CIT Training – A police beating that didn’t happen.

There’s been a lot of focus lately on Crisis Intervention Training for police officers. It’s being billed as an antidote to the failures of police to handle situations involving mental illness. Maryland just became the first state to mandate it state-wide for all officers, thanks to the work of the #JusticeForEthan movement. I’ll be writing more about it over the summer, but here’s a single anecdote from the Boston area.

Earlier this month, Somerville Police Officers Alan Monaco and Timothy Sullivan responded to a call about a fight between two young men. They found one of them, Mike, in an agitated state.

“He started flipping out — get your effing hands off me, don’t touch me!” Monaco recalled. “He was up and down, he would be screaming and yelling one minute, nice and talking and smoking cigarettes the next. We talked about what the issue is; he said the other kid said something detrimental about his mother, and his mother’s sick, and he spit in his face.”

Coincidentally, the two Somerville officers had just been in a training session on mental disorders — including Asperger’s, one of Mike’s diagnoses. So they knew people with Asperger’s can be hyper-sensitive about being touched and insensitive about how close to get to other people. Like Mike, who got far too close to the officers when he talked to them, right up into their faces.

“Normally for a police officer, if you invade our space, we have a safety zone where we don’t want people close to us,” Monaco said. “I would have pushed him away. I would have physically pushed him off me.”

Instead of getting physical, the officers just let Mike talk, and rant, and spit, and de-escalate. No one went to jail. No one got beaten. This is the opposite of the cult of compliance. I’m genuinely optimistic about this training as a pathway forward for us, not just in terms of disability, but in general what it looks like when you have a police force trained to empathize, to guard, not to be warriors.

We’ll keep watching.

Tale of Inclusion: Down Syndrome and Violence at the Play Area

Yesterday I got a comment on another post from a parent who ended up on my blog. The short version is that at a public play-place her son was hurt by a child with DS and she didn’t know what to do about it, because how can you blame a child with DS for anything? I offer the comment in full and then my response. 

I need advice. I have a four-year-old son who does not have Down Syndrome. Today, we went to a restaurant that had a play area. My son is big (tall and muscular) for his age, and I’ve always been worried about his playing in the play area there in fear that HE might hurt someone. Today at lunch he came screaming and crying out of the play area. It took five minutes to calm him down to the point to figure out that another child hurt him.

At this time, I saw a mother enter the play area and then come back out (by herself) but look at me as if I were a horrible parent because my child is screaming in the restaurant. So, after I finally calm my son down enough to find out that another child pinched him on the cheeks hard (and also I later found out from another child that the same child had first hit my son on the chin…and on the way home discovered that the child had pulled my son’s legs out from under him), I decided to go find the child, explain to him (possibly not in the nicest tone of voice) that hurting my child is not acceptable, and then tracking down the child’s parents (by the way…the woman who stared my child and me down for my son’s screaming was the boy’s mother and she knew what he did and still did nothing to stop the child) to explain to them that their child’s behavior was unacceptable…it turns out the child had Down’s. The one who violently hurt my son.

Of course, I couldn’t take action against the child or the parents, but how do you explain to a four-year-old who only understands that he was hurt for no reason? (By the way, my son did not behave with aggression to the child. Several other children and the parents who were sitting in the play area–the only reason I was not in there physically was because there was no more room for parents–substantiated that the other child turned violent toward my son for no reason.) How is anyone (whether they “know” what they are doing or not…and this child knew that what he did to my child was wrong) allowed to do violence to another? How is it more acceptable for some?

Because I even knew it was “taboo” to blame a child with Down’s for his behavior. I hate to say it, but I’m furious with the parents because they knew that their child was violent, knew that he was the one who hurt my son, didn’t remove their child from the play area, didn’t apologize to my son (but instead looked at me as if I were a horrible mother and my child a horrible child because my child was screaming because THEIR CHILD HURT MY CHILD).

DEAR READERS PLEASE NOTE – The person with the comment and I have exchanged emails and I anticipate she will read this blog. If you are rude in comments, I will simply delete your post without warning! It’s fine to disagree thoughtfully, I’d love to hear better ways of framing a response, but no rudeness to someone genuinely looking for help. 

Dear S.
I’m really glad you wrote me and want to have this conversation. It’s important. When my son was three, the idea that he could just go into a play area and be around the other kids as seemed impossible. How could he control his behavior? What if the other kids didn’t understand his limitations? Most of all, what if he got stuck in one of the big climbing contraptions? Could he even physically, ever, go up those ladders and down those slides?

Now he does it all the time. I’m so proud of his physical and social development, but I’m still always worried something will go wrong. So far mostly so good, but your story reminds me of the challenges.

Here are my two key points:
First –  Having Down syndrome does NOT mean one can hurt other people without consequence. That is exactly the opposite of the message that I would hope to convey. I actually think it’s extra vital that we make sure that our children understand the consequences of their actions. It’s a harsh world out there for people with disabilities, and learning control is vital to inclusion. The problem is how. How do you make the connections between actions and results apparent with someone who has speech/developmental delays? There are solutions, or at least ideas, and I’ll offer them below.

Second –  I was struck by how often you talked about feeling shame. Other parents were looking at you, you felt like a bad mother, but you know that you didn’t do anything wrong. It’s not a good feeling. Here’s something to consider – That shame you were feeling, the shame that the other parents are looking at you and blaming you, parents of kids with disabilities live with that shame all the time. It can get really oppressive, making parents like us self-isolate. We just stay home, keeping our kids out of the grocery store, playground, or even school.

I’ve felt it, I feel it all the time when my son acts in a non-typical way, or his nose is too runny and people are judging me, when he shouts in the barber shop, when he dances randomly in the mall, I encounter so many micro-aggressions on a day-to-day basis that you’d think I’d be used to it, but no. I still feel shame.


So I’m asking you, as a parent, to think about that emotion you felt, to know that you were in the right here, but to approach those parents with compassion and empathy.

So now what? I operate under the principle of inclusion, but not same-ness. My goal is to have your son and the boy with DS included together, safely, in the play-space. That doesn’t mean consequence-free violence, but it also doesn’t mean that you can respond to the incident as you would for other kids, because the usual methods of parental reaction – yelling (sadly), time-outs, removal of privileges – might not have any meaning. Yeah, a parent can take away a toy or fun activity from a four-year-old with Down syndrome, but depending on their developmental level, it might not have any meaning. How do you connect the consequence to the act of hurting your son? That’s the challenge here.

The first step is to understand what might have happened. What does the violent behavior – pinching, tripping, hitting – mean in this case? Does it come from anger? Aggression? Confusion? Fear? Sometimes it’s from over-stimulation. Or, and this is pretty common, people with Down syndrome use physical responses as an alternate form of communication. When you don’t have words, hitting or hugging communicates perfectly well from the perspective of the child, and it might not even communicate what you think it does.

People with Down syndrome are not any more likely to be violent by nature than anyone else, in fact probably less so, but they do often have boundary issues. Maybe the parents knew their child was violent, as you say, but maybe not. We – parents – are often surprised by our children’s response to situations. I knew a boy who liked to grab hair and pull – it was an interesting texture and sensation for him. My son often pushes hands away, sometimes slapping, when he’s angry or frustrated. One time my son Nico was so afraid of splashing water that he reached out and grabbed my face with his hand, cutting the skin with his nail, terrified. That’s violent, but different than fighting from aggression or anger, or from knocking someone down because you’re playing ninja and don’t have good control.

The goal here is to communicate. We don’t want four year olds, or fourteen year olds, hitting as a way of expressing their frustrations. On the other hand, typical interventions – yelling, time outs, taking away privileges – might not have a lot of meaning for the child with Down syndrome. When my daughter misbehaves, we talk about it, we make sure to verbalize a clear cause-effect relationship. When my son, who has DS, misbehaves, we have to be more creative.
There are intervention strategies for kids with Down syndrome who are “challenging.” You focus on skills. You focus on communication. You find positive reinforcement rather than punishment (which works better for all kids). 

One technique we’ve used with Nico is the social story. They are picture and word-based behavioral stories that try to make sure a person understands a situation and the consequences of actions, to help them make better decisions in the future. They use a lot of positive affirmation and perhaps one or two pieces of instructional advice to try and achieve better response to situations.  Therapists make them for their patients, though parents can make them as well. Here, for example, is a story about playing nicely with a brother, easily adapted for a public playground. Here’s another. Social stories have worked wonders for my son, but each kid is different.

So what might you do if you see the parents again, or if something like this happens again?

Comfort your son and comfort yourself! I’m sorry that people looked at you as if you were a horrible parent, but don’t let them get you down! People judge all the time and are usually clueless about context; ultimately, the opinions of strangers aren’t that important (to me anyway). Remember that no outsider ever has a clue about what’s going on in a family and try to just do what’s right.


Engage the parents. Tell them what happened. I would be devastated to know my son hurt another child, and so might they. Remember that raising a child with special needs is pretty difficult, so once you have calmed yourself and your child, engage with empathy
If you see these parents again, I can’t tell you they’ll be happy to hear from you, but I think you have the right to talk to them because your son was hurt. Moreover, I think building an inclusive society requires someone to make the first conversational move, to reach out, and I’m hoping you are the one to do it.

I would say something like, “I know you’ve got a lot of challenges, but I felt it was important to tell you that that your child hurt my child today in the play area. Is there a way we can talk to him about more appropriate play? Is there anything that I or my son can do to help?

In the end, I’m really sorry that your son got hurt.

I hope, though, that this is a moment that can lead towards a more inclusive society, not away from it. Inclusion, not same-ness. We don’t respond to this boy hurting your son the same way that we might from another child. Same-ness just won’t accomplish anything. But we DO respond. We must respond, and respond with dialogue, patience, creativity, and empathy.

Talking While Privileged – A continuing series

I write a lot about privilege and I have a lot of privilege. I’ve long argued that it’s important to be very thoughtful when writing about academic labor while tenured, gender while male, race while white, disability while able-bodied, and so forth.

When writing about a given power dynamic, I often have the power by virtue of my race, class, gender, sexuality, ability, etc. And yet, I really do want to engage on these important issues. What to do?

My response was to come up with some guidelines, writing first about gender (my rules for male feminist discourse) then academic privilege. In the wake of #UCSB, I’ve been watching men talk, even men who take the label of feminist, perhaps especially men who call themselves feminists, who could really use these rules.

For example, here are two posts on Charles Clymer, who has said some amazingly offensive things in pursuit of his perfect male feminism. Some of the issues here aren’t new, but they have re-emerged in recent days. Here’s one particularly telling quote:

“Stephanie, I’m going to let you in on a little secret that, apparently, no one has had the guts to tell you up to this point in your life: having a vagina does not grant you magical powers of perception and nuance anymore than my penis magically blinds me from the horrors of the world.

This may, I guess, have some truth in it. Our genitalia does not necessarily determine our degree of knowledge. And yet, our gender identity does position us on various power spectra that come into play here.

So for Mr. Clymer and anyone else who need it, it feels like it might be a good time to revisit my rules, with a few revisions.

  1. Don’t talk at all. Listen for awhile. 
  2. It’s not about you (it’s about the people with less privilege)
  3. It’s sometimes about you (i.e. it’s very important that men talk to men about rape)
  4. It’s always about them, so amplify their voices.
  5. When you speak, don’t expect gratitude and take criticism graciously.
Make sure, throughout the process, that the people with less privilege, with less power, have their voices at the center of the discussion. For example, I never publish about feminism or gender, or really just about anything, without linking to articles written by women, usually women of color, and preferably naming them and their expertise in public. 
I do this for two reasons: One, rule #4. 
Two, these people are brilliant. And while folks such as Amanda Marcotte, Brittany Cooper, Jessica Valenti, Soraya Chemaly, Melissa McEwan, Tressie McMillan Cottom, just to name a few who I read and from whom I learn, don’t especially need me to amplify their voices, they lead me to lesser known feminist writers who do.
Men have a crucial place in this conversation. But instead of asserting it, I try to ask those who are disadvantaged by the power dynamics what would they like from me? Sometimes, I get told to listen. Sometimes, I get told to call out sexism when I see it. Sometimes, I get told there is in fact no place for me in this conversation. I think that’s wrong, but by understanding the privilege at play, thinking about my rules, I let such things go.

My advice for Mr. Clymer, which is clearly too late, is this – When you have privilege, sometimes people will get angry at you, be rude to you. It will feel unfair. It may be unfair. Be gracious. If you are a male feminist, there will be women who are deeply angry at men, who just want men to shut up, or more reasonably want men to allow women to have their own conversation without you. And you will REALLY REALLY want to insert yourself into the conversation, to show that you are a great ally, that you really get it, that not all men are bad, and that maybe you even understand feminism better than lots of other women!

Instead, please revisit rule #1.

“It’s so sad when people have special needs”: Thoughts on Inclusion from the Bus Stop

Not Nico’s Actual Bus

“It’s so sad when people have special needs.”

A caring, sweet, 4th-grader said this to me at the bus stop a few minutes ago. My son and I crossed the street, running and laughing, happy. Then he asked me to go see a dog that was being walked across the grass, I said no, we had to go get in line for the bus, so he said no to me, and then pouted. Nico is really developing his pout lately.

The girl, M, came over and reached out her hands to Nico asking if she could help. He said, passionately, “No!” Then she turned to me and smiled and said, “It’s so sad when people have special needs.”

It’s one of those moments when, as a parent, words fall with a kind of physical force. It’s not that they hurt, at least not in this case, but for me my whole body tenses in these kinds of interactions. I know, or I suspect, that I’m hitting a moment in which I might shape language, perception, action, reaction, and more – not just for my son, but for anyone this child interacts with who has special needs, and her friends and family.

If I handle it right, I hope, I might help build a more inclusive society and I might even manage to erode the gap between help and friendship (seriously, follow that link. It’s really interesting).

I said, “I don’t think having special needs is sad. I think it can be sad when people with special needs don’t get the help they need, and even worse when they don’t have a good community of friends and family around them.”

M. thought about this and said, “I used to help my grandpa. He was in a wheelchair because of the war and his leg.”

I replied, “Exactly, and imagine if he didn’t have you and your family and his friends not just to help push his chair, but to be his granddaughter, to be his friends, and to make sure he has what he needs. And if our community didn’t build wheelchair ramps or automatic doors, so he couldn’t have moved around.”

She nodded. Then the bus came and I had to get my surly boy onto his feet and onto the bus, which he did with only mild protest, surrounding by his aide and three girls, M, F and H, with G waiting for him on the bus.

I’m not quite satisfied with my answer, but I’ll keep working on it.

Two other stories about inclusion and the girls who go to school with my son. And yeah, it’s pretty much the girls, a sign of the ways that girls are pushed towards caregiving early, but that’s another essay.

I’ve written about H before, back on the first days of school, when she included herself with Nico in a way that made me weep. She comes over and has playdates sometimes, and while she and my daughter have a beautiful big-sister/little-sister relationship, she’s never satisfied just playing with Ellie for all my daughter provides her with an imaginative hyperverbal playmate for their games. Instead, every few minutes, she breaks away to go find Nico and see if she can bring him in. Sometimes, it works. On Sunday, the three kids sat huddled in a corner of couch passing two ipads around, giggling and happy. It was so powerfully inclusive, especially given that Nico had refused to participate in my daughter’s birthday party earlier that day (too many kids, too loud, too hot).

F, on the other hand, lives across the street, but I haven’t really processed her relationship with Nico. She’s quiet, or at least a bunch of the other neighborhood kids are really loud. Two Fridays ago, though, Nico’s aide wasn’t on the bus and F was one of the girls who volunteered to help. It didn’t go well at all, but everyone made it home safely.

Monday morning, though, I saw F with a plastic bag with little rectangles of paper, pencil drawings, and words written on it. I asked her what they were and discovered that she was trying to replicate one of the communication systems that the teachers and aides use for Nico. They carry a bunch of communication cards (bathroom, thirsty, desk, marker, etc. They look more or less like this.) to supplement the use of an Ipad-based communication program. F decided to make her own cards. As near as I can tell, no one told her to do this or helped her – she just observed what the teachers were doing and decided to generate her own assistive technology.

So, M, thinking more about the community in which my son lives, I can say pretty strongly that it is not so sad when people have special needs. Thanks to you and his other friends who are trying to do their best to create a more inclusive society. I’ll do what I can to help you.

Elliot Rodger and Intersectionality. Fighting “the shrug.”

A representation of possible
intersections. Not representative of Rodger.

The murders in California and the subsequent #YesAllWomen hashtag (an overview) have, appropriately, dominated my social media world since it happened. For some, the murder is a clear call to action – but to act where? How? For others, the response has been to shrug, to say, “it’s complicated,” or just to say the guy was crazy, it’s tragic, but what can we actually do?

Who is to know, such voices ask, why he did it and what we ought to do in response?  For some, this shrug of “what can we do?” is genuine. For others, though, it’s a strategy to keep attention OFF of misogyny or gun violence, in particular (two fields relevant to this crime on which large groups of people do not want attention focused). “The shrug,” as I’m calling it, serves the pro-gun and misogynistic status quo.

It turns out, though, that feminist theory has (since the late 80s) come up with a way to proceed through this morass of fields, ideas, and complexities: intersectionality


I hesitate mentioning the feminist origin of this concept, as it will immediately turn some people away, but perhaps that’s important to acknowledge as well. It emerged as a way of talking primarily about race, class, and gender together, then sexuality, and now any other relevant field. It allows us to say – today, I am focused on one topic, but I acknowledge the others exist. More importantly, I see that they interact.

I see clear arguments to make the UCSB killings about misogyny, about guns, about class, about mental illness. And that’s why the concept of intersectionality is so important – it allows us, when confronted with life, which is always complicated, to get past the almighty shrug.

Intersectional thinking allows us to:

…take his misogynistic words and link them to other groups who say the same things, and say that perhaps these trends in our culture matter, but that we tend not to notice the quotidian horrors and only the extraordinary, and maybe think about what it might take to classify such as hate groups and how we might want to respond after that, given that MRAs (Men’s Rights Activist – here’s a not-objective primer on the movement) and their ilk have regular access to mainstream discourse (as opposed to white power, for example)

…consider access to guns and whether it is reasonable to advocate for a policy that might have allowed the police to easily realize that he had been buying guns and ammo after the police received a call from his parents.

…think about the limitations of psychiatric care and how we might do better with people experiencing these kinds of issues and try to better integrate, if that was indeed his needs.

….think about the complexities of class privilege, race, bullying and all the other categories that intersected in this lone, deranged, killer.

Then ask – in which of these fields might we reasonably do better?

I personally have spent many hours in my context as a writer about gender talking to MRAs, trying to see their side of the story, trying to find common ground. I wonder if it’s time to shift and deal with them as I do antisemites and the white power folks who, like MRAs, do sometimes notice real problems with their lives but blame them on the wrong things and inspire fringe members to direct acts of terror. 

I’m thinking about it.

Intersectionality matters. We can focus on the controlling ideology of misogyny that underlies this particular crime without losing sight of the intersections.

In case you aren’t convinced, here’s another way of looking at it:

On Saturday, three people were shot at a Jewish Museum in Brussels. There may be many things involved with the shooter, but it’s reasonable to suspect antisemitism is part of the cause. A month or so ago three people were shot near Jewish community center in Kansas City. It was reasonable to suspect antisemitism was the cause, and it was, even though one can certainly argue the killer was mentally ill and could have done the killings without firearms, and even though he actually killed Christians.

It’s necessary, in the wake of such killings, to think about the ways that antisemitism is replicated in our country and what we might do to change attitudes.

In Isla Vista, a man said misogynistic things – he hated women, he hated men who had access to women – and then he killed people. Like the killers in Kansas City and Brussels, we can note that other factors matter.

It is necessary, however, to think about the ways in which his ideology is replicated in this country and what we might do to change attitudes.


Note: heavily updated with an explanation of intersectionality after 10:00 CST 5/26:

Sunday Roundup

It’s Sunday and it’s my birthday. Here’s my blog post.

I wrote good stuff this week. Please go read it and share it. 🙂 I published three essays – Chronicle on being a working dad, CNN on trigger warnings, and Chronicle Vitae on labor identity for full-time faculty, which is a record for me. All of these are themes to which I will return frequently in the year ahead.

I did an interview with Wisconsin Public Radio. The segment is here. I closed with:

If as professors, we just teach empathetically and respectfully, and think about what is our material and who our students are, I do feel that we’re going to take care of a lot of these cases before it comes up.

To some extent students are taking responsibility, it’s students who are driving this conversation who are asking for these policies. And we need to listen to them. That doesn’t mean we have to enact the policy that they are requesting, but we do have to be very open to the conversation and think about what’s happening in our classroom.

As an off-the-cuff remark, I’m pretty pleased with that. Approach conversations as dialogue, meet people with respect, and we’ll accomplish a lot in trying to be good humans.

Thank you, as always, for reading. Next week I am probably on semi-break as I work on footnotes. I do have a dozen essays I want to write, but I really need to do these notes.

And now, Venice cake.

    Not actually my cake!

    Resources: Scorn

    I’m working on a piece about the various ways that writers about higher education, especially those within the academy, write about students with absolute disdain. Here are some of the responses to the Trigger Warning and Commencement issue, both filled with scorn and not getting it.

    Here’s the worst, one so bad I am hesitant to even include the link. It’s from Chester Finn, who has “devoted his career to improving education in the United States.”

    Maybe not, for such unfamiliar and provocative views might make them, precious as they are, feel unwelcome, excluded, even distressed. And they surely don’t want that. Let’s face it. A growing portion of today’s student population, at least on elite campuses, holds expectations that are both schizy and spoiled: They should be free to do absolutely anything they want without institutional barriers or interference of any kind, yet the institution must protect them from every conceivable sort of harm or upset. Try to thread that needle. While you’re at it, write a very large check to pay for your child’s opportunity to benefit from four years in such a high-status center of learning.

    There’s another conservative voice, “No Wonder Putin Sneers at Us” from a non-educator who makes much the same argument.

    What a bunch of titty babies American college students can be. Who spends $50,000 per year to send their kid to a college where they are coddled like mental invalids? These aren’t institutions of higher learning; these are sanitariums. These Special Little Snowflakes are going to be as bunnies in the gator pit when they hit the real world.

    “Titty” babies.” Mental invalids? It’s interesting how Finn, with “schizy,” and this author, with “invalids,” relies on such language to talk about something that is in fact about mental trauma.

    Jonah Goldberg, of the American Enterprise Institute, does some similar work in the LA Times, writing:

    I can sympathize. But this way leads to madness.
    And what a strange madness it is. We live in a culture in which it is considered bigotry to question whether women should join combat units — but it is also apparently outrageous to subject women of the same age to realistic books and films about war without a warning? Even questioning the ubiquity of degrading porn, never mind labeling music or video games, is denounced as Comstockery, but labeling “The Iliad” makes sense?
    I do wish these people would make up their mind. Alas, that’s hard to do when you’ve lost it.

    The psychologist Michael Hurd, in “Is Academia Going Mad,” ruins some interesting points when he writes:

    Why is it automatically and always assumed that people wish to be taken care of, fussed over or given special attention because of their victimization? In my experience, people actually want just the opposite. They’ve been put upon enough and they don’t wish to draw even more attention to their problem. It’s not that they’re ashamed. They’re desperately looking for a way to move on, and being given an Official Victim Permission Slip in order to make some vapid college undergraduate feel superior does not help them

    “Vapid college undergraduate feel superior.”

    In The Stranger, we get “not about protecting delicate flowers from the sadz”

    Salon calls it “dumbing down education.”

    In the New Yorker, Jay Caspian King is really upset that someone told him Lolita is about the systematic rape of the young girl, because it distracts him from Nabokov’s amazing sentences. I’m not really sure how to respond to that.

    There are lots of ledes saying: trigger warning for trigger warnings. Hah hah!, I say. I get your joke.

    Then there’s the strange argument: Life doesn’t come with TWs, so why should the classroom? Professors who think their classroom is “life” are, I believe, not thinking about the complexities of their highly mediated environment.

    Karen Prior comes out against empathy in The Atlantic.

    Meanwhile, in the commencement story front, we see some similar patterns. Stephen Carter, law prof at Yale, writes in a spoof address:

    And, before I go any further, I would like to express my personal thanks to all of you for not rescinding my invitation. I know that matters were dicey for a while, given that I have held and defended actual positions on politically contested issues. Now and then I’ve strayed from the party line. And if the demonstrators would quiet down for a moment, I’d like to offer an abject apology for any way in which I have offended against the increasingly narrow and often obscure values of the academy.

    In my day, the college campus was a place that celebrated the diversity of ideas. Pure argument was our guide. Staking out an unpopular position was admired — and the admiration, in turn, provided excellent training in the virtues of tolerance on the one hand and, on the other, integrity.

    At Haverford, William Bowen, former president at Princeton, did Carter one better. Carter was an op-ed for Bloomberg. Bowen actually scolded the graduating seniors:

    A commencement speaker at Pennsylvania’s Haverford College called college students “immature” and “arrogant” Sunday for protesting a different speaker who ultimately withdrew.

    Bowen and Carter are criticized nicely here on “Dad’s Rule.”

    Then there’s Matt Bai, who ultimately blames us for being too soft on our kids.

    America’s college kids are back and resting at home this week, which is a good thing, because during the long months away they seem to have gone completely out of their minds.

    Bowen talks about Vietnam war protests. Bai talks about PC protests. These were “real” debates. More on that later.

    UPDATE: From the Wall Street Journal, this diatribe. I can’t even quote it, as the whole thing says – students are babies, parents and employers will thank me for being cruel, and you humanities professors (i.e. me) are semi/post-literate.

    So, what did I miss?

    The Last Acceptable Prejudice is ________.

    I think those four tweets say it pretty clearly. I link to two higher ed pieces. Both pick an issue – rural and religion – that imply the following. Higher Education may still contain prejudiced people about all kinds of things (race, gender, sexuality, for example), but those “mainstream” prejudices are at least not broadly acceptable. MY CAUSE, whatever it is, remains under the radar – it’s the last acceptable prejudice we hav to deal with.

    People, there are lots of prejudices. Some of them are more called out than others. Some of them in fact need to be rendered more visible. None of them are “last.” I wish it were otherwise.

    I am by far NOT the first person to notice this. s.e. smith wrote a great post in 2013 that said (focused on the widespread use of “last acceptable” in regards to obesity):

    The phrase keeps popping up, over and over and over again, in a wide variety of media, and it often remains unchallenged; I see it coming up in quotes, in titles, in lengthy essays, with minimal pushback. When Tasha Fierce confronted it at Bitch magazine a few years ago, people seemed genuinely surprised and offended when she said she didn’t agree that fat was bigotry’s last stand.

    Later, smith adds [my emphasis]:

    There’s a bigger issue at play here, which is the genuine belief that something is the ‘last acceptable prejudice’ in a world full of prejudicial attitudes. People use this phrasing because they think it’s true, and because they think it furthers their activism, and in the process, they do a lot of damage, in addition to making themselves look absolutely ridiculous…

    More than just being wrong, it’s also a classic example of setting marginalised groups against each other, rather than helping them work in solidarity, and it explains why intersectionality and an understanding of intersocial prejudices is so important. Because when people hear that ‘x is the last acceptable prejudice’ and they’re members of group y, what they’re hearing is that they don’t experience prejudice—which is in direct opposition to their personal lived experience of the world, and to what members of their social group know to be true.

    I am focused on issues related to disability and gender, where they intersect and where they don’t. I recognize all other kinds of intersocial prejudices exist. I am a little more concerned about the visibility of disability issues. I do think people in higher ed, and elsewhere, are more aware of sexism than ableism. So I try to raise the profile there.

    But it’s not the last anything.

    When you are an activist and you see your issue being ignored, it’s frustrating. Fat jokes, class jokes, rural jokes, religious jokes (just to take a few) permeate our culture, even our leftist intellectual academic culture, giving the sense that they might be “acceptable.” That’s a good conversation to have, the ways in which our ignorance of difference might lead us to perpetuate discrimination and prejudice.

    When we privilege one category over the other, though, we say that it is only our issue that needs attention. That we are the most oppressed. That you (collectively) are the most ignorant in regards to our cause. It’s not true. It is easy rhetoric to use, but it’s actually not all that savvy for building alliances and trying to shift language, perception, or policy.

    As s.e. smith says – the pathway out of these “last acceptable” woods remains: intersectionality.

    Work is Work!

    On International May Day I wrote a little hymn. I wrote:

    Teaching is work. Programming is work. Scholarship is work. Science is work. Grading is work. Committee service is work.

    Today Chronicle Vitae published a column on academic work as labor, as work.

    It’s a linked column to this first piece on the language of adjunct labor. In that piece, I worked through a number of different ways in which adjunct advocates speak about their work, using the language of slave, sharecropper, or migrant laborer. I think this language is mistaken. But here’s how I finished the piece.

    The issue here is not that writers are loosely deploying hyperbolic metaphors. The real problem is that adjuncts and their advocates believe the rest of us aren’t on their side.

    We tut-tut and say it’s too bad, but then throw up our hands, blame the budgets, and let the system continue. Civil rights, slavery, sharecropping, migrant laborers—these are terms that evoke sympathy and demand action within the neoliberal world of higher education in ways that just calling adjuncts “temps” does not.

    So let’s not be too quick to blame adjunct advocates for invoking historical inequities when trying to change the system. Instead, let’s question why such metaphors seem necessary. I propose that the plight of the adjunct lies squarely alongside that of a long-recognized historically oppressed group: the working class. Why are faculty so resistant to seeing themselves as labor who need to act in solidarity with the exploited adjuncts?

    In my next column, I’ll look at what happens when we put all these metaphors aside and just look at adjunctification as a basic labor issue, one in which we all have a stake.

    In today’s piece, I really just want to make a simple argument.

    Work is work.


    As academics, we know a lot about the nature of labor, the ebb and flow of power mostly up to management, but not always. We read about the changing nature of the workforce across the country, but for those enough of us lucky – and let’s be clear that luck is a huge part of it, there is no meritocracy – to be on the tenure-stream side of things, it’s hard to apply such lenses to ourselves.

    I find it hard. Maybe you don’t. But plenty of other people see little connection between the plight of the adjunct and their own labor situation.

    Work is work.


    You are paid for your work. You should be paid for your work. Let’s apply the lens of “labor” to what we do in academia, to think of administration as management – maybe nice management, maybe trusted management, but management none the less.

    I am very lucky in my job and my bosses. I trust them. But they are still my bosses (some of them read my blog! Hi there!). There’s nothing wrong with having a boss, but we need to remember that there is a power dynamic here. And once you bring power into the equation, well, we’re back to the labor movement.

    I finish today’s piece with the following:

    We need to recognize that what’s happening to our universities is happening across the North American labor market (and beyond), and that we’re not special. Other highly-trained, specialized industries have turned to contingency work. Higher ed is no different. In fact, we could learn from the industries that increasingly argue that one must treat contingent workers as full members of the community.

    Why not embrace the pressures that are falling on the university? Be proud of being laborers, identify with your fellow workers, and organize across the tenure-adjunct divide. Ultimately, it’s the only thing that’s going to improve the situation.

    Best of all, it’s the right thing to do.

    It really is the right thing to do.