Monday, September 9, 2013

Slow Academe: Addressing Misogyny, Racism, and Inequity in the Classroom

There are so many good things about the beginning of a new school year. The first day of school carries with it hopes for a new year, anxieties about change, and, if we are lucky, it comes with the realization that higher education at its best holds the possibilities for fostering sustainable thinking that can fundamentally alter the future for the better.

Last week though, that glow was overshadowed by the series of misogynistic chants performed at first year orientations at St. Mary's University in Halifax and UBC in Vancouver. And while it is notable that these stories have made headline news what troubles me is twofold. First, as others have noted, the only difference is that this year the media paid attention. Misogyny and rape culture are not new, and they are certainly not new in Canada where young women -- and a disproportionate number of First Nations women -- are more likely to experience violence than any other group. Let's not forget that the we live in a country that has a fundamentally dysfunctional relationship with women, especially women of colour. So as I began a new school year in a new province and a new university I found myself struggling with questions of pedagogy and speed.

Here's what I mean: I found myself wondering how best to open up conversations about gender ideology, misogyny, racism, and systematic inequity while going through the syllabus and beginning to foster individual classroom learning communities. These challenges and questions aren't new to me, certainly. Critical pedagogy is a continual concern here at Hook & Eye. But last week I found myself thinking in a new way about expediency versus sustainability. I found myself thinking that these two things--fast and clear deliverables and the long-term development of critically-engaged thinking, of slow academe--have been put at odds. Much has been written in the last decade (and longer) about the myriad ways in which corporatization of universities erode their aims, namely the best parts of humanities. Students are saddled with staggering debts, the legions of precarious workers is ever on the rise while departments and faculties are pushed to increase the clarity of their deliverables. Students are told that they are consumers, and understandably they, in turn, want to know what it is they are buying. After all, they know that their post-graduation options will likely be vastly different than those of their parents and professors.

Debt, under-employment, corporatiztion: these are all pressing issues. But as I read the news, as I ached for my colleagues at UBC and St. Mary's, as I felt anger and frustration and exhaustion over the fact that young men and young women felt it was ok to participate in the misogynistic chants (never mind that orientation leaders felt it was in any way ok to present them) I found myself thinking that an additional effect of the corporate university has been the denigration of slow learning.

Slow learning takes its cues from things like the slow food movement, DIY education, and edupunks. For me, slow learning crosses genres and disciplines, is founded on inquiry and dialogue, and depends on learning in and with communities. Though I want these things to be inherent in all learning I think the addition of "slow" as a descriptor underscores the activism and sustainability that is central to the process.

Here's the thing: unlearning prejudice takes time. Unspooling the ways in which we all, each of us, are interpellated into pernicious systems of inequity that depend on divide and conquer strategies takes time. It is hard. And it is a slow process that I, for one, believe is both absolutely necessary and fundamental to the higher learning project to which I've decided to dedicate my life and energy.

What, then, do we do?

Last week I closed a review of faster feminism by asking if readers had new year's resolutions. In answer to my own question, "what do we do," I'll offer my own resolution: I am redoubling my commitment to slow academe. Sure, I will continue to construct learning objectives, but each time I feel overworked, each time I want to just dial a lecture in, I will think about the system in which I work. Universities are not wholly responsible for the erosion of activist culture and the kinds of popular feminism that seemed far more present when I was in high school in the 90s (thank you, riot grrls), but universities are designated places for learning more, and, theoretically learning to be better. So following a colleague from St. Mary's, I resolve to have careful and difficult conversations within my classrooms. I resolve to introduce them to the concept of slow learning, and perhaps, over the course of a semester, their own education, and my career, we will help to revivify the best, most maligned parts of the higher education endeavour.

4 comments:

  1. Hi Erin,

    This post seems to be getting a lot of traction in social media (as in: it's all over my Facebook feed. #unofficialsurvey). Bravo for active classrooms dedicated to issues of meaningful citizenship and societal betterment.

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  2. Thank you for this thoughtful and actionable response! Something to think about for those of us no longer in the academy still committed to being an ally in day-to-day life with family, friends, and communities.

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  3. @Claire: I miss you. And bravo to you for exactly the same things: active classrooms dedicated to issues of meaningful citizenship and societal betterment!

    @Emily Thanks for underscoring that commitments to sustainable communities happen -- and need to happen -- everywhere.

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  4. I'm sorry to be so late to reading this post. One point you make particularly struck me - "unlearning prejudice takes time." It's so true. Every first year student isn't a blank slate, but has been implicated in a system of inequality that has given them a sense of self for almost two decades. I guess it is no surprise that we encounter a little resistance when we invite them to look at those systems of selfhood and ask "Is it right? Is it fair? Is this what you really want for yourself? Is this who you are?"
    It takes time.
    Still, sometimes I wish I were a Jedi. Education would be so much simpler.

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