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.

pushingtheenvelope

 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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Nashville could be the hostess with the mostess

I’ve been saying forever that Nashville should host a sociology conference. For one, it would mean I could attend a conference without going broke. But importantly, it would also mean sociologists could come hang out in this awesome city. Honestly, I was hesitant to move to Nashville from the North, but in my 6 and counting years here, the city has stolen my heart❤ And it’s not just me. Even the New York Times said this place should be called Nowville😉 So of course I was very happy to hear that the winter meetings of the Sociologists for Women in Society would be hosted in Nashville. I mean look at the place!

The SWS conference is being held this upcoming weekend (Feb 6-9th) at the convenient Hutton Hotel. Many of my colleagues and other SWS planning committee members have done an amazing job planning this event (I take no credit whatsoever). They have created a few wonderful resources to ease in the stay. Check out the Sweet Experiences Unique to Nashville or the ample details they provide here.

But I have seen some solicitations for things-to-do and places-to-eat on facebook and twitter so I thought I would throw in my own suggestions to the mix.

I will start with my favorite things to do/see in Nashville:

  • I love Centennial Park. In the summer I might catch a concert, or find a spot by the pond to meditate, or meet up with some runners to break a sweat. Although we are still in the midst of our winter weather, it is still a great place to check out. Walk around the replica of the Parthenon (and possibly see the museum located inside). Centennial Park is just a mile walk from the conference hotel.
  • Speaking of museums, the The Carl Van Vechten Gallery at Fisk University (a HBCU) always has a great display. It’s $5 for out of state students, and free for any student in Tennessee. Fisk University, located close to Meharry University and Tennessee State University (more HBCUs), is only a 5 minute drive down the road. There is also a great mom & pop style southern food and chicken spot located in this historic black area of Nashville.
  • Two of my favorite eats are located in Germantown. The first is a family-style restaurant called Monell’s. Bring some friends and a large appetite as the staff will load your table with some of the best southern food you can find. Take what you want and pass the rest. They are also open for brunch on the weekend. Right next to Monell’s you will find the *best* cupcakes ever at Cupcake Collection. They close at 4 or when they are done cooking for the day so get there early. Germantown is a little less than 10 minutes away from the conference hotel.
  • A weekend in Nashville wouldn’t be complete without visiting some Honky-Tonks on lower Broadway. You are always in for a treat when you go at night, but you can find live music in most of the bars throughout the day as well. My favorite is this magical place called Tequila Cowboy. Watch out though, because you might be forced to ride the mechanical bull. Lower Broad is a straight shot down from the conference hotel.
  • If Honky-Tonks aren’t your thing–trust me, I never ever thought they would be my thing but I’ve had too many good times to deny it, nonetheless–if they aren’t your thing you might opt for a place like BB Kings or the Dueling Piano Bar.  Both offer seriously great music, but if you want to dance my vote would be for BB Kings. These places are also located in the Lower Broad area.
  • Oh, and I love taking a stroll at the Farmer’s Market. You can buy anything – fruit, veggies, flowers, homemade breads, handmade lotions, books, or even knock-off bags. There is a bunch of restaurants located in the center of the Farmer’s Market, ranging from Jamaican to Mediterranean. It’s also located next to Bicentennial Park, which is riddled with facts about Tennessee.

The above list is kind of my checklist for when I have out-of-town visitors. Some require a car and a little bit of money (but they shouldn’t break the bank). For those who want to know more about reasonably priced places to eat within a short walking distance from the hotel, here are my suggestions:

  • Amerigo. A classy Italian restaurant with filling plates.
  • Sitar. An Indian restaurant with a tasty buffet.
  • Noshville. A “New York Style Delicatessen,” good for breakfast or lunch.
  • Hattie B’s. Nashville is known for hot chicken and this place serves some of the best.
  • Ken’s Sushi. Sushi lunch special- all that needs to be said.
  • Chuy’s. Its a TexMex chain but if you go during happy hour you can stock up on free chips, cheese, and beef.

I can’t wait to meet everyone at the SWS meeting. I hope this list is helpful for this conference or anyone else with Nashville on their radar. Comment with any other suggestions!

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Remaining Inspired & Becoming an Inspiration

I wrote an earlier post on “how you might come back thinking ‘that was a great conference’“.  The conference was more or less a specialty conference, which means everyone there studies a very specific topic. This also means it is easier to connect to the ‘bigwigs’ in the field. I was aware that I’d be citing a large portion of the scholars in the room while and I remember being the most nervous I had ever been to give a presentation. The night before a fellow grad student and I were up late in the lobby practicing our presentations when a scholar whom I respect tremendously stopped by to check on us (awesome, right?). She told us that it is perfectly fine to be nervous for a presentation, in fact, she went on, it is best to remain nervous throughout your career because it means your work is important to you.

Will they like my work? Will I say something that can offend someone? Am I pronouncing someone’s name right? Did I really double-check all my stats? Do I have a stain on my shirt? Do they think I am smart enough? To be honest, I really do not want to remain nervous when present my work, or when I introduce myself to new faculty, or when I walk in to teach a class. I could seriously do without the shaky legs, swarm of butterflies in my stomach, and laundry list of questions that make me doubt every aspect of my professional self. But what I decided, however, is that I always wanted to remain inspired.

As I reflect back, I was nervous to present my work in that room because I was so inspired by those filling the room. Much of their work laid the groundwork for my own. And being in front of them would mean I had the opportunity to *ahem* inspire them. When I peeled back the layers of nerves I realize it comes down to one primary thing: I want to succeed in my role and give back as much as I receive.

As academics we use “informed” to describe the borrowing and building off of others’ work. Your methods can be informed, your theory can be informed, even your book title can be informed….but I think “inspired” might better explain what is really going on. I get inspired reading a journal article, whether it be for the groundbreaking theory or because the abstract is clearly written. I get inspired when a faculty member encourages me. I get inspired when I see a second draft of a term paper. And if its not obvious, I get really inspired at conferences.  But, the thing is, if we are open to it inspiration can come at any point and from any source.

So the advice that I give you (and myself) is to walk into that conference (or a job talk, new class, oral examination) and channel the inspiration into what you are doing. I’m speaking somewhat figuratively, but also literately – use the inspiration you received and put it into your presentation, that is, think of the person whose presentations you most admire and try to replicate it!

This advice is coming straight from Dr.  John Glavin, a professor of English who also moonlights as a speech coach.  Glavin told our seminar class a story in which he was working with a politician who was flat out strugglin’ in his speeches. Glavin felt as though they were at a dead end until he suggested the politician mimic his favorite speaker. A few days later the politician delivered his best speech to date. Who did he mimic? Martin Luther King Jr.

So okay, we won’t all be mini MLKjrs but what I am suggesting is to find your inspiration and use it to become an inspiration. Ebrace the nerves by remembering why they are there. Allow them to be a reminder of your passion and use them as self-encouragement for the task at hand- if you are one fire, someone is sure to finds a bit of inspiration in you.

https://i2.wp.com/cleveland.ncsy.org/files/inspire.jpg

(too cheerleader-ish? sorry, i’ll try more broodiness next time)

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