Activist Art Museums

Words and music were my tools for connecting to the larger world and making meaning of my life. Music was a huge part of my political awakening. Books gave me the words to name experiences and deepen my understandings.

In the last year or so, I’ve visited art museums in Seattle, Dallas, Portland, New Orleans, and Los Angeles. I’ve been able to see the special exhibits of the works of Yves Saint Laurent, Auguste RodinAndy WarholRobert Mapplethorpe and Sandow Birk. However, it wasn’t until I revisited the Minneapolis Institute of Art during a recent trip home to Minnesota, that I experienced an art museum as a place for activism. The MIA made intentional connections between the art, artists, and politics. While, art is frequently recognized for controversy and commentary on life and politics. The MIA made a larger connection to the current social-political climate–namely racism, anti-immigration, xenophobia –and art. They have this amazing exhibit Resistance, Protest, Resilience that highlights acts  of resistance throughout the last 100 years. They don’t allow viewers to believe that the current social-political climate is something new or attached only to the Trump Administration. This is a powerful counter-narrative.  The MIA doesn’t stop with this one exhibit. They host a series titled, “Current Conversations,” that connects current events to museum collections. While I was there in February they focused on immigration, so throughout the museum there were informational sheets connecting immigration and art. It was amazing to experience art in such a politicized way. It profoundly changed my connection and thinking around visual art. It helped me to see art museums as places for activism in ways I previously only held for music and books.

Hidden Figures: Moves to Innocence

“Moves to innocence are characterized by strategies to remove involvement in and culpability for systems of domination” (Mawhinney, 1998, p17).

I went to see Hidden Figures this weekend. The movie brings to light the important work of Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson. Three African-American female mathematicians who worked for NASA and their role in the launching of the space program. While Hidden Figures is being celebrated as finally giving credit to these women and launching women and girls into the field of science, embedded in the Hidden Figures movie is a white redemption story and move to innocence.

Mawhinney (1998) and Tuck and Yang (2012) introduced and deepened my understanding of this concept and how it applies in so many areas of history and contemporary narratives of white power and privilege. “Moves to innocence are characterized by strategies to remove involvement in and culpability for systems of domination” (Mawhinney, 1998, p. 17). Importantly, claims of innocence are rooted in framing the innocent as non-oppressors” (Tuck & Yang, 2012).

The film brilliantly highlights how systems of white dominance and oppression are set up to be reinforced. When Johnson repeatedly asks to be in the Pentagon briefings because she needs the up-to-date information to do her job, the response is that women are not allowed and she doesn’t have the clearance. Harrison asks who makes this rule and Johnson responds that he makes the rule so he allows her into the briefing. The white judge who rules to allow Mary Jackson to attend University of Virginia graduate level courses at the segregated Hampton High School. These examples demonstrate how those with the power can change the system.

In this same way, the film reinforces moves to innocence by showing white men as heroes towards integration. Specifically, the characters of John Glenn and Al Harrison (admittedly an aggregation of several NASA leaders) are portrayed as white male heroes. John Glenn-steps out of line to shake hand with the African-American women lined up to greet them and also specifically asks for Katharine Johnson to double check his landing coordinates. The scene in which Al Harrison personally breaks down the “Colored Ladies Room” sign and says “We all pee the same color” effectively integrating the bathrooms at NASA is set up to be the movement of change.

This is not to say that white allies are not needed in the fight for racial justice. However, I am critiquing the narrative. The motivation of Glenn and Harrison is never questioned to be anything but motivated by racial justice. I am left wondering if Glenn and Harrison did indeed act in those ways, was it self-serving towards their own professional goals? If their actions were motivated by racial justice, where have they been all these years? Glenn specifically spent a lot of time in the public arena and where was his strong voice in racial justice movement?

Silencing Voices

This is not a mandate.

Despite what the Trump Administration wants us to believe, Trump and the GOP do not have a mandate. Trump did not receive a majority of the votes. He lost the popular vote by over 2 million votes. Of the 136,628,459 voters in 2016, Trump received  62,979,363 votes ( (46% of the popular vote and 307 electoral college). There were an estimated 231,556,622 people eligible to vote in the 2016 election. Of those, 40% of eligible people did not even vote. This means that Trump received support of just over 25% of the eligible voters. The analyses around the election among them White supremacy,  Russian interference, and voter suppression have been written about elsewhere.

On Friday and Saturday, we witnessed millions of people demonstrating and marching in solidarity in the Festival of Resistance and  Women’s March. This type of action is important to democracy. The voices of the people must be heard. If not through the electoral process, then in the streets. Yet, we have a growing movement to silence voices of the people (especially those in opposition to the police and government).  Over the last several years, we have seen propaganda that frames political protests and demonstrations as riots. The media and government consistently frame Black Lives Matter and No Dakota Access Pipeline (#noDAPL) protests as riots. This serves to silence opposition and spark fear in citizens.

We are witnessing bills being introduced (and thankfully some defeated) that threaten protections and criminalize protests and acts of civil disobedience.

We are also reading about the censoring of federal agencies. The Environmental Protection Agency and Depts. of Agriculture and Interior have reportedly been told to cease communication with the public including the use of social media.

So, we have an Administration that refuses to acknowledge that it doesn’t have the support of a majority of voters and ruling through Executive Order and memoranda with law makers who are actively trying to silence and criminalize the voices of the people.






First Impressions

We are on the fourth day of the Trump Administration.

On Friday, hours after being sworn in, Trump suspended the interest rate reduction on FHA loans and signed his first Executive Order to assist in the repeal of the Affordable Care Act (aka ACA or Obamacare). These actions got me thinking about other Presidents and their first actions in office. I looked back through the records of The American Presidency Project to view the first Executive Orders. In just looking at Executive Orders from Eisenhower to Trump, some were in immediate response to a contemporary crisis—Johnson, Ford, Carter, Reagan —others were expansions or streamline of government—Eisenhower, Nixon, and G.W. Bush—still others were concerned with ethics and transparency—G.H.W. Bush, Clinton, and Obama.

Trump’s first acts threaten the health and well-being of people in the United States and beyond.  In addition to the actions above, in his first days in office, Trump and his Administration:

  • Waived federal law requiring Secretary of Defense be a civilian
  • Promoted lies about the size of his Inauguration crowd.
  • Signed first proclamation of his inaugural day at “National Day of Patriotic Devotion” this proclamation has yet to be released.
  • Removed White House web pages with Spanish language, climate change information, and LGBTQ related information.
  • Buried White House phone contact information (still available here) and replaced the Contact page with an online form with only four message type options.
  • Signed memorandum
    • Mexico City Policy (reinstating global gag rule)
    • Withdrawal of United States from the Trans Pacific Partnership
    • Federal hiring freeze except for military
  • Advanced construction on the Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipeline

I don’t think any of these actions demonstrate a commitment to transferring power to the people or helping struggling families as Trump declared in his Inaugural Address. In four days, we’ve witnessed Trump’s Administration prioritize their own egos and agenda without any regard or care of the people of the United States.



Supporting students from a class perspective

An interesting article in today’s NY Times: Poor Students Struggle as Class Plays a Greater Role in Success  (alternatively titled as “For Poor, Leap to College Often Ends in Hard Fall”)

I write about class a lot because it’s one of the few things I feel secure in my knowledge. When we think about class in terms of college, we often think about the financial aid piece. Universities have made great progress in meeting the financial needs of low-income student, but there are still nuances about growing up poor that are forgotten. It’s beyond the ability to pay for college. This article does a good job discussing the complex socio-economic influences in our lives. There is this cultural difference that exists between classes which people often forget or deny. As academics, it’s important that we are aware of these differences and able to support students coming from low-income families.

From the article: Annette Lareau, a sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania, argues that the affluent also enjoy an advocacy edge: parents are quicker to intervene when their children need help, while low-income families often feel intimidated and defer to school officials, a problem that would trail Melissa and Angelica in their journey through college.

“Middle-class students get the sense the institution will respond to them,” Professor Lareau said. “Working-class and poor students don’t experience that. It makes them more vulnerable.”

This is a critical statement in understanding the experiences and needs of many students who come from low-income families. I’m sure there are many reasons students may not ask for help. For me, I often didn’t know what kind of help existed or that it was ok to ask for help. There was also overwhelming feelings of shame in needing help or the idea of being a bother.

I don’t know what the solution is or how to ease the transition to college, but I think it’s something we need to keep thinking and talking about. A start might be to move away from this idea of “first generation college student” to actually acknowledging class differences. There are many older academics who are “first generation college students” but mostly like from middle class families. Especially any of those academics who graduated college prior to the 1990s. If you are 60 years old and a first generation college student, you probably come from a middle class background. The poor kids went to Vietnam. So, your experiences as a first generation college student are probably quite different than your students. Trying to identify with them in those terms misses the point. As a person who comes from anti-oppressive practice point of view,  I intentionally discuss class in the same ways I intentionally discuss race, gender, and sexual orientation. I hope this serves several purposes. First, to highlight some of the nuances of class that middle or upper middle class people may not get. Second, to indirectly share with students who may be from low income families that I may be someone who understands their struggle. Finally, I hope it gets people talking about class in the ways that we talk about other experiences of oppression within the context of academic experiences and successes.

Poverty Tourism

I read this article the other day over at Mother Jones. It’s one person’s tale of working as a picker in a warehouse. She spend five days as a picker and writes an expose on the working conditions in the warehouse. I’ll say this once:  I am an advocate for human rights which includes labor issues.  But I have several issues with this article and this type of journalism. It’s a form of “poverty tourism” where middle class people tour the working class to gain insight and experiences that they believe will make them more enlightened.

This article is the epitome of the disconnect between middle class intellectuals and those of the other classes. I cannot speak from an upper class perspective, but I can speak from the working class. There is all this knowledge being created in the middle classes that creates the narrative of “good” and “bad.” This group gets to expound upon the horrors created by the upper classes onto those in the working classes while the middle class intellectuals sit by virtually blameless. Yet, they are the ones writing the article, selling books, and giving speeches on the classism they perpetuate and benefit from.

The disconnect between middle class is apparent from the outset. A middle class woman knowingly takes a job she doesn’t need in order to get a profitable experience. With unemployment at 8% or more, it’s shameful to take a weeks worth of wages from a person who needs them, but she and her editors did not even discuss the privilege or ethics of her taking this job.

Furthermore, her ability to obtain a genuine experience of the working conditions is questionable. There is a difference in the effects of manual labor on a person’s body. A person who has been working manual labor for many years may have less trouble adjusting to the working conditions than a writer. This is not to argue that the  quotas and speed requirements are not troublesome, but the rawness of her pain may be exaggerated by her lack of current experience in the working class.

But this is all part of the disconnect between the middle class and working class. It is even apparent in the title “I was a warehouse wage slave.”  The American middle class values the hierachary created by capitalism. Such phrases reinforce the middle class belief of what kind of work is “valued” and “fulfilling.” Read warehouse work is wage slavery and writing for Mother Jones is not.  My mother, who is in her 60s, has been a waitress nearly her entire adult working life. She averages about 60 hours a week. Two year ago was diagnosed and treated for breast cancer  During her chemo treatment, she cut down to 35 hours a week. She could have cut back more if she wanted to, but the fact is that she didn’t want to cut back–not because she needed the money–but she because she needed the activity and socialization. She finds value in her work in terms of how good of a waitress she is and the friendships she has made through the restaurant. Articles such as this, discounts the value that working class people may find in their jobs. The writer further dehumanizes working class people when she refers to them as “drones” because people are defined by their work which couldn’t possibly have meaning or value.

Ever since Upton Sinclair wrote the “Jungle” we have seen muckraking journalist trying to bring the plight of the working class to the middle to upper middle classes. My question is this: Is anyone really surprised by the working conditions? Do we as a society really believe that we can get our products cheap and fast without some kind of violation of human rights? We need to move beyond this type of expose and start thinking, talking, and writing about–not just what do we need to give up and what are we willing to give up in order to advance a human rights agenda–but how and why are we benefitting from exposing the oppression of working class people. Instead of focusing on the emotional manipulation of working conditions, we need to challenge people to think critically about capitalism, and its insatiable appetite.

Education accessibility

As I enter the academic job market, I’ve been doing a lot of reflection trying to understand what I want to do and where I want to be. I am quite green and naive about what it means to work in academia. I’m a first generation college graduate. I was lucky enough to have an older sister to blaze the trail for me. Though I was a late starter (aka non-traditional student), I knew the ropes of applying to college, putting down the deposit money to hold your place, and completing the FAFSA. I am the first in my immediate family to go on to graduate school. Applying and completing my master’s program was not so different from my bachelors. I completed my undergraduate and graduate education via weekend programs at very reputable private colleges. I was exposed to great professors who were dedicated to teaching and mentoring me through the process.

Recently, I found that this type of accessibility is not always welcomed by faculty. There are faculty members in some schools that only want to teach within traditional day programs. Bemoan any mention of having to teach at night or the weekends. Thus, leaving many of these courses to adjunct/community faculty to teach. While this is a fantastic opportunity for adjunct instructors and students, I am disappointed that a group of students (those who can ONLY take night and weekend classes)  will never have exposure to some great scholars.

Educational accessibility is social justice issue for me. Despite what many think, post secondary education continues to be a relatively white, middle (upper) class  privilege. Without the accessibility of a weekend program, I would have never been able to complete my education. I needed a program that was flexible enough so my partner could work while I stayed home with our two small children during the week. Then on the weekends, my partner took care of the children while I went to class. My children grew up on college campuses as I moved from undergrad to graduate level work.

Then I went on to the PhD program. In my admissions essay, I wrote about wanting to teach and do research. That is what I wanted to do with my PhD. It’s still what I want to do, but what seemed so simple nearly 4 years ago, does not seem as simple today. There is a wide range of the types of positions to choose from tenure track to non-tenure track, research intensive to teaching colleges, and BSW, MSW, and PhD programs. Among all of these options though, one thing remains clear to me. I want to be at a school where I have the ability to teach in programs that emphasize accessibility. And I’m not just talking about accessibility in terms of ability. I’m talking about in terms of day, evening, online, and weekend classes or some variation. I was only able to obtain my education because of weekend and evening classes and I want to make sure I pay that opportunity forward to others. I am committed to teaching on the day, time, and locations that make it possible to bring educational opportunities to people who may not otherwise have the opportunity.

Leave your ego at the door

Great article in The Chronicle of Higher Education: Being Mean in Academe

I too have been thinking a lot about meanness in academia.  I think this recent post in The Chronicle of Higher Education gets at one point of meanness in terms of the ways in which we provide critique and feedback to others, but it also got me thinking more about how others perceive and interpret feedback. I don’t support putting work down on personal level or lambasting them at professional conferences or presentations. I don’t support feedback that is not constructive. Constructive feedback is the key word here. This is feedback and critique meant to advance thinking, writing, and knowledge development. It is not personal. Yet, I’ve encountered people in the academy that cannot take feedback or critique without taking it personally. Their own self-doubt or ego inhibits their ability to receive feedback graciously and kindly. Instead, they respond in a retaliatory manner to defend their own ego and bully others into submission. This is a level of meanness that also needs to be considered. When we are working together to advance thinking, writing, and knowledge, it cannot be done in isolation. Feedback and critique are essential. We need to put our self-doubt and egos aside to really think about the greater purpose of our work. For me, the work I do will never be about self-glory, rather it’s about advancing the prevention of violence against women and children. If you have  feedback, suggestions, or critique on how to advance this purpose  I’m happy to have an ally to work with.

Disheartened in Tampa

I’ve been pondering my SSWR experience since returning from Tampa last week. I attend only a few sessions as I was also on a mini-vacation with my family. As a lover of research and applied research, I love the SSWR conference. However, I left Tampa last Sunday feeling a little disheartened. I attended a session where a prominent social work researcher lumped cultural healing practices in the same category as reparative and primal scream therapy. He made bold assumptions and offensive remarks about cultural healing practices such as Reiki, Ayurveda, and acupuncture. At one point, I was embarrassed of his lack of cultural awareness and his ignorance. As he preceded to rail against these practices, calling them bogus, encouraging lawsuits against MSWs who practice these techniques, he began to show screenshots of MSW practitioners who practice some of these techniques. As he went through each slide, he mocked these people and the audience roared with laugher. At one point, I thought of walking out, but I needed to see if anyone would bring up the cultural relevance of these practices. No one did!

I wanted to call him out. I wanted to say something, but here’s the thing: He’s a prominent researcher with several important positions. The power he holds kept me silent. I’m angry at myself for allowing the power to matter.

My issue isn’t specifically with his lack of belief in any types of alternative medicine. I am a notorious skeptic of non-Western medicine even as I have a partner who is studying holistic healing practices. I have four main complaints about this presentation and his power. First, he failed to understand  the differences between cultural practices (i.e. acupuncture, Shamanism, Reiki, and Ayurveda) versus alternative therapies (i.e. reparative, primal scream, rebirthing, etc.). By lumping them together as the same types of practice, I question his understanding of the various methods. Second, his use of the word “bogus” to describe the alternative practices makes me question his ability to logically argue against them. Rather than presenting evidence against these, he used incendiary words. That’s just academically weak.  Third, displaying the website of his MSW colleagues to mock them is an ad hominem attack and/or appeal to ridicule which are logical fallacies. Furthermore, by mocking these social work practitioners, he appears to disregard NASW Code of Ethics 2.1a and 2.1b of treating colleagues with respect and avoiding unwarranted negative criticism of colleagues in front of other professionals. Finally, I take issue with the power he holds. As a person who sits on a number of editorial boards of professional journals and  grant reviewer, he hold a lot of power in determining the research that gets funded and published. I have great concern with someone who gets to be a “decider” who cannot logically and professionally argue his opinion but instead chooses to present it as evidence. I wonder how this affects his decision-making in the review process.  I left SSWR disheartened by the fact that so much power is held by such a person.

Privilege of learning

The new term of classes starts on Saturday. I’m going to begin class with a reminder about the privilege of education and learning. I want to remind students that they have the privilege of coming to class on time, giving presentations, taking part in discussion, writing papers, reading articles, completing 500 practicum hours, having opportunities that others–the wait-listed, the rejected, the unknowns–do not. A master’s education is a privilege that many people is the United States and abroad do not receive. I hope that students start this term with enthusiasm for attending class, presenting material, developing and expressing ideas, and enjoying their learning opportunities rather than disdain for the work of obtaining an education.