about Dr. King today. Rather, I want to take a moment to talk about a sector of the movement that doesn’t often get the recognition it deserves. I am here to talk about black women, and will highlight three here today.

I am going to start with one incredible great. Her name is Diane Nash. She is a living legend. Diane was a Midwest-born, Chicago raised, witty and determined black girl. She took advantage of educational experiences allotted to her and ended up, at the age of 20, in Nashville Tennessee to attend the prestigious, historically black college of Fisk University. Diane was excited to be at Fisk, the place that taught W.E.B. Du Bois, Ida B. Wells and other’s their critical lens.

But what did not jive with Diane was the overt and explicit segregation that plagued the South. When shortly after arriving in Tennessee she went to the state fair and was forced to use the “Colored” bathroom, she knew her move to Nashville had much more in store for her. She went back to Fisk with a mission to challenge segregation. Nash began attending nonviolent civil disobedience workshops led by James Lawson, and informed by Mahatma Gandhi. She committed herself to being the most studied and passionate student, and, at the ripe age of 22 she became the leader of the Nashville sit-in movement.

She trained students how to endure verbal and physical attacks when they tried to integrate segregated lunch counters. She led the resisters through her poise and strategic planning. She was unafraid to be on the front lines, and was assaulted and arrested numerous times during these protests. It was Nash that bravely confronted the mayor of Nashville and got him, on record, to reveal that as a person, he believed segregation was immoral. After this public acknowledgment the movement gained momentum and just three weeks later the lunch counters were serving blacks. The Nashville sit-ins spread to 69 cities across the United States, and were a huge success in the anti-segregation movement. She literally claimed a seat at the table for herself and others.

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<Pictured: Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, James Bevel, Diane Nash : http://photos.pennlive.com/patriot-news/2015/02/roda_parks_martin_luther_king.html>

Nash would go on to serve many roles in the Civil Rights Movement, including leading the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, from 1961–1965 while under the direction of Martin Luther King. He, too, was impressed with Nash. In 1964 she received the Rosa Parks honor from Dr. King. When asked about herself in relation to King she later said: “I never considered Dr. King my leader. I always considered myself at his side and I considered him at my side.” This is not, in any way, a dig at Dr. King and his leadership. It was just a recognition of her own merits. Indeed, this self-assurance shaped her very understanding of what freedom means. According to Nash,Freedom, by definition, is people realizing that they are their own leader.” Nash exemplifies a leader, a freedom fighter, and a civil rights hero.

Nash, like King, taught us many lessons that we can implement today:

  1. Don’t allow others to define what is right. Segregation was the norm in the South and Nash could have accepted it. But she knew it was not, and followed her own conscious in decided she would fight against it.
  2. Become studied before you jump into action. Seek out others doing similar work, study various types of movement strategies, and practice the plan of attack so you can increase the successfulness and replication.
  3. If a space is not open to you, it may be up to you to change it, even with your presence. Claim a seat at the table.

I try to implement these lessons in my own life. So now I am going transition to covering the second black woman—I am going to talk about myself 😉 Nash is definitely a woman I personally relate to in many ways. I, too, was also a Midwest born and raised, witty, brown girl, who ventured to Nashville in my early twenties in seek of my own freedom. You see, I grew up pretty poor and we lacked a lot of resources. My single mother worked hard to provide and support me and my three siblings but I often felt trapped by what we didn’t have. Where we couldn’t go, what we couldn’t eat, and what thoughts we couldn’t put into words. However, unlike Nash, at this point in my life I was deathly shy and rarely ventured outside of the box. I knew what injustice looked like, I witnessed and experienced it, but I wasn’t vocal enough to speak up, even if I wanted to.

But education – that is one thing that helped free me. I first learn to escape through books. I read a lot. I first engaged with autobiographies of people I admired, like Diana Ross and then shifted to others like Malcom X and Assata Shakur and Barak Obama. During my education, I, like Dr. King, decided to major in Sociology. I soon learned about injustice and interwoven systems of oppression. This freeing of my mind was powerful.

But education freed me in other ways. I was able to earn a full tuition scholarship for my Bachelors. I was able to study abroad, and see things I would have never imagined, like Volcanos in Nicaragua or Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa. Those experiences also allowed me to see what poverty and inequality looked like at a global scale. Most importantly, these experiences gave me the vocal skills to put curiosity and critiques of the world to words.

I decided that the skills and knowledge I was gaining had to be used in a way that mattered. This is something that was central to Dr. King’s teaching. In his speech titled, “A Time to Break the Silence” he powerful instructed, “Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism.”

You see, unlike how some would like to remember him, King was radical. This idea, of speaking truth to power and disrupting the hostile world, led me into various roles, On example being a founding member of a group we called, Act on Racism, in college. Our group went into classrooms filled with our- primarily white peers – and staged plays in order to showcase the racism we had experienced there. I knew at that point that it was no longer ok for me to be silent.

The freeing nature of education then pushed me to pursue my doctoral degree, which is why I, myself, landed in Nashville at 21 – to attend Vanderbilt University. And it is also why I am here today.

Well, where am I today? First, honored to be standing here with all of you in this theater. But as my bio describes, I am an Assistant Professor of Sociology at that new school down the road – the University of California, Merced. I didn’t know this before I arrived, but I was hired as the first black women in the School of Social Science, Humanities and Arts at this newest research university in the United States. I now have a seat at that table.

Now I am not on the freedom fighter level of Diane Nash – that is only something I aspire to be – but I would like to think I am at least a freedom agitator. That I can take those lessons Nash and King taught us to heart—that I can use my voice, my presence, and my skills to help free the minds of those I come across, and use my work to help dismantle oppressive structures as well. But it remains central to my being to lift as a climb, and leave a trail of seats in my wake.

The final woman I will, just briefly, talk about today is Solange Knowles. You have now heard me say, “a seat at the table” a few times and it is no coincidence that A Seat at the Table is the title of Solange’s Grammy winning album. Solange recently revealed why she went back to New Iberia, Louisiana to make this amazing album. Her maternal grandparents lived in Louisiana, but were run out of town because of tense race relations after that came to a head after her they left her grandfather for dead in a mining explosion. Solange chose to return there to produce the album to pay homage to her roots. As she explained in her NPR interview with Ari Shapiro, she wanted to “reclaim that space,” she went on to say: “I wanted to be able to go back as a descendant of my grandparents and stake my claim and create work that honored them.” That is likely where these powerful lyrics come from in her song Rise:

“Walk in your ways, so you won’t crumble

Walk in your ways, so you can sleep at night

Walk in your ways, so you will wake up and rise”

That is my message to you all here, and especially black women. Reclaim space. Make a seat at the table. Follow in the footsteps of Solange. Diane. Coretta. Ida. Rosa. Sojourner. Assata. Angela. Michelle. Follow the words of Maxine Water “I strong black women. I cannot be intimidated. I cannot be undermined.”  We must reclaim our space and reclaim our time and rise.

This is a message Diane made clear when she herself gave a speech last year at Yale University for Martin Luther King Jr. day. She said:

“Martin was not the leader. He was the spokesperson.…It was not Martin’s movement, it was the people’s movement. And that is an important for you to understand, because when we see things that have to be done today, if you think it was Martin’s movement, you might say: ‘I wish we had a great leader like Martin.’ … But if you understand that it is the people’s movement, you would say, ‘What can I do.?’”

Please ask yourself that: “What can I do?” Think about the lessons that Diane taught us with her service: to decide for ourselves what is to be fought for; to create a plan of action; and to make space with our presence. This is how I believe we can move the movement forward, by doing this, but also by recognizing that MLK’s movement will not move forward without black women.

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^me trying channel some Diane Nash vibes

 

 

 

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We are Paid

In, my most rant-like post yet, I would just like to begin by saying: We are paid.

This rant stems from my utter despise for when people academics say: “I don’t get paid to do that.”1

There are, of course, plenty of reasons why academics should not take on tasks or responsibilities we are not paid to do. Those prone to answer “yes”- like myself- should definitely feel the freedom and authority of saying “no” when approached with some ‘thing’ that is “not in my job description”. But the phase, “I don’t get paid to do that” really grinds my gears.

I’m sure history plays a role in my level of irritation with the phrase. Because, historically there has always been, and there continues to be, an underclass of folks who get paid absolutely nothing for the work they do. Who? Well, the enslaved Africans that build this nation serve as an archetypal example. Women and children trapped in the global sex trade today stand as another stark example. But we don’t even have to go *there*. Those who become family caregivers because of obligation or will (mothers, fathers, children of the elderly, etc.) are examples that I am sure everyone can empathize with. And then, on top of that, there are the whole host of fields that are underpaid for the work they do – work that is often not in their job description – but is expected or demanded. For instance, health care aides who have to manage both patients’ emotions and random requests, social workers who spend more time writing summary reports than interacting with clients, or fast food workers who are definitely not paid to smile when taking irate costumers’ orders.

So when tenure-track academics2, who make decent salaries and have high personal authority of their jobs, throw out the phrase, “I don’t get paid to do that” it kind of pisses me off.

Think about this, the median salary for U.S. workers is just under $52k. This means half of all U.S. workers make less than 52 thousand and the other half makes more. Growing up, my family fell into the bottom half (or bottom quarter really). So looking up from the other side, I can unequivocally say, we are paid well. While our many years of schooling and extra credentials makes us believe we should be highly compensated, the facts suggest that the majority of us earn a salary that starts out between five and fifteen thousand dollars more than the median wage, and to me, that is not too shabby.

Of course, this post is not about our pay. I’d likely support initiatives for us to make more, and I am definitely a proponent of increasing pay equity in the academy across race, gender, and discipline. I, however, did not get into this profession solely for pay. In fact, very few academics I know would rate pay as the motivating factor in their choice of career. More often than not, the motivation stems from some transformative moment we had as a student that sparked something in us – a pressing question we wanted to find the answer to or a topic we were so drawn to that we couldn’t phantom boring from studying it. Some of us even felt a deep motivation to change the world.

We tiptoe into the job and before long we are knee deep. We begin to learn that we can do interesting work, and teach others about our work. We can watch as our students have their own light bulb moments. And we can build even deeper relationships with some students, those who become our mentees and we can celebrate as they grow and advance to independent scholars. And we can learn from these students. We can work with smart people and collaborate on even larger projects. We can also travel to share our work in all parts of the globe. Pros of our chosen career also include job security (post-tenure), job autonomy, flexible hours and the opportunity to reinvent ourselves often. Most of us decide that academia is far from perfect, but that it comes with many perks. Some of us savor these jobs.

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(^Me, in a candid moment, caught smiling while teaching stats)

 

However, once we become an academic we are often confronted with the realization that there are a lot of parts of the job that do not align with our motivation to take the job. These tasks can be viewed as tangential, unimportant, menial, or even “beneath us”. Hence, the phrase: “I don’t get paid to do that.” The problem isn’t pay, on the other hand, it’s that once we get into our positions we almost forget about the reasons that brought us here and focus instead on pay and/or the tasks that seem beneath our pay.

Rather than focusing on the particulars of some dreaded tasks, I think many of us would be much happier with our job as a whole if we approach those ‘things’ that “are not in our job description” as a part of a bigger picture.

Here are some examples of the ways we might reframe these menial or frustrating tasks that we think we are not paid for:

  • We are not paid to make copies, but we are paid to provide resources, material and otherwise, to students to help them learn
  • We are not paid to counsel students, but we are paid to mentor and advise them, which might include moments of consolation or emotional support
  • We are not paid to sit through seemingly unimportant departmental or university meetings, but we are paid to provide service to our university, and can give valuable insight that might even better its organizational structure
  • We are not paid to deal with unfriendly colleagues and administration, but we are paid to work together as faculty and staff to help the university run and provide a welcoming atmosphere for our students

 

I believe we have a lot to give as academics and want us to be appropriately compensated for our work, but I also believe it is helpful to remember that it is a privilege to be paid well, doing a job that we mostly enjoy.

 

 

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1Disclosure: I am one of those academics who does, in fact, enjoy her job.

2I think contingent faculty are part of the underpaid and have every right to mutter “I don’t get paid to do this.” I also believe TT academics should help alleviate extra tasks that burden contingent faculty.

 

 

 

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It happened – an attack on my campus

Today was the day it happened to me. There was a violent attack on *my* campus and it ended with at least four wounded and one dead. I was not on campus when it happened, I am still unsure whether any of my students were involved. At this point I am not sure what to say or do.

The mother in me wants to give every single student a hug and tell them its ok to cry. To take deep breaths. To encourage them to talk about their feelings. To grieve the hurt of their classmates and campus staff, and the loss of a young life. To take inventory of what they are thankful for and to stay open.

The professor in me wants to call an open campus forum. To allow for a safe space for students to come together to share their concerns. To get the facts. To disseminate resources. To discuss factors that have been linked to mass violence on school campuses, like mental health issues, social isolation, masculinity, etc.

The activist in me wants to disagree that this is “not the time to make things political.” To confront the ignorance I see on social media. To recognize how much more tragic this could have been if we were an open carry campus. To make the point that the only death came at the hands of those carrying guns… and badges.

For now I will commend those who took action today. I will uplift the UCM community and remained inspired by everyone’s unity and goodwill in the aftermath. I will thank God it wasn’t worse. And I will continue to indulge in chocolate.

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My Stats Story + Strategies for Survival and Success

Prepping for the first day of my Graduate Statistics II class triggered a whole host of memories. I was thinking about the new semester and reflecting on my own relationship with statistics—my very own ‘stats story’. So I thought in this post I would share my story and conclude with some tips/strategies for those interested.

 Story time:

My college roommate/best friend and I both majored in the social sciences. And when we could, we took classes together, including one semester of statistics. We were fine students and did well in the course. In fact, since we studied together and worked on assignments together, we received comparable grades (though mine might have been just slightly higher, and Danielle went to office hours a few times when I didn’t). In any case, on paper, we were pretty much the same student. One ‘marked’ difference between us though, was that she is white and I am black. Neither of us thought that would matter in a stats class.

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 However, one day, the professor decided to hand out white envelopes to a few select students in class. Danielle received one and I didn’t. We opened it up to see that Danielle had been invited to join the stats club. We were both a bit confused. Why did she get an invitation and I didn’t, even though it was clear we both were dedicated students who could do statistics? Heck, I was that type of student who would’ve actually joined a club like that! 

I was very bothered by that incident but never said anything to the professor. I did, however, go on to take another unrequired stats class in undergrad, receive high grades in my graduate stats courses, become my department’s graduate stats TA, and now teach an advanced stats class to graduate students at my research university (hmmmn… maybe I should *let him know*).

It’s frustrating that my undergrad professor would have never guessed that I would be teaching my own stats class in less than 10 years time (in fact it reveals a lot about racial bias and the shortcomings of our educational system). The professor’s decision to ignore my potential fed into my own insecurities when it came to my academic abilities. At this point I was convinced I was not a “math-person”. I guess to be honest, if you would have told the 20-year old version of me I would be teaching my own stats class, I wouldn’t have believed it either.

I most definitely didn’t think highly of my skills once I got to graduate school. I completely fed into the well-embedded climate of fear that surrounded the stats courses at my graduate institution. During the time I was a student the current trend was that about a 1/3 of every cohort would have to repeat at least one stats course. With that in mind, I made it my goal to just get through the class – just to merely pass. I did end up passing, but not without damage. I struggled through stats with everyone else. I cursed the stats assignments in the computer lab, I pulled all-nighters to finish assignments, and I even cried after my first stats exam.

Stepping away from the university during break was probably the best thing for me at that point. I realized that something needed to change or else I wouldn’t survive in that space; I needed a more positive semester. I decided to start with stats. I not only made it a goal to get an ‘A’ that next semester, but I shifted my goal to learning statistics, rather than getting through it.

What do you know; I ended up earning an A. And then I was asked to be the statistics teaching assistant the following year. I accepted, keeping secret my personal goal of helping *every* student pass the course by trying to help alter their approach to statistics. I rejected the notion that fear and pressure were necessary for success.

During that year I was also able to hone my skills – teaching is indeed the best learning tool. Perhaps my experience makes me a good stats teacher. As someone who had to overcome the doubt and had to go above and beyond to understand the concepts, I can relate to the majority of students. Now that I have had a little time under my belt, I have had time to organize some strategies for learning and mastering statistics that I wanted to share.

For those currently enrolled in a stats course, here are some tips on how to do well:

Above the norm

  • Do all of the assigned readings before lecture, then read them again afterwards
  • Work on your own, but consult with others when needed
  • Tell someone (preferably the professor or TA) what you know, ask questions when you don’t know
  • Work on statistics a little every (working) day (and take breaks from it when you need to)
  • Recognize that all statistical concepts are related, if you don’t grasp something in the beginning learning will become more difficult as you go on
  • Don’t let fear, anxiety or dislike impede your work

To the latter point, here are my strategies for changing your approach to statistics:

  • Know that understanding and doing statistics is a skill, which means it can be acquired over time with practice and dedication
  • Recognize that having sound statistical skills is necessary for academic success – even if you aren’t a quant person, you will need to know the basic skills to remain competitive in this field
  • Take time to have fun with statistics – I mean, who hasn’t lost an hour or two making a fancy graph? At the very least, welcome it as break from other writing and reading tasks
  • Statistics are important. To this point, my mentor used to like to quote Jay-Z: “men lie, women lie, numbers don’t lie.” And while that might not really be the case, arguments are often strengthened when you have sound statistics to back them, regardless of the type of research you are doing
  • Oh, and don’t let any uninformed/racist/sexist/whatever-ist steal your joy 😉

Anyone else have tips or stories to share?

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Black Fear, Black Rage, and how Black Lives Matter in My Work

On August 9th, 2014, Officer Darren Wilson killed unarmed black teen, Micheal Brown, in Ferguson, Missouri. Brown’s body laid in the street for 4.5 hours while witnesses and family members grieved behind the yellow tape. Feelings of anger, hurt, fear, rage, sadness spread throughout the neighborhood, and soon a wave of protests began in the city. The police use of tear gas and rubber bullets on protestors, coupled with the none-arrest of Wilson, caught the attention of the nation. We waited for more than 100 days to hear whether or not Wilson would go to trial. And on Nov 24th Prosecutor Bob McCulloch, after 30 minutes of what resembled closing arguments, revealed the St. Louis grand jury ruled there would be no indictment. In other words, they decided there was not enough evidence to even support a criminal trial.

We watched as Brown’s mother sobbed in the middle of the street and as his step-dad raged. We watched as parts of Ferguson burned. We watched as hundreds of demonstrators passionately (and outwardly peacefully) took to the streets all over the U.S. to protest systemic police brutality and seemingly unjust justice systems. The protests made one thing very clear: people are mad, and angered, and hurt, and fearful, and sad, and tired, and ready to work.

**And now I’m editing this post after another long night of protests. The protests share the same level of passion, and protest against the same systems of oppression, but this set of protests were actually ignited under a different name – protests that sought to honor the stolen life of Eric Garner. Garner was murdered (yes, murdered as it was ruled a homicide by the medical examiner) by a white police officer, Daniel Pantaleo, after Pantaleo used the banned choke hold method in an attempt to arrest Garner. Yesterday, on Dec 3rd, a Staten Island grand jury again decided there would be no indictment. Even despite the fact that the whole ordeal was caught on camera. And now the world is left with Garner’s haunting last words: I can’t breathe.**

So again, we are seeing that people are mad, and angered, and hurt, and fearful, and sad, and tired, and ready to work.

But it seems like not everyone gets the fear and the rage, so I thought it would be helpful to share some background statistics regarding these issues (perhaps better labeled inequalities or injustices), because as my mentor said, numbers don’t lie:

People are mad, and angered, and hurt, and fearful, and sad, and tired. These feelings are real. They are justified.

The facts and numbers above tell a story, but ask any black person in America, and they will have a personal story (or many stories) to share as well. Both my husband and I have had very problematic and life-changing interactions with the police. More recently, I had another encounter with an individual, one that pales in comparison to others, but one that continues to keep me up at night. The story:

When we first moved into our new home in our somewhat diverse but non-black neighborhood, our Boston Terrier was small enough to escape under the fence. One of the holes was in the shared part of the fence with our neighbor’s house. One night I wanted to fix our trap and paused and thought “what if the neighbor thinks I’m a burglar?” but then I tried to reassure myself “…this is my house, its fine.” So I went ahead and mended the fence. A few days later, during the day, I decided to try to fix it again as my son played in the front yard.

I was bent down by the fence when I heard hurried footsteps from behind me and someone yell: “Hey! What do you think you are doing?!”  I stood up slowly, turned toward the voice, then silently tried to calm my son as he watched this older white man yell at me.  All I could muster was “I live here.”

The red drained from his face as he spoke, “Oh I just saw a shadow and then saw a boy and I didn’t know…. I’m sorry. I just thought… I didn’t know”

When black people tell you they live in fear, it is true. I fear for myself, my husband, my brothers, my sisters, and my son, who at age 4, was still seen as a threat. Perhaps why this smaller incident hit home was because it again reminded me, that this (this fear of blackness, this devaluing of blackness, this attack on blackness) is something I will continue to encounter. Being a college professor can’t save me. Being a woman can’t save me. Being a mother can’t save me. Having a white mother can’t save me. And when the fear subsides, rage can seep in.

Ok, so what does this post (and black fear and black rage) have to do with ‘the sociology phd and me’? As others have noted, it has everything to do with it. I signed up for this job because being an educator, teacher, mentor, and researcher is my passion. Surviving in this world as a black woman is a necessity. Those two things can’t be divided. Black lives matter, which means I as a black woman matter. I as black sociology professor matter. My being at this university matters.

UC Merced has the highest percentage of black students of all the UCs. I can open my doors to all students so that they know they matter. I can attend their student meetings when invited so they know they have an ally. In my sociology classes I can discuss histories and systems of oppression so students can learn the roots of racial discrimination and mass incarceration. Using sociology, I can teach all students that black lives matter.

As a researcher I will continue to study topics where black lives matter. I will continue to study race and racism in the US and aboard to help uncover the intricacies of the various white supremacist structures that nations were built upon. I will continue to research the causes of racial disparities in health, and those mechanism that help racial minorities achieve mental well-being in the face of heightened stress. 

For me, my protest within the professoriate is clear. It is also personally powerful because it helps me overcome my fear and rage: Black Lives Matter in My Work

I haven’t blogged in a while, mainly because I told myself I wouldn’t blog until I finished my dissertation. But I just so happened to get married, finish the dissertation, move across the country, and start a new job within a six months… so time got away. I have so many blog ideas in the works but I found myself sitting at my computer unable to do any work until I got my thoughts out on this, because black lives matter which means my well-being matters.

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Why I Will Blog About My Research

This blog has focused on sharing experiences and tips I’ve learned as a sociology graduate student. I haven’t been keeping up with the blog like I should have, but I recently got inspired to write about a new publication. Considering how central research and publishing is to a student’s training, it is actually a shame that I have yet to blog about my work. So today I logged on to WordPress with the goal to write about my research… and then realized I wasn’t exactly sure where to start. So I did what any good researcher would do, I quickly researched online resources for tips on how to write about research. When I finally  returned to write, I started off by summarizing my rationale for writing, but soon realized that my introduction to the post became a post in its own right. Oops, it happens.

 

Based off of what I found, here are some of the reasons why I will (and you should) blog about my (your) research:

 

1. Get Heard

Publishing in academic journals is one means to disseminate knowledge, and perhaps the best way to get your work and name out… in academic circles. This is important for your academic livelihood. However, most of what is published remains in tight circles and doesn’t get out into the ‘real world’. Back in the day, many academics contributed towards monthly newsletters or publications. Some scholars contend that blogging is actually a return to serialized scholarship. For instance, the canonical figure of American Sociology, W.E.B. Du Bois, published a newspaper, The Crisis, which included short articles and circulated over 100,000 copies in the early 1900s. Blogging can circumvent the standard gatekeeping embedded in academic journals and get our work heard.

2. Blog For a Change

This is related to the first point. Dr. Eric Grollman powerfully argued that blogging can be a form of intellectual activism – a way of speaking truth to the people. If a sociologist’s job is to study people, shouldn’t ‘people’ have the opportunity to hear findings from the study? Furthermore, if the research is about potential social change, there is a need to get the ideas out that in hopes of working towards such change. The Crisis editorial board wrote, “The object of this publication is to set forth those facts and arguments which show the danger of race prejudice, particularly as manifested today toward colored people.” Du Bois and his colleagues believed their research and writing deserved to be shared, and knew that the implications of getting the facts out could be monumental. Blogging can similarly help get ideas out to those who need it and can use it.

3. Improve Your Writing Skills

I once joked that twitter helped me become a better academic writer. I have no data to back that up, but academics do love “tight writing” and restructuring a thought into 140 characters forces me to get to the point. Similarly, blogging about research can help with academic writing. It forces you to highlight the impact of your work by pushing you to think about your work in a more practical manner. Furthermore, you learn to rely less on trivial details or jargon, and learn how to get to the good stuff quickly. Dr. Christopher Buddle actually found that blogging increased research productivity #word

Still not convinced its for you? Check out these 37 reasons from Sociological Imagination.

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But wait, before you start blogging away, I want to share a few important cautions on blogging about research:

 

1. Don’t Misdirect Your Time 

Blogging takes time–which could potentially take time away from your work. You can’t blog about your research if you are so busying blogging you don’t have time to do your research. Someone was once described to me as an academic that “spends so much time engaging in online debates and so little time creating work to back the debates that no one takes them seriously”. Don’t let that be you.

2. Don’t Let the internet Steal Your Work

I think we have all come to accept that once something goes on the internet, it belongs to the internet. For instance, just because someone deletes a tweet, doesn’t mean it’s gone. And you never know when a tweet might show up on some buzzfeed list or even in the court of law. Blogging is the same way. If you put your unpublished ideas out for all to see, you have no control over how it gets shared, if it gets cited, or if the ideas will be ripped off. I think it’s safest to discuss preliminary findings at your will, but save all of the specific details for after you have a copyright.

3. Blog Responsibly  

This is a general caution, but a very good one: always blog responsibly. (<– seriously everyone, read this important post!)

And for more tips on blogging about research, check out tips for starting academic blogs, read about how to write a good research blog post, or get involved with ResearchBlogging.org.

 

Good luck on your posts and stay tuned for mine!

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Academia is Not a Meritocracy

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Aware of Awareness

Academia is not a meritocracy.

 (And here’s a dirty little secret : Neither is any other professional field).

You would think that smart people – especially social scientists – would have internalized this rudimentary kernel of truth.  But we haven’t.

The myth of academic meritocracy persists mainly in two forms: 1) a collective obsession with academic rankings and status markers and 2) the hysteria that surrounds so-called “stars”.

Academic rankings and hierarchies continue to signal to our undergraduate and graduate students that certain departments are better than others.  These same departmental and institutional reputations are taken seriously in hiring decisions.  The most highly ranked journals are routinely framed as the most important and legitimate gatekeepers of scholarly research.  Prestigious fellowships and awards are often framed as supporting the “best” and the “brightest” academics in their respective fields.  And, all too often, the folks that publish in the most prestigious journals and win these highly prized jobs, fellowships…

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