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.

Informal supports for children exposed to domestic violence

Yesterday, at the conference presentation I did, they began with by reading my bio. Basically it states my education and my research interests. I was presenting on ethical considerations with social media in social work. As usual, after the presentation, attendees will come talk to me about the presentation and seek resources. However, yesterday was unusual in the sense that a person came up to talk to me about my research interests. She wanted to talk to me about child exposure to domestic violence. I was super excited as I love talking about research and any information I can pass along about domestic violence and child exposure makes me happy. Her questions are the same I hear from many people–they know kids who are being exposed but don’t know what to do to help them. They are not necessarily looking for professional resources like therapy rather they are looking for things they can do on a personal level to help. I spoke with her about some of the things I have learned that have had a positive influence on children’s lives. The assistance doesn’t need to be directly related to the violence they are seeing, hearing, and experiencing. It can be highlighting and encouraging existing talents such as art, music, and sports. Or giving kids opportunities to experience new things. Mostly, it’s modeling caring relationships so kids can experience alternatives. These “interventions” are rather simple, but may make a huge difference. I think it’s a matter of gathering more information of informal supports and getting this information out to the general public.

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.

Justice and Forgiveness

***trigger warning for animal violence***

I’ve been thinking a lot about the concepts and connection of justice and forgiveness. Much of what has sparked this idea is Michael Vick’s–convicted felon and Quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles–successful return to the NFL. He is a polarizing person these days. People continue to raise concerns about his successful career in light of his being convicted of engaging and financing dog fighting ventures. His conviction brought with it a 23 month prison sentence which he served and probation which he is currently serving (ends in 2012). He has been convicted of  heinous violent crimes. He has admitted to directly participating in dog fighting and the execution of 6-8 dogs by hanging or drowning. Terrible, terrible things.

I cannot nor would I ever defend his crimes or conviction, but what I’ve been thinking about is this idea of (and not just of Vick) about life after the crime and punishment. I’m thinking about the role of forgiveness in allowing convicted criminals to re-join society.  We have a justice system that provides sentences for criminals to serve in order to pay the debt for the crimes committed. Too often we hear of stories of how convicted criminals cannot find jobs upon release from prison because of their criminal background. They have a difficult time re-joining society because of the barriers of criminal histories. And I’m thinking that forgiveness is missing. In order for our justice system to work, we as a society have to accept that 1) people make mistakes, 2) people can change, 3) that serving a sentence for crime should pay the debt for the crime, and 4) provide for forgiveness to people after serving time. If we are unwilling to accept these ideas then what is the point of having people serve anything but life sentences? If they are continually punished for their crime after they have served their sentence, why bother letting them out of prison? Again, this is beyond Vick, people are continually held hostage by their criminal backgrounds which limits the opportunities for change and success. I’m not advocating for forgetting or not holding people accountable for the heinous crimes they commit, but what I’m arguing is to truly have justice, if the punishment for a crime is less than a life sentence than we need to learn forgiveness so that people can move beyond their mistakes and allow for successful transition back into society.

Masculinity and team building

Much of my research is centered around the idea of engaging men to prevention violence against women and children. As part of my learning about male engagement and gender justice, I’ve been exploring ideas of masculinity, gender and sex roles, socialization, etc. So, of course, I filter many of my interactions with men through this lens.

Recently, I was at my daughter’s cross-country end of the year banquet. This was her first year in cr0ss country and my first experience in the foray of school athletics. I have been so impressed with her coaches and their work with the girls that I beam with pride at every meet. The head coach has a team philosophy in that all girls work together (varsity and junio varsity), they cheer every runner to the finish line, and any win is a win for the entire team (47+ girls). Basically he (the coach) fosters a family environment for the girls where community and team work are priority. Of course, I love this. I love the idea of healthy competition joined with community and team building. Isn’t this what sports should be about?

Okay so back to the banquet. The banquet consisted of both the girls and boys teams’, their families, and the coaches coming together in the high school cafeteria/common area to share a meal, watch a slide show of the season, and celebrate the successes of both teams. As we finished eating, the slide show began–ladies first. The slide show consisted of sweet songs by the Taylor Swift like performers, with 2 slides for each female runner–one of a picture of them with their stats and then another with cameo pictures. After the girls, then the boys slide show began. I was immediately struck with the fact that the first song was “Eye of the Tiger.” The boys slide show consisted of only pictures and what I would label more aggressive or adrenaline soaked songs.  I notes this to myself and thought hmmm…interesting.

Then the awards ceremony begins. Again, ladies first. The head girls coach gets up and presents the awards. He notes that the team voted on some awards and the coaches picked some based on stats. Then the boys coach gets up to present the awards. For almost every award the team voted on, the boys coached trumped their choice and chose his own winner. Again, I noted this in my head.

Finally, we get to the part where the captains get up to speak about the year and thank the supporters. This time, the boys go first. The first a boys’ captain speaks about how hard it was to have “little 7th and 8th graders running around” and that sometimes they get “out of line” in which he “must smack them.” The audience laughs. He then goes on to say talk about how the coach shakes his head at these 7th and 8th grades and basically says “do what you have to do.” I was struck with horror. Then one of the girls’ captain gets up to speak. She begins with talking about how much of the team is like a family to her, how much fun they had, how much she will miss the team after she graduates,  the support of the other girls, and hastily remembers to thank the coaches and parents before finishes. Wow!

There was such a startling difference in the obviously different approaches by each coach. I’m so surprised. I’m not sure why though. The overly macho and aggression in the boys team versus the girls team probably isn’t new. And I know that coaching philosophy plays a huge role in the mood and attitude of the team. I feel sad for the boys that their experience isn’t more community based. I wonder what they are missing. I wonder how it would look if they were coached using the same philosophy as the girls’ coach uses. Would there be drastically different attitudes and results? After all, the entire girls varsity team competed in state with 2 girls qualifying individually and 1 coming in first place. The boys had 2 boys qualify and 1 coming in the 4th place.  I think both teams did well, but it says something when a whole team qualifies to compete together.

Social work in social media

I just got home from the Council of Social Work Education’s Annual Program Meeting in Portland. I went to present a think tank on social media in the classroom. The presentation was set for the last day of the program so I used the first four days just to get a sense of what people were talking about in social work education regarding social media. I was happy to see a lot of sessions dedicated to Web 2.0. I was even lucky enough to participate in a great focus group on social media. And again, I have to give props to University @ Buffalo who are the best users of social media in the field. It’s so amazing how that school has embraced the value of having a social media presence. Overall, I was not surprised to find that people are generally timid about using social media or just generally dismissive of it has a valuable tool. However, I was surprised by the number of people presenting on Web 2.0 who are not users. I found this quite disturbing. I question their ability to fully understand the nuances of how to use tools such as Twitter, Facebook, or blogs if they are not users. I just don’t get how someone can present on this topic if they have no Web 2.0 presence.

Turn those pink ribbons PURPLE

So, tomorrow begins the great month of October. It’s my favorite month–both of my children are born in October and then there is Halloween. And finally it’s Domestic Violence Awareness month. I know, you’d probably hardly realize it since it typically gets washed in pink breast cancer awareness by the mass marketing machine known as Susan G. Komen foundation. Now, I’m supportive of raising awareness about breast cancer, but I want to raise awareness about domestic violence too. While we try to find a cure for breast cancer, we can actually PREVENT domestic violence.

Even after all these years, domestic violence is still shrouded in silence and in fear. No one wants to talk about it. No one wants to confront that it happens.

Can you imagine what the world would look like if we turned all those pink ribbons purple? If all those M&Ms were purple and white, the NFL wore purple ribbons, or if Ford and Yoplait donated massive amounts of money to raise awareness and prevent domestic violence? I just think if we brought this out to the forefront of consciousness maybe we’d start thinking different about domestic violence. Maybe we’d start talking about it.  If every where we went, we saw purple ribbons rather than pink ribbons would it change the actions or the views of society?

My challenge to you is to turn those pink ribbons PURPLE in support of our daughters, sisters, mothers, lovers, and friends in raising awareness about Domestic Violence.

Here’s what you can do to turn those pink ribbons PURPLE:

Donate to your local domestic violence shelter or National Coalition Against Domestic Violence or National Network to End Domestic Violence or National Domestic Violence Hotline

Paint in Purple with Pixel Project

Get the facts

Attend a Domestic Violence Awareness Month Event

Urge your representatives to co-sponsor the International Violence Against Women Act

Cultural competency and othering

One inherent assumption in many of the definitions about cultural competence, is that we are to teach, learn, understand other cultures so that we know how to work with them. The issue begins with this “we.” Who is the “we?” An issue with cultural competence is the assumption that workers need training to work with the “other” or policies need grooming to make them cultural sensitive to be acceptable to all.  This “othering” is problematic for me. This “othering” is similar to the concept of stigmatization. By placing separate efforts/classes/trainings in cultural competency, we are stigmatizing the work with different population groups.

It makes me think about how unwelcoming professions, classes, and work places must be to these “others” if we have special classes and training on how to work with THEM.  According to Link and Phelan, “labeled persons are placed in distinct categories to separate ‘us’ from ‘them'” which is what we are doing by creating separateness in teaching cultural competency.

It  is well understood that the focus on cultural competence is to bring attention to the historical lack of focus on anything other than white, middle-class, male values in order to serve a wider population in the most effective and pertinent manner. However, when we teach how to work with the other, I wonder if we are teaching that others do not belong. So, my question is how do we incorporate all types of diversity throughout our education in order to prevent “othering?” Not specific classes on cultural competence or diversity, but inherently and explicitly acknowledge in all practice, methods, and research classes the differences and similarities in working with a broad or distinct population. The prevention of “othering” groups may increase the inclusion of more diversity within the professions which will continue to increase the mainstreaming of cultural competencies in general education and training.