Cult of Compliance – Arizona State Cops vs Ersula Ore

At the end of May, a black female professor named Ersula Ore at Arizona State University was walking across the street when she was arrested for jaywalking. By report, people cross at that site regularly to avoid construction and it is reasonably suspicious that a black woman was the person singled out by police.

She has been charged with a felony for kicking at him after she was flung to the ground. Police reviewed the file and said they did nothing wrong. There is a move-on petition (I have signed it). Here’s a local article on the story as the case is being re-reviewed in the wake of viral social media response. Then Huffington Post and CNN. There’s lots more.

I argue that along with race, which is central to the case I believe, we’ve got an example of the cult of compliance. We have made it possible to criminalize non-compliance. If you don’t obey police, they can physically hurt you, and if you defend yourself, you get charged with attacking the police. This happens all the time across America, especially to non-white people, but we rarely hear about it. The stories that make the news often involve disability, as the disability functions to absolve the victim of police violence, or at least complicate the narrative. In this case, we hear about the story because it involves a professor the means to leverage social media outrage, to speak for herself, and because professor does still command some respect in American discourse. An average black woman harassed by police is not news, and the new would not cover it.

We also only hear about it because someone called 911 on the COP who was being too aggressive. I’m grateful to that person.

Here’s the video. There’s also dash-cam video now if you follow that link.

This is the cult of compliance. If she just complies, gives her ID, is nicely respectful, she probably just gets a citation. Stand up for your rights, even as a professor on your own campus, and this is what happens.

As always, we can do better.


We interrupt this blog to bring you a special announcement.

I am recording a live album with my band, The Tooles, this September. It will be all original music and we’re really excited about it. It is, however, expensive, and so we have a kickstarter. If you like music, please check it out and consider supporting our project. Thank you.

Me, singing at the Kalamazoo Irish Festival

And now, back to your regularly scheduled blogging on language, power, and privilege.

Sunday Roundup: Pro-Information and Girls and Science

I had three pieces this week that I thought were especially important.

First, I hosted a guest post by Nancy McCrea Iannone on the troubles of the Pro-Information law in Louisiana, where anti-abortion activists have hijacked what was an unusual, important, coalition.
  • I wrote about my own thoughts here in Pro-choice, Pro-Information, Anti-Eugenics.
  • Mark Leach has a key followup. Like the bill, the comment thread was hijacked by an anti-choice radical. It’s precisely why I am skeptical the pro-information coalition can sustain. 
  • One more thought: I suspect making a discussion it illegal to discuss termination, will cause MORE eugenic abortions. It’s analogous to me the way that anti-abortion radicals fight birth control and sex ed. Education is the way forward, not silencing.
Second, I reacted to a terrible Scientific American blog post in Girls and Science – Makers vs a Scientific American blogger.
  • Here’s a good blog post on the ensuing kerfuffle, where Lee Billings, a very famous science journalist, told the women in the thread to stop “whining” on Twitter and take it to the comment thread. Which they had, in fact. And whoever controls the SciAm Blogs “favorited” Billings’ tweet.
  • I thought the irony of the video to which I link appearing the same day as I became aware of the SciAm blog (it was published in April) was interesting, but am not really a science writer or in that community. Still, the notion that some famous male writer can try to control female discourse by using the “whining” word is appalling. Pro tip: Avoid whining and hysteria words when talking about gender.
Third, I wrote a new piece in the Chronicle on counting public engagement and offered a few thoughts on it here and here. In that second one, I ask whether it would be reasonable to take a sustained effort of successful, “impactful” public engagement and exchange it for one piece of peer-reviewed writing in a tenure and promotion portfolio?
Thanks for reading and sharing this week. Next week, I expect, will be more on violence against people with disabilities (sigh. It never stops).

Men want kids because privilege

I’ve been working on work-life issues lately, focusing on fathers and discourse around working dads.

This has led me back to an important piece by Amanda Hess from last year, important not only because of its argument but because of the rabbit hole of links and studies to which it leads.

Hess responds to the frustrating “have it all” debate and some numbers that suggest men are increasingly likely to “want it all” because for them, having a family doesn’t seem to mean surrendering their career. She writes:

Men aren’t more “obsessed” with having it all. They don’t have to be. Pursuing a family and a career requires less professional sacrifice for men than it does for women, so it’s easier to claim to prioritize both in their definition of success. Men face fewer barriers to being both “family-oriented” and “ambitious.” They’re rarely even asked how they manage to juggle career with kids, so the question carries less weight—you don’t conceive of a contradiction if you’ve never been asked to choose.

What I like here is the focus on perception. It’s not that men who do caregiving don’t struggle in their careers – Hess in fact cites this piece by Bryce Covert to show that the opposite is true – but that men don’t perceive the challenge of “having it all.” Women, beset by the fraught category of working mom, know that trouble is coming if they try to do both. So many don’t.

There are limits to what my focus on language can accomplish. Policy has to follow. Before we can get to policy, however, we have to change perceptions so we ask the right questions and come up with the best plans. That’s why I keep talking about “working dads.”

My Google results this morning for “working mom” = 1,100,000. “Working dad.” = 124,000.

Girls and Science – Makers vs a Scientific American Blogger

So Verizon and Makers teamed up to make a great new video about the insidious ways that we push girls away from science.

I am always suspicious of corporations getting involved in social causes, as they tend to be followers rather than leaders. Still, Makers is pretty great and I think the video highlights some typical ways that we push girls away from science, math, and so forth.

The takeaway is that starting very early, mostly without meaning to, our society (and especially parents, but surely friends and school and media and commerce and so forth) lets girls know that their place is NOT in the lab or the workshop or the field. It’s socially constructed, it may well not be intentional, but it works.

This conversation matters because, much to my surprise, the fundamental premises are still subject to debate. This morning I was alerted to a post on Scientific American blogs, in which a psychology doctoral student named Chris Martin wants you to know that women are just naturally not so scientific, at least not when we’re talking about the super-duper-smart people. He invests in the Larry Summers argument because he wants to debunk Neil DeGrasse Tyson, who when asked about women in science, gave a smart answer about race and science by way of analogy.

Martin writes, with intense disciplinary snobbery to my reading:

Neil deGrasse Tyson responded to the question quite well, but since he’s not a social scientist, he wasn’t able to draw on psychological research on gender differences. His answer focused on stereotyping and self-fulfilling prophecy effect. I don’t blame him the slightest for lacking expertise in an area outside his specialty, but I do think people who only watch that video could come away with a misconception about the impact of stereotyping. I’m not going to discuss self-fulfilling prophecies here—they have a weak effect—but I will talk about how recent research has addressed this question.

Yes, Martin argues, there might be a weak effect of stereotyping, but really it’s not such a big deal. The key, he argues, is that there are plenty of women in science, but they tend to be in biology and psych, and most of them do not “choose” to go into academic careers. Martin wonders why.

I am not going to quote more fully. At the end, he nods to the notion that stereotyping might have a tiny bit to do with why women don’t become scientists, but mostly he makes claims that in the context of the Larry Summers debate have been well discredited. Yes, it’s not impossible that there are evolutionary factors that have a tiny effect on career choice. It’s not impossible. But as said on twitter (quoted with permission):

We’ve been through this before.

There’s a place for a smartly argued thoughtfully nuanced piece on the ways that evolution may in fact shape certain kinds of gender difference. This is not that piece. This makes these bold confident truthy statements claiming that the matter is resolved, and this man will tell how it really is.

It wouldn’t matter. Except that it is on Scientific American’s blogs, a major forum, and I suspect it reflects the beliefs of countless people in positions of authority, people who hire, people who train, people who run labs.

Here’s the deal I’ll make.

Let’s get rid of all the stereotyping, all the micro-aggressions that drive girls and women out of science, the social messaging that women who nurture are the only real women, that pretty matters more than smart. The phrases in the video are real, I hear them, I see them in our media. Let’s beat those back, and then we can see where the evolutionary gender differences really take us.

Because these stereotypes run deep. Sometimes, I feel them coming out of my own mouth, directed at my daughter. She’ll be wearing a pretty dress, she’ll be heading for the mud, she’ll be doing something that might be a bit dangerous, and I’ll find my words telling her to stop. And I’ll be appalled at myself.

Then, even if my daughter’s wearing a pretty dress, I hand her a shovel and we go out and dig for worms. I would dig out the science kit and do an experiment with her, but it turns out … her mother is a scientist.

I leave the hard science to mom. 

SUSTAINED (emphasis) Public Engagement, not just engagement.

Here are a few more points related to my article on public engagement – how it might work and what I mean by “there is no ivory tower.”

1. How might it work?

No one is seriously advocating that an op-ed is equal to a piece of peer-reviewed scholarship. At least no one I know of. But I hear, as push-back, “Well, it’s not like an op-ed is equal to a peer-reviewed article.” Right!

This is why I emphasize “sustained.” I actually think a single op-ed is not unlike writing a complex book review or encyclopedia article in terms of effort, and I’d be happy for one op-ed to count about as much as either of those. They are portfolio filler, they show a kind of engagement with the field and expertise, but they don’t carry significant weight in hiring, tenure, or promotion decisions.

Sustained public engagement, whether via a regular column, a blog, community organizing, agricultural extension services or public history (for which the reward structures already work this way, as far as I know), is something else though. For example, would it be so wrong to take a tenure system requiring a book + 2 peer reviewed articles, and instead accept a book + 1 peer reviewed article + record of sustained pubic engagement?

I do believe that for most of us, our identity as academics depends on a record of specialized discipline-specific research, usually undergoing a blind peer review process (though I will be happy to critique peer review at a later point). This is as it should be. I just think that if someone is really committed to public engagement of whatever sort, one could develop a structure that substitutes some of the requirements for tenure with this other kind of activity.

We will need metrics, much as we have metrics for “good” or “impactful” (ugh) with scholarly publications. This is a doable challenge.

2. There is no Ivory Tower

There is an ivory tower, but it’s not real. That’s to say, the notion that academia is separated from “real life” is a mirage, but a mirage that some people cling to. I think it’s a response to the anti-intellectualism that permeates American culture. We build these imagined walls, often fortified with snobbishness (that I encounter too often), as a defense mechanism.

What I don’t want to do (and did in an earlier draft) is to denigrate specialized scholarship and call it “ivory tower.”

3. Dear conservative commentator …

From the Chronicle:

Robert Oscar López, a conservative commentator, wrote:

Don’t overlook the problem with political bias. I contribute a huge amount to “civic engagement” but I am conservative, and my activism works to ensure that every child has a relationship with his mother and father, something that drives the homofascists into hysterics. I’ve published hundreds of articles and collaborated on research about the importance of children having a mom and dad, but I would have to be smoking crack to put any of that in my personnel file. The lesbians who run the our campus offices would just start hating me more than they already do. Part of me feels that this stuff shouldn’t really count; you should have organic intellectual work as a truly altruistic pursuit that you do for the love of it.

I responded:

Robert – I find your language here offensive. There’s no place for “homofascists” or the assumption that lesbians cannot recognize good work with which they disagree. As an academic, you of course already know that fascism in fact is about using state power to enforce a perceived normality – usually the man/woman norm in fact that you advocate for in your work – rather than a push for a more inclusive society. I’m pleased to stand with the inclusivists, personally, but the great thing about inclusion (rather than fascism) is that there is room for bigotry to thrive, be free, speak openly, get published, get tenure, and so forth. As opposed to fascism, where perceived deviant behavior suffers from state (and often private) action.

That said, I suspect you are using such language to troll the liberals who mostly post here, inviting venom, so that then you can engage in conservative victimization fantasies to justify your sense of grievance. I won’t give you that out. Instead, let’s take you seriously.

Your position is why having clear tenure and promotion standards matter. You build a structure in which you measure quality NOT by whether you agree with it politically, then apply those metrics across the board. In such context, impact and quality matter. You should be advocating for such measurements much more forcefully than I in order to protect not just yourself, who with your hundreds of articles must be doing fine, but the next generation of conservative academics who wish to engage with the public.

Good luck!

And with that, I’m done writing. It’s time to start writing.

Pro-choice, Pro-Information, Anti-Eugenics

Yesterday I published a guest post by Nancy McCrea Iannone, an expert on Down syndrome and pregnancy. I would like you, please, to go read it and share it. Independent blogs like mine need your help to spread the word on any given message.

The post talked about an assault on the pro-information coalition by anti-abortion activists and legislators in Louisiana. Pro-information stands for the many pro-life AND pro-choice people who have come together to try and change how the pre-natal diagnosis is being presented. We know that at least some of the very high percentage of terminations after a pre-natal diagnosis of Down syndrome take place after being told things that are either simply false or skew towards the negatives. We know that doctors deliver the diagnosis, then ask, “so would you like me to schedule a termination for you?” We know we can do this better, and we are, thanks to the efforts of so many.

It happens with post-natal diagnoses too. When Nico was born, in that terrifying and grief-stricken first hour, we were given a huge list of things that might possibly go wrong, This was, I know, merely medical due diligence, like the list of side-effects or complications that the doctors feel required to give you, but it skewed our early encounters with our baby in ways that took awhile to un-do. Fortunately, we had an actual living baby to care for, and cuddle, and get to know, and that made all the difference. In the absence of that child, in the pre-natal context, the negative overwhelms.

Hence, pro-information. It’s a complicated position for a pro-choice man like me, because mandating information has become a tactic in the anti-abortion movement – the mandatory transvaginal ultrasound is proposed as an “information” procedure, though clearly it’s meant to discourage women from having abortions rather than go through with the invasive procedure. It’s also a complicated position for pro-life folks as ultimately they are hoping the woman chooses life, but they are acknowledging choice is part of the equation.

Here’s the bottom line though on which (I think) we all agree: whatever information is provided in the context of the pre-natal diagnosis should actually be true and inclusive.

Can we all agree on that? Doctors should provide the whole picture to their best of their ability, representing the best current knowledge on life with Down syndrome and what it’s like? If they don’t, they are not in fact best serving the needs of their patients.

But one of those options is abortion. It’s not the option I want people to choose. I am deeply worried about the eugenic strains that run deep in American culture and plan to do much more writing on the subject in the year to come. But it’s one of the options. Laws that exclude that option, that criminalize that option, are not part of my movement.

The minute pro-information becomes a smoke-screen for anti-abortion activism, I am out.

GUEST POST – Keep Abortion Politics Out of the Pro-Information Movement

Nancy McCrea Iannone argues that the new Louisiana law on pre-natal testing inserts abortion politics into what had been a non-partisan movement by forbidding health-care providers to present termination as a neutral or acceptable choice. 

Comments from David Perry on this post can be found here.

Pro-Life, Pro-Choice, Pro-Information: Proceed with Caution

by Nancy McCrea Iannone.

The Louisiana Legislature recently passed a law requiring health care providers to provide information to expectant parents receiving a Down syndrome diagnosis. While the law follows the positive and rising “pro-information” trend among the states, the Louisiana statute deviates from this trend significantly. Louisiana added a requirement that the information the Department of Health and Hospitals gives to health care providers, and which the providers are required to give out to patients, “cannot explicitly or implicitly present termination as a neutral or acceptable choice.”

“Pro-information” is the word that many members of the Down syndrome community have used to describe the movement in support of expectant parents receiving accurate, balanced, and up-to-date information about Down syndrome after a prenatal diagnosis. The pro-information movement includes both pro-life and pro-choice members, united in the common mission of supporting and informing expectant parents.

Louisiana has taken an efficient, unifying model pro-information law and has tinkered with it, creating a situation which is more complicated for health care providers and potentially much worse for parents receiving a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome. In the history of the pro-information movement, Louisiana’s actions stand out as a major and harmful setback. Recent history provides the context for Louisiana’s legislation as well as solutions for the problems this legislation creates.

Federal Law weakened and unfunded 

In 2007, two senators from opposite ends of the political spectrum introduced the “Kennedy Brownback bill,” a pro-information bill. It required health care providers to provide up-to-date detailed information to parents receiving a prenatal Down syndrome diagnosis. Sometime after it unanimously passed the Health Committee, the language was altered. The requirement placed on health care providers was deleted, and in its place appeared a much softer directive to the Secretary of Health to provide funds to a “grantee” who would, among other things, provide patient resources to health care providers. Written in this way, the Prenatally and Postnatally Diagnosed Conditions Awareness Act passed. Its passage excited advocates for people with disabilities, but as the bill was weakened and never funded, it had no impact on a federal level.

States pick up the mantle 

As advocates realized the failings of the federal law, individuals and organizations in various states proposed legislation to their lawmakers. The proposed language mirrored that of the original Kennedy Brownback bill, requiring health care providers to provide certain information to their patients receiving a diagnosis. Now, states such as Massachusetts and Kentucky require physicians to provide up-to-date information which has been reviewed by Down syndrome organizations as well as medical experts. This criteria was written with the Kennedy Foundation’s booklet “Understanding a Down Syndrome Diagnosis” in mind, a booklet edited with input from representatives of major medical groups and national Down syndrome groups. It covers all pregnancy options, including termination, as was required by participating medical groups and understood by the Down syndrome groups.

Louisiana overshoots its mark; efforts set to backfire 

Louisiana’s exclusion of termination in its state-mandated Down syndrome materials flies in the face of national, historic efforts to provide a unified approach to prenatal information and it threatens to harm the cause of providing accurate, up-to-date information to pregnant women and their health care providers. Beyond destroying the original unity between left and right, beyond ignoring the hard-fought consensus among representatives of medical and Down syndrome groups, Louisiana’s legislation creates a very difficult situation for providers and patients alike. While providers in Louisiana are now bound by statute to distribute termination-free information, they are equally bound by law and professional ethics to inform patients about the option of termination. Louisiana is one of the many states in the country which recognizes wrongful birth/ life claims, which leaves providers who fail to provide diagnosis and termination information subject to liability. Such lawsuits use standard of care as a guide. Providers look to professional organizations such as the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the National Society of Genetic Counselors for such standards. These organizations include termination as information which must be provided to patients after diagnosis.

Thus in order to meet all of their legal obligations, Louisiana health care providers must give out the termination-free materials provided by the state, and also separate termination-present information. What form will the latter take? Will it present the option of termination delicately and neutrally as the Kennedy Foundation’s booklet does? Or will providers look for strongly-worded pro-termination information to balance the perceived pro-life information provided by the state? Or will providers talk of termination with whatever bias they already have, be it a pro-life, neutral, or pro-termination stance?

In Louisiana and in other parts of the country, the short-sighted efforts of some advocates are set to backfire. They are desperately working to purge prenatal information of all mention of termination, even in neutral form which provides evidence-based information about the possible emotional impact of termination after diagnosis. In doing so, they seek to give up that neutral presentation of termination in favor of a presentation which will vary wildly among health care professionals depending on their biases. This is an enormous set-back to the “pro-information” cause, brings the credibility of Down syndrome information into question due to the perception of a “pro-life” slant, and leaves the field wide open for an unpredictable variety of termination materials given to expectant parents.

Salvaging the “pro-information” cause 

Hopefully, health care providers in Louisiana will supplement the state-forced materials with the Kennedy Foundation’s booklet, which will allow them to meet all legal and ethical obligations and still present neutral information. These booklets are the only booklets to be recommended in the guidelines of both National Society of Genetic Counselors and American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics. These booklets can be obtained at

In the meantime, various states across the country continue to consider and pass legislation which hold true to the original mission of a unified approach to prenatal information. You can keep track of these efforts here on Mark Leach’s blog

The Louisiana legislation will prove logistically problematic for health care providers in that state who wish to provide accurate, balanced, neutral information while meeting their legal and ethical obligations. More worrisome is the potential impact on the rest of the states if Louisiana’s actions cause a ripple effect. The pro-information movement has been able to keep itself relatively free from partisan divisions because of the priority of providing accurate, medically approved materials to expectant parents. If there are more versions of “pro-information” legislation which exclude even neutral mention of termination, the movement may be destined to disintegrate into the typical red state/ blue state divisions. Advocates can prevent this by being aware of the potential implications of tinkering with the model language, and advising their lawmakers to keep focused on the goal of providing accurate, balanced information to expectant parents.

Nancy McCrea Iannone has been providing active support to expectant parents on Baby Center’s Down Syndrome Pregnancy discussion board since 2006. The story of her daughter’s birth is contained in Gifts: Mothers Reflect on How Children with Down Syndrome Enrich Their Lives (“A Hopeful Future”) and Gifts II: How People with Down Syndrome Enrich the World (“An Enlightening Snow Day”). Nancy is the co-author of the book Diagnosis to Delivery: A Pregnant Mother’s Guide to Down Syndrome and the booklet “Your Loved One is Having a Baby with Down Syndrome.” Both of these publications and additional resources can be found at, part of the National Center for Prenatal and Postnatal Down Syndrome Resources.

Amy Julia Becker provided editorial assistance for this post.

Do you have a plan to harm yourself or anyone else?

In the New York Times, yesterday, Julie Schumacher, a professor of Creative Writing at University of Minnesota, wrote a powerful piece about talking to a student who had been expressing violent fantasies.

The undergraduate who had been writing poems about killing people showed up for his appointment in my office carrying a black canvas backpack. He was slim and dark-haired, his mouth torqued into an uneasy smile. I had spoken several times about his violent ramblings to the campus police and to the university’s office of mental health, and this was what they came up with: I should invite the student to my office and calmly begin a conversation with the following question: “Do you have a plan to harm yourself or anyone else?”

I hadn’t really thought about the way that creative writing functions as a potential site for encounter with the innermost thoughts of students, but of course it does. Also, of course, fiction is not reality, and just because someone writes of terrible things doesn’t mean that they intend to do anything. Terrible deeds and thoughts is a way to create drama and tension. And yet, in the wake of so many other shootings, here are these poems and what is a professor to do?

I’ve had a student write a kind of mad exam once, including one answer space filled with the repeated phrase, “I don’t sleep, I don’t sleep, I don’t sleep, I don’t sleep, I don’t sleep,” perhaps 30 times in large block capital letters. In the end, she was a very bright student having trouble adjusting to college, experiencing anxiety and insomnia, who wasn’t doing any of the reading (I’m not sure she ever had to read a word of assigned material in highschool to get As, so read pleasant fiction instead. She was quite a reader. I liked her a lot). I got counseling, residential life, and the Dean of Students got involved, they took it seriously from the first email, and I felt supported by my colleagues from the first moment of worry.

I cannot summarize this piece and you need to go and read it. The instructor (TA) and professor sat alone with the student with a plan to run if things got dangerous, they talked, he wept. Schumacher finishes:

Our meeting lasted for almost an hour, and though it wasn’t yet noon when it was over, I needed to go home; I had sweated through my clothes. I never got an answer to The Question. And because the student’s written expressions of mayhem didn’t pose a specific threat, there was no recourse, despite consultations with mental health professionals, the student’s adviser, the campus police and a faculty committee on student conduct.

Eventually the student dropped out, but before he did so I sat sentry outside his instructor’s classroom while she taught. Her class was at night, at an hour when the building was mostly empty. If violence had erupted, I doubt I would have been useful. Still, I sat outside her classroom, reading, waiting, because it seemed there was nothing else to do.

Again, it’s hard to parse the line between reality and fiction. Here’s what I do believe, though – NO PROFESSOR OR TA SHOULD HAVE TO SIT ALONE IN A ROOM TO ASK THESE QUESTIONS. This is NOT what we are trained to do. We are not counselors. We are not psychologists. We are not law enforcement. We are teachers and yes, the teacher-student relationship, especially in creative fields, sometimes mirrors elements of the counselor-client relationship. But that’s not by design and we should not choose to play therapist and especially we should not be forced by our institutions to do so.

I’ll be eager to hear what the University of Minnesota admin has to say for itself in the wake of this piece. Stay tuned.